‘I don’t think anyone should be ideologically untouchable for me’

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KG SureshThe New Delhi-headquartered Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), India’s premier journalism and communications institute that has produced some of the most recognised names in Indian journalism, has been in the eye of a storm of late. Amid allegations by a section of students that the top journalism school is being saffronised, TEHELKA speaks to senior journalist KG Suresh who was appointed as Director General of the institute by the BJP-led Central government.

Edited Excerpts from an interview •

Recently, a yagya was organised at a media event held at the campus. Some students have alleged that it was an effort towards spreading the Hindutva ideology of the country’s ruling dispensation. How would you respond to the allegations?

To begin with, when media organisations come to me and request me for space to hold seminars and conferences, I provide them with the auditorium depending on availability of space and subject to the fact that it should not disturb the academic atmosphere and schedule here. I come from the (media) industry and have been part of many media organisations. I know that they don’t have much funding or big sponsors. If they get big sponsors then they would appear to be compromised. So when the organisation Media Scan came to us, we allowed them to hold the event. Since the academic session was over, there were no students on campus and even faculty members and other staff members were not there since it was held on a Saturday. So I’m unable to comprehend who am I saffronising?

Secondly, IIMC did not organise the event. We only gave them space. If I had organised the yagya, I would be sitting there and doing the rituals. I didn’t do that. They invited me as a panellist in my capacity as a media person. I agreed to that because it was a media conference and I go if anyone invites me to a media event. I don’t look at the ideological colour of my fellow panellists because I as a person have never believed in ideological untouchability. I have in the past shared dais with Rajdeep Sardesai, Ravish Kumar and others who are known for their anti-BJP views. As a journalist, I don’t think anyone should be ideologically untouchable for me.

One of the speakers at the seminar was SRP Kalluri, the ex-IG of Bastar who has been reprimanded by the NHRC for human rights violations in the tribal-Maoist belt and against whom the CBI gave an unfavourable report to the Supreme Court. Do you think it is right for a person with such record to be invited to speak at a media event?

First of all, I didn’t invite SRP Kalluri. He was invited by the organisers. I didn’t even attend his session. He only paid me a courtesy visit as I’m DG of this institute. Since he is an IPS officer, he isn’t suspended, I shook hands with him and we exchanged pleasantries. As a matter of principle I believe that as a journalist I need to understand his point of view also. Journalists are communicators and they should communicate with everyone. He was coming in front of journalists. About 25-30 journalists were there. I think even Ravish Kumar was inside. So nothing was wrong in Kalluri addressing journalists and they asking him questions. I suggested to the organisers that they must hold a Q&A with him. Now it was upto him whether to respond or not. You cant force anyone to answer questions. I have always believed that journalists must interact with everyone. Why should we listen to only one discourse? If journalists can talk to separatists who talk about separating a part of the country, if journalists have been talking to insurgents in the North East, I see no reason why we cant speak to Kalluri?

In that case do you think, as a journalist, that Shehla Rashid and Umar Khalid should’ve been allowed to speak at Ramjas College?

We should listen to all viewpoints. We can always ask questions. But we should listen.

Don’t you think the topic of the seminar, ‘Nationalistic Media’, was inappropriate?

The topic was national media, not nationalistic media as per rumour. The invite says “rashtriya patrakarita” which in English means national media. Nationalistic media would be “rashtravadi patrakarita”. They were talking about Indian journalism. Another misinformation was that Hitesh Shankar, publisher of RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya, was going to moderate the event. In fact, he dindt even come. The moderator was Vidyanand Jha from Zee News.

What about the slogans of Jai Sri Ram that were raised?

I don’t think the sloganeering was appropriate. The slogans shouldn’t have been raised. I did not know that slogans were going to be raised. Political sloganeering has no place in an academic discussion. I have never raised such slogans in my entire career as a journalist.

Some students have said that they were not allowed to enter the campus on the day of the seminar? Why were they not allowed inside?

