Swami Chakrapani and Suhel Seth: Meet the know-it-alls gracing your news debates

A series that acquaints you with ‘experts’ you see on TV News expounding on everything under the sun.

WrittenBy:Dhyanesh Vaishnav& Meghnad S
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Keeping up our promise of watching the news so you don’t have to, Newslaundry presents a brand new series: Know Your TV News Panelists. In this series, we will look at all the “expert” voices that are routinely brought onto primetime debates to expound on everything under the sun – from the economy to the pandemic to foreign affairs to Shah Rukh Khan’s silence on all world affairs. Poor SRK, being handsome is a full-time job.

What makes these men and women fixtures on the news? What’s their claim to fame? What’s their expertise, even? We’ll answer everything you ever wanted to know.

PS: If you have a suggestion on who we should cover, drop a line in the comments section or tag us on social media.

Swami Chakrapani

If there was a perfect dish made for Great Indian TV News Panels with all the key ingredients, it would look something like this.

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Meet Swami Chakrapani, the national president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha (All India Hindu Mahasabha). His antics are usually covered in tiny local stories on page 4 or 5, but on TV news, he’s given a full window on primetime debates.

Chakrapani earned himself a viral headline when, at the beginning of the spread of Covid in India, he suggested that it was an avatar to punish non-vegetarians. And as a solution to this, he went on to host the infamous “gaumutra party” to fight Covid in March 2020.

But if you think that one such act would have earned him his rightful place in the hate news space, hold my beer gaumutra. It takes more than just saffron couture and unscientific thinking to be called on primetime night after night. Mr Chakrapani, in 2018, had blamed the killing of cows as triggering the devastating floods in Kerala. He then went on to say that only those who have not eaten beef and those who give an affidavit that they will never do so in the future should receive flood relief.

What could have possibly cemented his berth in that little debate window was his campaign to get the new Parliament building named “Hindu Rashtra Bhavan”. He also wanted the karsevaks accused of demolishing the Babri Masjid to not only be cleared of all the criminal charges against them, but also to get them declared as “dharmik senani” – religious warriors – who will be entitled to pensions and other government privileges.

Here's Chakrapani giving his two chavannis on why the Uttarakhand CM is justified in making a crass remark on women wearing ripped jeans.

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And ABP News asking for an opinion from a saffron-clad buffoon on a public health scam (the launch of Coronil) pulled off by Ramdev. TV News 101!

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Can you guess what his opinions on decriminalising gay sex were? Shouldn’t be that hard.

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Efficacy, trial data, etc, can wait. "First, tell me if the Indian vaccine has any cow fat or blood in it. I am not touching the vaccine till that is clarified." ABP News doing an interview on all that matters.

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Yeah...

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Of course he belongs on primetime debates. He makes the anchors look reasonable. Almost.

Suhel Seth

There are times when a country wants an expert view on stories related to the environment, sports, bollywood, politics and slapping Arvind Kejriwal. For that, you need to look no further than the man who looks like the desi-make-in-India, atmanirbhar version of Lord Meghnad Desai: Suhel Seth.

Today, you have many panel regulars who choose to sit and yell in small windows night after night since they clearly have little else to look forward to once the day is done. But Seth was the pioneer of this art form.

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Suhel Seth was a Calcutta kid born in 1963, where his father owned a chemical factory. He did his schooling in La Martiniere for Boys and then went off to St Joseph’s College, Nainital, for his higher education. During his college days, he was a part of debate teams, where he learnt skills that he would put to good use later in his life. He was also in a theatre group where he performed with film legends like Mrinal Sen and Utpal Dutt. Again, he learnt another skill – acting – which he put to use by featuring in films like Madhur Bhandarkar’s Calendar Girls and Mahesh Bhatt’s Rog.

Seth is a brand consultant by profession, meaning he helps corporations put out outrage fires. He was hired by Coca Cola when it battled charges of pesticide contamination in Coke beverages back in 2006. He was also famously involved when there was a public relations dumpster fire in the Tata Group back in 2016, which ended with Cyrus Mistry being removed as chairman of Tata Sons. What’s more, he was also hired by two companies which have been in the news lately – Dassault and Adani – for image makeovers and PR stuff.

Seth was also hired by ITC in 2007 for brand work, but then later started cursing them on Twitter after his contract wasn’t renewed. The ITC group sued him for Rs 200 crore for making defamatory remarks about the company. He later deleted his old tweets and claimed that his account was hacked and someone else cursed the ITC chairman YC Deveshwar on his behalf. Classic Suhel. Always careful about his personal image.

Then came 2018 when everything came crashing down. Seth was called out by six women for sexual harassment. But hey, he’s a brand consultant and knows how to rebuild it. One, by ignoring the whole thing and not responding to it; and two, taking the help of our dear old TV news channels.

Before the 2018 #MeToo allegations hit him, he was a regular on NDTV. So much so that they covered his “birthday bash” in 2003 on their channel.

(For some reason, NDTV thought this is a “classic” worth reuploading in 2013.)

Of course, once Modi stormed South Delhi and saffron became the new black in Lutyens party circles, Seth was seen less on NDTV. Now, he posts pictures of doing “calm debates” with Arnab. How times change. Positioning himself in the market koi in se seekhe. After all, it's no ordinary man who can move so swiftly from the panelist windows of NDTV to Republic. Seth is a man who can be bestie to King of Good Times Vijay Mallya (during the good times) and also trash Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur Lit Fest when the winds change.

He is now a regular fixture on multiple channels, usually on the most raucous and noisy shows. He appears in debates about Parliament.

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He gives his “expert” opinion on Covid handling.

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CNN-News18 got him in to give his opinion as a “Delhi resident” on the Covid situation. Because hey, if anyone represents a “Delhi resident”, it’s Suhel Seth, even though he lives in Gurugram.

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He is a talking head in exit polls too.

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Suhel is the man who first figured out that being a TV news regular by hosting parties where journalists who have sad social lives can be indulged is a fantastic revenue model. Unlike many others, he is so good at this that come Manmohan or Modi, he will always get his own little window on primetime news. And news anchors will be happy to oblige, kyunki who needs self-respect when you get to party with Seth.

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