MJ Akbar joining the BJP has raised many eyebrows. The reasons for his joining the party may be many. While the promise of a powerful position in BJP may be one, I think it is neither the main nor the only reason for his joining the Right-wing party. The principal motivation could be that he is using the political platform of the party to gain access to a wider market among the BJP and the NDA supporters. Such a move at a time when the election is in the air only makes it more conspicuous. This rightly sends the signal across the party supporters that he is indeed one of them.
— NitiCentral.com (@NitiCentral) March 25, 2014
Recently, Mr. MJ Akbar, one of the most well known print journalists, and foremost authors in India, formally joined the BJP, a Right-wing political formation. This has invoked some surprise, some skepticism, and some criticism from many quarters. Everyone is puzzled as to why this stalwart of Indian journalism has joined a party he has so detested for decades! Most crucially, when the party has nominated a highly controversial figure – Narendra Modi – as its Prime Ministerial candidate, is it a good time for a seasoned journalist to join the Right-wing party?
Activists, journalist, and scholars alike, have analyzed and expressed their opinions on what might have motivated Mr Akbar to join the BJP. The motivating factors, they argue, range from a governor’s position in some state, to a union ministerial berth, to a membership in the upper house of Indian parliament. But none of these incentives seem attractive enough, to me, for a person of the stature of MJ Akbar. These positions he could have easily bargained from any other party, as well, had he been interested. The fact that just being MJ Akbar, the journalist that he is, has more dignity than holding some silly political position and I believe he knows that. It has been rightly pointed out by SNM Abdi that irrespective of whatever position of power he holds, unless he becomes the President or Prime Minister of the country – which seems unlikely to happen, he will be remembered as a journalist. As far as politics is concerned, I think he is neither serious about it, nor fit for active politics. Had he been so, he would have been in politics all along since 1989 when he first became an MP from Kishanganj.
What Really Happened
While many people smelled his political ambition behind this move, many others have expressed their bewilderment at his divorcing the secular-liberal-values that he upheld for so many years. But I think everyone is missing something or the other. Regarding the present move, the only motive which, I think, can sufficiently explain the reason behind his affiliation to the Right-wing-party is his business-sense and sheer ambition to remain popular among a large mass of Indian readers. While everyone seems to focus on his illustrious career as a journalist and a prominent voice of sanity, most commentators seem to forget that he is also a successful entrepreneur. Directly or indirectly, he either has a significant stake, or controls a good portion of Indian English media. He also has authored numerous popular books and I am sure is planning to write some more. Both his media houses and his books need a large number of obedient readers. If he does not have a wider and sustained access to the readership-market, both his business as well as influence over the public opinion would decline. Thus, he “needs” a broader market.
What could possibly provide a better incentive for a shrewd businessman like Mr. Akbar than a permanent access to a huge market? Therefore, I think he is interested in the market – likely to be dominated by the youth, which, at present, is lured by the BJP’s much hyped “party with a difference” campaign, seduced by Modi’s strong Hindutva-cum-Development image, and fuelled by massive corruption scandals of Congress coupled with a prolonged anti-incumbency factor. So aligning with the BJP provides him the large market that he needs. He can tell them what they want to hear with his mastery over the language. This way both the seller and the buyer are happy. A great deal!
Although most of the progressive, liberal, and secular intellectuals have been surprised at his new political affiliation, one thing that the elites seem to have missed is that a large section of the youth – belonging to the majority community – has been overwhelmingly happy and has heartily welcomed him for this decision. His joining the BJP provides some legitimacy to the party’s claim that it is becoming increasingly secular, and boosts its supporters’ morale that an intellectual like Mr Akbar is also on their side.
One of the main reasons for MJ’s success both as a journalist and an author, besides his superb prose, is his acumen to assess the public mood. He has often written articles or books keeping the popular appeal in mind. He hardly goes against the mainstream. He knows that being secular, objective, taking a principled stand, etc. are all nice but these virtues don’t necessarily pay off much in terms of either money or popularity. The most virtuous person may not be the most popular always. So he has taken the risk of estranging a few of his secular friends or followers for gaining access to a much larger market of readers and followers. And may be, if he is lucky enough, this can bring some political dividends, as well. More is always better.
A Smart Move
— Basant (@BasantOswal) March 22, 2014
So, having gauged the mood of the country – especially the youth – he has sided with the Right. Because he knows maintaining a secular stance will be more costly, both in terms of the size of the audience and competition with other journalists, as most of the prominent journalists in India are “fairly secular” and oriented toward the left. With the eroding political influence of Congress, the Left, and shrinking secular space in India, it will be difficult to maintain a monopoly over a wider secular readership and even harder to maintain the business empire. Given the BJP’s increasing popularity among urban and educated youth, MJ’s timing could not have been better. It is well-known that the media business usually does not stand profitable on its own unless it is highly advertisement leveraged or it has some political or corporate backing. So he has chosen the political backing from the Right-wing which brings the corporate-funds along with it, plus it gives a huge audience in the form of BJP or NDA supporters.
Rather than remaining a part of the Left-liberal crowd of journalists, he has chosen to be the monarch of the Right. He is one of the few mainstream print journalists who are supporting the BJP. This gives him an added advantage to be close to the majority youth – a section heavily influenced by the Right-wing and appalled at the status-quo of the national economy. Whoever talks against the incumbent Government will be their choice.
Hence, from this move, MJ Akbar may get a Rajya Sabha seat, a ministerial berth, or maybe even a Governorship – but I don’t think it matters much to him. More than anything else, he will get a faithful bunch of readership which will buy whatever he tells them. I think this is the most significant reason for his supporting BJP, especially at this time.
By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar
Video Source: MJ Akbar on why he joined BJP and endorses Modi@YouTube