There were hardly five students from this institute who created a drama outside saying they were not being allowed inside. When we have given the space to Media Scan, it’s for them to decide who will come in and who will stay out. Media Scan had an online registration process. You had to pay 200 and be a part of it. These five students did not register themselves online. I didn’t ask the organisers to allow or disallow anyone.

These five students had told me that they will disrupt the seminar. Two of them gave it to me in writing that they will sit on dharna. It’s my duty to ensure that there is no law and order problem. There was a full-capacity auditorium, around 350 people were inside. So if five of my students went inside and disrupted the event, and God forbid some violence took place, I would have been held accountable. And how would I have protected my students if a fight broke out between them and the organisers? So I told the security to not let these five inside. They were kept out by the security in a civilised manner. In fact we provided them with water till the time they were outside.
I am very baffled that these very people who protested outside are talking about intolerance. I felt that they were being the most intolerant. When people should have the right to eat beef, then they should also have the right to conduct a harmless havan.

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It’s being alleged by some quarters that you are a RSS man. Will you accept that?

Sitting in this chair I cannot sympathise to a particular ideology. Personally I am free to have my own view point just as any other individual in this country. That’s in personal space. But officially in this chair, no. It doesn’t reflect in my functioning here. Even as a journalist my viewpoint is never reflected in my work, though I have a view point as a columnist. What saddens me is that no body talks about the work that I have been doing since I took over. I have been promoting regional language journalism. The first course that I made into a full-fledged course was Urdu. No body talked about it. If I had to promote a so-called right-wing ideology, would I have launched a course where most students are from a minority community? Where is the ideology in question reflected? Please tell me. Not a single minority student has come out and protested against me. In fact there are many faculty members here to whom I have given various responsibilities and they are known to have views contrary to those of the present dispensation. Have I fired any of them after taking over as DG?

You fired Narendra Singh Rao.

He was an academic associate, not a teacher. At IIMC academic associates assist professors but they are not teachers. We had terminated him for his disobedience on several occasions. He went to the high court and CAT for relief. It has been six months, so far he hasn’t got any relief. Had we been wrong he would have got immediate relief. He has been motivated, provoked and used by Mr Amit Sengupta who was transferred to our Odisha campus before my tenure started and had resigned in protest.

You suspended one student for writing against you in the media.

Rohin Kumar was suspended because he wrote an article for online media without cross-verifying facts from the administration. He spread misinformation about the institute. And he wrote on a matter that was sub-judice. There is something called institutional discipline. A handful of students have been writing nonsense against me on social media. I dint suspend anyone except Rohin. No institution will tolerate the kind of language that they use. These students have been using abusive language against me. Does freedom of speech mean they have a licence to abuse their teachers? Media institute doesn’t mean that there is no discipline at all. They can’t write whatever they feel like against the administration and teachers.”

Then why are a section of the students speaking out against you?

Out of a total strength of 400, there are just five students from this institute and a few from JNU next door who are raising questions. They have a grudge against me because I have been appointed by this government and these students are anti-establishment. See, I am here to do a job. I cannot allow anything from this campus that is anti-government or anti-people or anti-country. I haven’t been asked to implement any ideology here. These students include Anirban Bhattacharya, the man who was accused of raising anti-national slogans at JNU. They have shouted slogans of Lal Salaam outside IIMC campus. So it’s clear that it is more to do with politics rather than the issues that they are raising. I haven’t allowed anyone to raise counter-slogans against them. Had it been an ideological battle for me, it wasn’t difficult for me to organise counter-sloganeering.

These students are making everything into an ideological matter. This is part of a larger political campaign to project everything as saffronisation, to show that all institutions are being destroyed by government appointees. They think that all the people appointed in the past were highly meritorious and those appointed by this government are least deserving. I don’t need any certificate for my career from anyone. I know what was my reputation and the kind of journalism I have done. Their whole idea is to demolish this government. This is a political propaganda. It’s not based on facts.

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