The Barkha Dutt Files

A blog reported this spoofy spooky satire, almost a sad story, what viewers saw with eyes wide open across the country: Live. Self righteous, pompous, pampered, audacious, thick-skinned. Live. The bitchy blog beautifully called it what it was: “A champagne moment of live television, 39 minutes and 48 seconds into NDTV’s Buck Stops Here show on Wednesday, April 20, the year of the lord 2011. Star-anchor Barkha Dutt goes on and on about whether Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan should continue to stay as civil society representatives on the Lokpal drafting committee given the charges they were facing…”

“The moral of the story is simple: We, the Corrupt, have no shame. All we have are awards. Sometimes, as a nightmare. And sometimes, as a farce.”

Barkha Dutt: “Swami Agnivesh… you will see that the number of people who had to resign from public office — and many people believe this is a good thing — just because of suspicion or allegations or accusations, I mean, from Shashi Tharoor to Ashok Chavan to Sharad Pawar, there are so many different examples where legally, the allegation has not been proven, but even before the trial has begun, these politicians have stepped aside. Now some people are making the argument, that those drafting the Lokpal bill must do the same. How do you respond? Do you believe the same standard must be applied as they are applied to politicians?”

Swami Agnivesh: “Well, Barkhaji, let me put it to you this way. Supposing there is an accusation of corruption on some media-person who is an anchor of a very famous TV channel, and if that person is initiating debate after debate on corruption and such (a) person is asked, first get yourself cleared of all these allegations and then only you will have a moral right to start or initiate a debate on corruption, should that person step down? What would be your answer?…”

The answer, as the song goes, is blowing in the wind. Time is inevitable, ephemeral, etherised. We are all living on borrowed time, as the cliché goes. Time has no sense of shame or guilt; it blocks bad memories, bad faith and bad tapes. Time is a Freudian Slip which always shows, but you go for sudden, strategic maun vrat and it disappears into the blue. Time moves in melodious, crass, circular, jarring predictability. Sometimes, it comes back — to haunt. On TV. Live.

Pan the camera to the NDTV awards, October 18, 2011. Yet another club of the rich, successful and famous who give awards to each other as an annual ritual: a synthetic, clinical mix of cash rich Bollywood stars, cricketers, sundry celebrities, politicos. With She, of course, the Self Righteous One, the eternal anchor, in full glory.

On January 20, 2009, NDTV bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award to… guess who….? Yes, L.K. Advani.

Pray, for what? The ‘Babri Masjid’ demolition, December 6, 1992, perhaps the blackest day in Indian secular history, of the many mean black days of this nation has seen? The killings and massacres which followed across the country after the demolition? The Bombay pogrom of Muslims, 1992-93? The legitimacy of hate politics, across the Indian polity? Or is it because Advani remained a dogged patron of that Hindutva Hriday Samrat with blood of innocents on his hands, who presided over the ethnic cleansing in Gujarat?

Now, yet again, witness the banal contradictions. And the thick skin. She, pro-Anna, anti-corruption. She, who had a brush with infamy in the Radia Tapes which the entire world heard and read. (She, of the hysterical TV coverage of the Mumbai carnage, slammed and panned from here to eternity and in that ‘free media’ of blogs.) Now, yet again, in a glitzy set, She, dressed in what looked like a Michael Jackson outfit, in full glory, pronouncing glory on the latest glorified demi-god of 24×7 manufactured consent, television’s own God of Big Things, the Messiah of the Masses, the Saviour of the Farces: Dear Anna himself.

He, in maun vrat, like the silence of the lambs, scribbling away furiously, enjoying this great moment of TV magic realism, eternal immortality: NDTV Indian of the Year. Why not Lifetime Achievement, you may ask? His mouth is shut, his mouth is fasting, but his eyes and ears are still wide open, isn’t it? Funny, dark irony: like a million other inverted, suppressed truths of his life (Raj Thackeray and RSS, for instance!), Anna never seemed to have heard the running riddle of the raunchy Radia Tapes! Did he, or did he not?

She, the Self Righteous One, who refused to quit. And He, the Self Righteous One, who refuses to quit. Celebrating the quagmire of Self Righteous Purity against Universal Corruption! Hang the corrupt, he said at Jantar Mantar. Hang Kasab in a public square, he said later. Flog the drunkards, he said at Ralegon Siddhi!

Me, My, Myself, and My Lokpal. All other contradictions be damned. Even in silence, how he loves TV, and how TV loves him. This love is so purifying! Even in silence, he has to constantly communicate his noble, prophetic, cathartic knowledge to the world – via TV. He is the Indian of the Year, who ritualistically uses Un-Gandhian threats and language, so what? He is even ready to take on Pakistan! What a blow! Oh, what a patriotic show!

During the first India Against Corruption show at Jantar Mantar, She reportedly arrived at India Gate, to capture the spectacle. Live. We, the People. Self righteous, pompous, pampered, audacious, thick-skinned. Live.

But the ghost came back. The ghost of Radia Tapes. Youngsters, many of them journalism students, shouted angry slogans against the ‘Radia Chors’, in usual, street-style Hindi: Gali Gali Mein Shor Hain, etc. They blocked the ‘We’, the People, spectacle. She apparently fled, reporters said, and hid behind the OB van. It was all over. And, of course, it was all over Youtube.

The moral of the story is simple: We, the Corrupt, have no shame. All we have are awards. Sometimes, as a nightmare. And sometimes, as a farce.

Footnote: To re-Kindle your flashback angst, and to revisit the debate on ‘Radia tapes and Media ethics’, see the special edition of The Hoot (, then initiated by women journalists, celebrating basic journalistic ethics.

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students' Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people's movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

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