‘Paper’ Tigers!

Is journalism a launching pad for politicians? Or are the two professions embedded eternally? As election fever grips valley, Bilal Handoo takes a look at some of the recent switchovers and the buzz that scribes manage to create

Journalist turned politician, Tahir Syed with his new chief Mehbooba Mufti
Journalist turned politician, Tahir Syed with his new chief Mehbooba Mufti

Nine days after year 2014 dawned, the former broadcaster—Nayeema Mehjoor, joined politics. Her move didn’t set tongues wagging, but ‘a storm in a teacup’ did follow. As clock ticked, many more media professionals ended up falling into the political lap. But the apparent observation goes: in the run-up to two upcoming elections in J&K, the path from journalism to politics is an oft-travelled one!

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor

At the outset, Mehjoor—now a PDP member, did let certain quarters to react. And to counter the criticism, she wrote an article ‘I am not political’ to clarify her stand: “I had done it unwillingly and under compulsion.” But many termed her public response “full of contradictions”. She, however, believes Kashmiris can fight for their rights including the right to self determination, and yet be the part of mainstream.

But as the ‘fever’ of parliamentary elections rose up, a few other scribes shifted their bases to politics. And one among them is Awami Itehad Party’s (AIPs) Srinagar candidate, Rashid Rahil. He will take on NC’s Farooq Abdullah, PDP’s Tariq Hamid Karra, and Aam Aadmi Party’s activist-turned-politician, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat for the same seat. Owner-Editor of an Urdu daily Asian Mail, Rahil will be “seeking votes for the resolution of Kashmir issue”.

After Rahil, it was Tahir Syed—a scribe working with a Srinagar based Urdu daily who joined politics. Grandson of the member of J&K Constituent Assembly & J&K Legislative Council, late Moulana Anwar Masoodi, Syed joined PDP.

“At the peak of turmoil, we had people coming from various backgrounds, who, operated from Pratap Park and then moved to places they belonged to. They were not journalists, they just used the garb to stay in circulation and it will continue.”

“I have decided to join politics as I have had obvious interest in public affairs,” he candidly asserts. “At this stage of my life, I decided to directly contribute by joining politics, which is an instrument of change.”

But politics isn’t merely creating curiosity among the valley-based journalists. A senior journalist, MJ Akbar—who previously was a Congressman, recently switched over to the BJP bandwagon ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Later, he said that he has come back in politics for its policies and work to “bring the nation back into a recovery mission”.

The sudden surge of scribes turning to politics in mainland India is being credited “largely to the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its leader Arvind Kejriwal”—who was hailed as “the messiah of the masses” by media after his popular anti-corruption rally in Delhi with Anna Hazare. The ‘broom campaign’ is so far joined by journalists like Shazia Ilmi of Star News, Ashish Khetan of Tehalka Magazine, Anita Pratap of Time magazine, Ashutosh of IBN7, Manish Sisodia of Zee News and many others.

The latest ‘journalist’-turned-politician from valley is Khalid Jehangir. The BJP’s poster boy—Narendra Modi termed him “an expert on writings on conflict areas” during a rally at Hiranagar Jammu. Jehangir along with the former IPS officer Farooq Khan joined the party on the same platform. He claims to have worked as a producer with Channel 4 media and is presently “working for ARD Germany”. “My motive to join politics is to end the single party monopoly in the state,” he told Kashmir Life. “I am quite hopeful that BJP under the leadership of Modi will usher a new period of development in the valley.”

Joining politics is always an open option for everybody that does not exclude media, feels a senior journalist. “But media in Kashmir has emerged a very flexible and credible shelter for lot many people including government employees,” said the journalist. “At the peak of turmoil, we had people coming from various backgrounds, who, operated from Pratap Park and then moved to places they belonged to. They were not journalists, they just used the garb to stay in circulation and it will continue.”

During turmoil, a PDP lawmaker from Bandipora—Nizam Ud Din Bhat, was also associated with journalism. This law graduate was working with publications like Deccan Chronicle and Islamic Republic News Agency before turning to politics. Later, he was involved with People’s Conference and was its vice-chairman. Bhat polled 13051 votes in 2008 Assembly elections by defeating his close rival Usman Abdul Majid, Congress candidate, by a margin of 820 votes for the Bandipora constituency seat.

But to secure a political berth, people have since long made journalism a starting point. Political figures like Shiekh Abdullah and Prem Nath Bazaz too started their careers as journalist before jumping into active politics. They both started Hamdard in 1935. Later Shiekh started his own paper Khidmat. “Both the publications established Shiekh as a journalist—who later, turned to politics,” says Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a noted Kashmiri poet and satirist.

Besides, the editor of the weekly Aaina, Shameem Ahmad Shameem too became active in politics. He won 1967 Assembly elections with a huge margin as an independent candidate. It is said that he is the best man who ever represented Kashmir in Indian Parliament!

With newspersons becoming news themselves, many have started crossing their fingers in anticipation—whether, donning political attire would only turn them into paper tigers! But if past performances are any parameters, then speculations have no room.

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