The Mangaluru Lit Fest was held on 29th and 30th of November this year. Literature festivals are now increasingly being democratized, as voices which are contrary to the traditional elitist liberal view are also being given a platform. Some years ago, a clip from the Jaipur Lit Fest took the internet by storm, where BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta and Suhel Seth brutally took down the infamous Radia journalist—Barkha Dutt.
Now, at the Mangaluru Lit Fest, a similar takedown has happened. In a panel which consisted of Barkha Dutt and Smita Prakash, Anand Ranganathan calmly put forward his question to Smita Prakash, as a member of the audience. “Smita, we are talking about media leanings and employers. Here is a straight hypothetical question. You are a media boss. What would you do if hypothetically you found that one of your journalists or reporters was found to be in cahoots with lobbyists and fixing government ministries. Would you sack that person?” Naturally, it took some time for Smita Prakash to settle with the question, as the person at whom this question was indirectly directed—Barkha Dutt was not even five meters away.
Smita Prakash started off with her answer and it soon became clear that like Anand Ranganathan, she was in on the cruel joke that was being played on the Radia-tapes tainted Barkha Dutt. Smita Prakash said, “Fixing, lobbying, positioning… Firstly we are not important enough to do it. And I don’t think the people who work with me, none of us are involved in such jobs. It is not just fixing ministries.”
Prakash went on, “You now see journalists openly write books about how they were part and parcel of India Pakistan peace talks. ‘I told ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan that you should start the bus service. I told ex-General of Pakistan that you should begin talks now. Or that elections should be held at this time. They are actually coming out in the open. Because now what has happened is journalists are 40-50 years’ experience in journalism, so they feel that they did it for the good of the country. Either you are reporting and you are a journalist, or you are a broker and whatever glorifying halo you might have of why you were doing a particular thing, whether for your organisation, whether for the good of the country, for the nation. The fact is you’re not a journalist, you’re a broker.”
I can bet you won’t be looking at @smitaprakash even for a second while listening her answer @ARanganathan72’s Hypothetical Question about “what would you do if you found one of your journalists fixing cabinet berths?” #MlrLitFest pic.twitter.com/3HqNbfkPOe
— Yo Yo Funny Singh (@moronhumor) December 1, 2019
For those who are known body language experts, it would not be a tough call to conclude that Barkha Dutt was ashamed, embarrassed and didn’t quite know how to react. Her embarrassment could be observed from the rigorous movement of her foot, and towards the end of Prakash’s answer, her fidgeting with the microphone. In 2010, Barkha Dutt’s professional career was rocked by the ‘Radia Tapes’ leak, in which she acted as a broker against the appointment of Dayanidhi Maran as the Minister of IT in the UPA government. Subsequently, A Raja was given the portfolio upon the continued insistence of the DMK. The DMK would support the Congress to form the Central government only if some of its parliamentarians were given cabinet berths, and this was ensured by the ‘brokering skills’ Barkha Dutt, among others.
Here, it is also to be noted that Anand Ranganathan’s question to Prakash is not only directed against Barkha, but also against Pranoy Roy, who simply sat back and took no action against Barkha Dutt, who worked as a journalist for his organization– NDTV back then.
The audience meanwhile wholeheartedly enjoyed this sly, brutal and amusing takedown of Barkha Dutt at a public platform. It only reaffirms the fact that nobody is above question in today’s India, and that previous sins will always return to haunt those in question.