Madison Square Garden in New York City was in festive mood on Sunday afternoon. Chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai and “Modi, Modi, Modi” rocked the iconic and gladiatorial arena that has witnessed many sporting battles and entertainment shows. However, nothing can be compared to this event, even though it has hosted many political conventions. Audience assembled in joy and pride in a show of strength that will almost certainly be factored into US perception of India, now and forever. In a chest-swelling, heart-stirring show of bipartisan strength, Modi and overseas Indians indulged in a mutual love-fest that sharply etched the country’s growing power and profile in the minds of Americans, represented at the unprecedented Indian political rally by more than two dozen US lawmakers and governors. Even being an Indian journalist leaving all the bias and prejudices aside, I’m feeling honoured as being Indian.
On the other side, all of sudden a news surfaced with a video clip that, Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, was caught in a much-publicized brawl with a group of pro-Modi supporters outside Madison Square Garden ahead of Modi’s speech on Sunday. Amongst a crowd of Indian Americans outside Madison Square Gardens who had come to watch Modi speak, Rajdeep started his coverage with comments like these: “Narendra Modi has proven himself to be the pied piper of India …or at least of Indian Americans” (implying the hordes of Modi supporters in India and the American Indians are rats who are following him blindly). Then he asks the crowd, virtually all of whom are Modi’s supporters, questions like: “Do you think one man can change India?” One of them replies: “If one woman can LOOT India, then why can’t one man CHANGE India?”
Rajdeep turns away and goes to another section of the crowd and asks: “Will you go back to India?” (Multiple times to multiple people, in tone that implied “hey you’re living a comfortable life in US. Why are you showing so much interest in the affairs of India? Will you ever return to India?”). The whole episode looked scripted as anti-Modi. It looks to me that Rajdeep was deliberately infuriating the crowd. They were really not in a mood to debate with the journalist as they all were curiously waiting for their leader to arrive. We Indians generally wear saffron, red or whites and bright colours on auspicious days. Modi’s presence at Madison Square Garden was equally auspicious for his supporters and Hindu Indians. Moreover, these are Navratri days, Modi is known as Hindu leader, and some of the supporters were sporting in Saffron colour outfits that have got nothing to do with them supporting any right wing outfit. They are simple NRI’s residing in the US.
The next question by Rajdeep was totally illogical: “Did you pay for your ticket?” “Did you pay for your ticket?” “Did you pay for your ticket?” He asked this to many people who replied in the negative. Here’s why. Madison Square Gardens has a seating capacity of 20,000…out of which 18,000 seats were given out free to anyone who wanted to view the event and registered for the same on time. The rest of the seats were donor seats with high price tags. So obviously a majority of the people wouldn’t have paid for their ticket. What was the relevance of this question? Section of crowd gets irritated with his line of questioning and starts chanting “Modi, Modi…” They made him restless by not allowing to speak further. Crowd was hooting Sardesai and they did not allow him to carry forward his questioning. Rajdeep turned around and asked: “Some people say Indian Americans talk a lot but don’t do anything. Why doesn’t the Indian American community do more for India?”
OK, now what exactly was Rajdeep trying to do here? Who are these “some people”? Rajdeep would have given names and examples to make his question clear. This is not government secret that he has to hide his “sources” or information. Rajdeep’s conduct was very much irritating, and obvious. As more of the crowd when chanting “Modi Modi” Rajdeep went to that section, slightly unsettled and tries to engage them, but then they showed no interest in responding to any more of his questions.
Then he utters… “I am here.. You are here…this is America” … it was sounding all funny and made no sense to me. After this, the crowd got brassier with chants of “Modi Modi” and “Rajdeep Murdabad”. Rajdeep turned around; looking very much disturbed, and asks them: “Did Narendra Modi ask you to behave badly? Did America tell you to behave badly?” Now I want to ask Rajdeep, who taught you to behave pointless and ridiculous? CNN, NDTV or present group India Today or you are like this by birth or your upbringing was wrong? (I know you readers must have got irritated) this is what exactly the reaction of people were after Rajdeep’s irritated questions.
Being journalists, we need to understand mob psyche. A Journalist should know when and where what to ask and how to ask. Almost all media outlets showed this event in favour of Rajdeep and against the crowd, saying the crowd had no right to turn violent, whatever the provocation. But no one noticed, Rajdeep calls someone in the crowd as an asshole, gets called asshole in return. Then that someone says something to Rajdeep which provokes him enough to physically hit that person. Every action call for reaction, its then that the other person hit back by pushing him and people in the crowd were trying to control both. It was Rajdeep who instigated the violence. Rajdeep has blotted the journalist community by his misconduct. Rajdeep was least interested in what people wanted to say or feel about their country and Prime Minister but he was creating doubts in people’s mind by pushing his own agenda.
Even though, the organisers criticised the behaviour of those who tried to dragoon the media crews by shouting slogans and behaving badly. The organiser of the event, Vijay Jolly personally came out and apologised to Sardesai for the behaviour of the miscreants. The seasoned journalist that he is, Sardesai took it in his stride and brushed it off as an unfortunate incident, saying that things like this happen sometimes when you report live.
There are many such senior journalists who are part of the old traditional media who gives the people their prejudiced view of politics. They think they have a right (journalists’ right) to say whatever irrelevant they want to say. They do not want people to disagree with them. They control the media. They do not understand the reality and the sentiments of the people. These guys are arrogant and totally biased. Their ego is very big. The Editor’s Guild should apologise unreservedly for not following the first principle in journalism; verifying the facts. The full video reveals that, it is Sardesai who behaved like a brute and assaulted a member of the public in New York. He brought disrepute to the profession and reinforced the notion that the Indian TV news personalities are ill-mannered louts. Journalist should know his limits when he is representing himself on international platform.
Rajdeep Sardesai went to Madison Square Garden with an obnoxious political agenda; he tried to downgrade and demean the prime minister of his country at a time when Modi was trying to build the India brand. The journalist apparently crossed the Rubicon of journalistic ethics. Equally condemnable is the way he provoked the audience there, got physical with them and used abusive language. He ‘shamed’ the profession of journalism. He was quite unreasonable by demeaning the prime minister of this country on the foreign soil. As a Journalist, in spite of all wrongs and rights ‘I Stand By Rajdeep’, just because he is my senior and seasoned journalist of this country. However, as a citizen of this country, even I would have slapped him tight for his misbehaviour at that time.