Author of the award-winning book ‘Serious Men’, Manu Joseph was here to take part in the Chandigarh Literature Festival, 2014. He speaks to Sowmya S about the future of media and politics in India.
Q: With several senior journalists recently quitting their jobs and with conglomerates taking over media houses, in which direction do you think the Indian media is headed? Is it, perhaps, the right time for adopting the crowd-funding model in media?
Corporate ownership is good for journalism. Journalists are incapable of running businesses on their own. Journalism is not a social service alone; it works best when it also functions as a business. In any industry, the challenge is to get the best talent. Big media houses have the capacity to recruit talented people, which is a huge advantage. Only free-market journalism will make sense. People, of course, point at corporate bias and financial corruption (in the present context) but the truth is that intellectual corruption and ideological bias are far more dangerous. As long as journalists are able to assert their independence, they will be fine. But to negotiate your freedom, you should have integrity.
Q: You have been very critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in several of your articles for the International New York Times. But are you now willing to give him a second chance; do you believe that he may have changed for the better?
I already feel that. I have come out in support of the Swacch Bharat Campaign, which I thought was very clever. Some people accuse him of symbolism, but that’s what a Prime minister has to do. I feel he has done a few things right; the criticism is only in the context of his past. It is important that the pressure (of the Gujarat riots) is on him. Let everybody in India, who aspires to be a political leader, know that if something like a riot happens under their care, there are consequences.
Q: But do you see the BJP’s disassociation with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s recent article on Nathuram Godse, a sign of the changing priorities of the party?
I don’t see a particular shift. There are a lot of ideologies that they realise are obsolete, but they don’t know how to deal with that. But they are not the underdogs now; they are the dominant force and are, therefore, beginning to speak differently. But Modi is a transactional man. He will do things in a certain way so that all his constituents are happy. It is my personal belief that he has moved far away from his baggage- well most of it and not all of it-and that he is only going to focus on what is useful today.
Q: Are family-owned media houses as unhealthy for journalism as family-run political parties are for politics?
In their own interest, such families should hand over the reins to professionals. But, at the same time, I also realise that no private manager or owner would take as much efforts as the owner of a family-owned media house to get things done. A salaried employee will not do those things.
Q: Would you apply the same logic to politics?
No, in politics, the problem is that you are not the best person for the job but you still get it because you are someone’s child. This is the reason behind Modi’s success. He is a self-made man unlike most of the Shiv Sena leaders, who are Thackeray’s sons or Rahul Gandhi, who is Sonia’s child. They are no match for Modi because in the brutal world of Indian politics, self-made politicians have climbed the ladder through merit and political genius. An organic evolution is happening and such sons and daughters will be decimated in probably a generation. We will see many more self-made politicians in the Indian landscape. The time has come.