“When sensation has replaced sense or noise has replaced news, you know, you feel—I don’t want to say that, but I feel almost an anachronism. Ancient, wrestling with self-doubt.”
Heavy words, coming from one of the biggest names in television news.
It’s a fine August morning in Delhi—it had just rained—when we turn up at the home of news anchor Rajdeep Sardesai. Currently a consulting editor at the India Today Group, Sardesai comes on at 9PM, prime time on the group’s television channel, with his programme News Today.
We’re here to discuss his new book.
A short, bespectacled man ushers us into a hall, and a pudgy beagle welcomes us with many a wag of his tail. We’ve been there maybe a minute and a half when Sardesai himself sweeps down the stairs in jeans and a blue-and-white shirt. Hands are shaken, pleasantries exchanged and we settle down in a small, glass-walled sitting room. There’s tea, coffee, the usual stuff. He offers us some Maharashtrian chiwda, a sweet and salty mixture of flattened rice, peanuts and raisins. “I love it. I try to sell Maharashtrian chiwda to everyone who comes here,” he says with a smile, every bit the affable host.
We jaw on for a while about cricket, his dog, the media industry today and the world at large. And then it’s down to business.
In Newsman: Tracking India in the Modi Era, Sardesai presents a collection of his essays and columns from the past four years on politics, the Narendra Modi-led government and the Indian media. Much as he does on-screen, Sardesai bemoans the rise of an increasingly aggressive brand of politics and the heightened polarisation of both public discourse and the news media world that he inhabits.
One line in his introduction to the book stands out in particular: “It is while engaging in toxic Hindu-Muslim and ‘national’ versus ‘anti-national’ arguments, driven by a rising Islamophobia, that one feels almost caged in a television (TV) news studio.” Writing in solitude, Sardesai continues, gives him a chance to free himself from the “TV ‘mock fight’ debate format”.
Viewed as a whole, the book offers a window into Sardesai’s worldview. Politics takes centre stage, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi—“a charismatic neta who revels in the image of the muscular nationalist icon”—at the core of it. But equally important is a thread that runs through the entire text: the hardening of fault lines across politics, society and, in turn, the media.
One highlight is the growing trend of aggressive nationalism—a point repeated by a number of commentators in recent years—and the tendency of the government and its supporters to label opposing voices as “anti-national”.