As the main event of our multi-day conclave approached, I was ready to take my rightful place as the star. I was going to conduct the key-note session this year. Not the owner of our company. Or the star anchor who had invaded my turf after his own was taken over by a billionaire. This was going to be my moment to shine. I was going to revel in my proximity to power by interviewing one of the most important ministers in the current cabinet’s pecking order.
It was going to be a great conversation! I had a great plan. I was going to pretend to ask the minister some tough questions and he was going to hem and haw and feign outrage. Both of us would have looked good. I could finally tell all those detractors who call me the government’s town crier that I spoke truth to power. And the minister could show the ruling party’s constituency how the government is accomplishing its promises by yelling at news reporters.
But that was not to be. You know what they say. When you want to make God laugh, tell him a knock-knock joke. No, that’s doesn’t sound right. Let me try again. When you want to make God laugh, send him a naked picture of yourself. Okay, no. That’s not it either. Wait! Now, I remember. When you want to make God laugh, you make a plan.
I began the session with some questions about the recent air strikes—and the entire event went off the rails. I had thought we’d get those slightly impolite questions out of the way so that we could get to the genial part of the conversation and have some fun passive-aggressively mocking Rahul Gandhi.
However, instead of using my prompt to admonish the usual suspects like Arundhati Roy, JNU students or anyone at NDTV, the minister turned on me. He started to question MY patriotism. He implied that I was an agent of Pakistan. He insinuated that by merely questioning the government—a right I am guaranteed under our Constitution—I committed blasphemy against our Armed Forces. He tried to rally the crowd at my own session against me. He treated me with the same disdain General GD Bakshi treats the Navjot Singh Sidhu-shaped punching bag in his house.
Look, I know what the minister was doing: taking what I said out of context and re-stating it in ridiculous terms. I had done that to others a million times! So the fact that someone was doing the same thing to me was preposterous, to say the least.
After all, I am an important person. I am the news director of India’s fifth most-watched English news channel. The Hoot once described my show as “a harmless bank robbery against journalism as compared to the metaphorical homicide of the news that happens on Republic TV every day”.
I am personal friends with influential politicians, A-list celebrities and sports stars. Amitabh Bachchan fondly refers to me as “the non-Rajdeep guy on India Today who doesn’t wear a flak jacket.” Sachin Tendulkar once nodded at me from afar because he mistook me for MS Dhoni! I have Amit Shah’s personal assistant’s personal assistant on speed-dial!
Does that sound like someone who is anti-national? I don’t think so.
Look, I am going to be honest with you. I am a little shook. Since I decided to join the dark lord in his mission, I had believed that Sauron would never turn his evil eye towards me. But that was not to be.
I now realise that no matter how helpful and loyal you are to power, it is never loyal to you. Once power co-opts you, you don’t get to say anything to it. Either you stay quiet and enjoy the ride, or you get off and let power replace you with some other useful idiot.
If I was a better person, this strange turn of events would have led me to see the error of my ways. If I wasn’t too busy scoring rhetorical points over straw-man arguments, I would see the error of my ways. If I was a smarter person, I would have realised that I became the victim of the atmosphere that I helped create. I fell into the hole that I dug for someone else.
You’d think that after this, I would stop using my platform to impart lessons of patriotism to others. Or that I would try holding power’s feet to the fire to the best of my ability. After being humbled in front of the world, I could use this opportunity to cease taking the coward’s way out and stop blaming the powerless for the sins of the powerful.
But none of that is going to happen. I’m going to continue to do the same thing I was doing before. Just because I got some comeuppance doesn’t mean I’m going to change who I am. This is not an inspirational movie. This is real life.
I have been outside the citadel of power, staring through the looking glass, wishing to be let in. And now that I’m here, I’m not leaving until they throw me out.
After all, I might be an idiot. But I’m not a self-saboteur.