Ever since Open magazine, and then Outlook, broke the story about the taped conversations of Niira Radia with a host of personalities, including Barkha Dutt (of NDTV) and Vir Sanghvi (columnist at large, but I guess aligned with Hindustan Times), the Twitter world has been agog (#Barkhagate has been trending continuously for over 6 days now), and also aghast at the veritable “fort” that the media world seemed to have created around itself, to protect its own!

Thankfully, as the weekend bore on, firstly some in print / online media, and then others in the electronic media started grudgingly acknowledging the story. The final “wall” fell when the Wall Street Journal also covered the story, and then the floodwaters started crashing through. One hears that the regional media is having a field day trashing the reputation of these “co-called” icons of the media. What has also started is a very subtle effort to salvage whatever can be salvaged of these once stratospheric reputations, as most seem to be thinking, “it could be me next time”!

Funnily a lot of the focus initially seemed to be on Niira Radia, who has been embroiled in the telecom saga with “Spectrum Raja” for some time now. Frankly, I am pretty impressed with Niira. She, as a corporate lobbyist, did a fantastic job! She facilitated meeting the objectives of her corporate clients, which was her brief. Even if she was a conduit for bribes (yet to be established), I guess that the money came from corporates and not her directly, and hence they are the ones that need to be caught first, not the facilitator who brokered the deal.

Ms. Barkha Dutt has made multiple attempts to extricate herself from this mess, by claiming righteous indignation, and by stating that in her view, “she was just doing her job!”.

So let’s try and define this “job” that she was purportedly doing. She claims she was merely “sourcing” information, as a journalist! Well, since it can very easily be established that there has been no specific coverage by her either on TV or in her articles in the press, on the conversations she was having with Niira, and the attempts being made to enthrone Raja in the Telecom Ministry, it obviously doesn’t wash. Some people on Twitter as well as online, have suggested that she was “lobbying”. Well, nowhere on tape does it say that she wanted Raja made Telecom Minister (or someone who is paying her to lobby for him wants this). There is no mention on tape of a “quid-pro-quo” (at least that is her “fig leaf”), she claims that she wasn’t lobbying. So let’s give the devil her due, OK she wasn’t lobbying (at least not for Raja). Her feigned hurt “have I ever been unfair to anyone on my programmes”, is childish, and so let’s ignore that. Problem is, we still don’t have a word to describe what she was doing on the call.

Let’s step back a bit now. There are two types, no actually three types of journos in India. Firstly, the ones who have openly declared their allegiance (or even a soft corner) to a particular party or an ideology (say Chandan Mitra and Swapan Daspupta for the BJP, and Rajeev Shukla for the Congress). For their readers (or listeners) its very easy to put things into context. You then have the undeclared ones, but it is pretty obvious the ideology / party which they support (I will refrain from naming anyone, lest they sue, but obviously I refer to journos who favour the left or right ideologies). You then have the so-called neutral territory journos, ones who trumpet from roof-tops that they are unbiased, balanced, and only on the side of the “people”, and so the audience develops similar expectations from them as such. We enjoy it when they rip all politicos apart, even those that we may support, as we believe that they are unbiased, and represent “our” collective opinions. In the twitter-world, for quite some time now, their have been stories floating around about the “pro-Congress” bias of a lot of these journos, however, no one had any proof. Last week, Open magazine, opened a can of worms, and shone the flashlight brightly into it – and the glass-house came shattering down!

So let’s come back to defining what Barkha was doing. She was clearly “fronting”, “representing” or “negotiating” (take your pick) on behalf of the Congress party, plain and simple as that! A number of times in her talk, she refers to Congress party as “us” and “we”. There can’t be a bigger give-away than this. The entire conversation was about Niira Radia representing the DMK viewpoint, and Barkha the Congress one. She even says “I’ll make my calls as soon as I’m out of RCR”, as if it is a designated job to be done (and for god’s sake, we all know what RCR is, and its not the NDTV van parked outside the PM’s residence, as explained by Barkha)!

Now I am not sure whether she is happier with this label, as opposed to that of a lobbyist (and I don’t care too). What I do know is that the “social contract” that she had with India (yes, she was powerful, well-known, respected and an icon for many), lies in tatters. For all that she might try to protest, that this is “normal” for a journo, does not wash. The trust is gone!

I saw the TV debate on CNN IBN the other day (22nd Nov 2010). I have long held a deep respect for Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and loved him for his one statement on the show. He said that journos over time, and because of the kind of big people they meet and develop friendships with, have started entertaining “delusions of grandeur”! That’s unfortunately what probably happened with Barkha! She just became too big for her boots, and forgot that she was supposed to represent the people, and not the Congress party, although she is well within her rights to do so (to the best of my knowledge, it is stupid, but not a crime)!

Frankly, her credibility has gone so low, that today I think I am willing to believe anything about her – the unconfirmed whispers that she inadvertently gave away the locations of our gun batteries during the Kargil War, and that led to casualties or even deaths, and that she most probably did the same thing during 26/11, and that too could have led to some deaths. I don’t know whether these are true or not, but I am willing to believe it!! Barkha, that’s the trust you have lost!

She gave herself away again totally on the day of the Ayodhya verdict, sitting pompously, convinced that the verdict would be in favour of the Muslims, and then showed shock on her face, when the verdict was a balanced, but pro-Hindu one. She knew that this would hurt the Congress. The slip has started showing once too often.

Barkha now has got only two options. She should move quite a few notches down, accept her mistake, apologize to the nation (we are not dumb, we have all read the transcripts), and build up her reputation once again, from scratch. She should distance herself from the Congress party, and genuinely start rebuilding her social contract with the people.

Alternatively, she should have the guts to openly shed her neutrality, and declare her allegiance to the Congress, so that we know where she comes from! If and when she becomes a Congress Rajya Sabha MP, we will all know in any case.

So is she likely to do any of this? Hardly! She will keep on hammering away at her critics, protesting her innocence, and making an even bigger fool of herself.

Well, so be it.

I guess what Paranjoy Guha Thakurta didn’t say, but probably knew all along, that “illusions of grandeur” come before a very real and “grand fall”!

So @bdutt, god speed, to whatever path you may choose to tread, but my dear, choose carefully and wisely. You once meant something real, to a lot of people (not me), and they are bitterly, bitterly disappointed today!

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Rightwingdian is a Mumbai based Resident Commentator of CRI

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