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MW: The journey of an Agent Provocateur

 

Veteran journalist Kanchan Gupta has been there, done that. Agnibesh Das profiles the experienced journalist who has dipped in diplomacy, politics and is finally foraying into digital journalism
AGNIBESH DAS | New Delhi, September 7, 2012 20:47
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kanchan guptaWhat can you say of a journalist whose blog is named after a British lingerie company? Well, for the lack of another word, you call him Kanchan Gupta. The veteran journalist has never played by the rules, having worked under some of the biggest stalwarts of Indian journalism – MJ Akbar, Sunanda K Datta-Ray and Vinod Mehta to name a few. He was one of the youngest Assistant Editors at The Statesman at a time when the paper was the biggest one in India. He joined the Prime Minister’s Office when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. As a diplomat, he has been the director of the Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture in Cairo.
 
“It was not a conscious decision to come into journalism. It was more by accident,” he says. “I was still in Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College. MJ Akbar was startingThe Telegraph and had called upon young graduates to come and try their hands at journalism. Masood ul Haq, who used to work for The Sunday asked me to apply,” he reminisces. “I took the advice. I have not regretted it,” he adds. 
 
The Telegraph was making waves in those days. Though a Johnny-come-lately, it was giving The Statesman a run for its money. “There was a youthfulness about the place. There were problems but those were incidental,” Gupta says. Journalists in the 1980s were not very well paid. “A trainee got Rs 850 which became a little over Rs 1000 once you got confirmed. After four years, I made about Rs 1500. So you were always looking for a job that was paying you a little better,” says Gupta.
 
In 1987, he was invited to join The Statesman as an Assistant Editor by then editor Sunanda K Datta-Ray. Having worked in an upcoming and fresh organisation like The Telegraph, working at The Statesman was a completely new experience. “The Statesman in those days had a huge labour union problem. The union just would not see beyond its own nose and did not let the paper move ahead with the times,” says Gupta. Indeed, by 1892, ABP had moved on to photo typesets. It already had a partially computerised production system. The Statesman initially did not invest in technology and when they did, the union did not allow the technology to be used. Huge stocks of imported computers and a state of the art printing press lay unused and uninstalled because the union would not allow it.
 
Eventually, it got too much for Gupta to take. Simultaneously, he got an offer to join the The Pioneer, then under Vinod Mehta. His first stint at the paper would last only four years however. Vinod Mehta left the paper in 1994 over ego hassles with owner LM Thapar. “Nearly all of us were there because of Vinod. With his departure, there was a huge vacuum. Thapar then decided to hire AK Bhattacharya to replace Vinod. I just could not work with him. So I left,” says Gupta. 
 
Once again an opportunity presented itself at the right time. LK Advani was looking for someone to help him and Vajpayee with their parliamentary work. The job was offered to Gupta who took it. When the BJP came into power, he joined the PMO. From that, he would go on to Cairo, to return in 2004 to join the The Pioneer again.
Throughout his career, he has been vocal against censorship. “If what I say offends you, then I have a right to offend. You in turn, have the right to ignore me, criticise me, lampoon me, but you cannot stop me. What I cannot do however is slander, defame or denigrate someone because these are actionable under the law. It is a very fine distinction people often miss,” Gupta emphasises. 
 
Gupta has never worked for a television news channel. “Very briefly I worked for a channel in Kolkata. They wanted me to do some English programming. It was an unmitigated disaster,” he says. Also, he has very little respect for the TV news channels and expresses himself in no uncertain manner. “Apart from NDTV, mainly due to some conditioning given they were the first on the block, I hold the lot of them in utter contempt. The only discernible trend is that TV caters to the lowest common denominator,” says he.
 
It would however be wrong to think that he is not in tune with modern forms of media. Already hugely active in the social media, he is getting ready to foray into digital journalism. He feels today’s fast lifestyle will propel this form to new heights in the near future. “Each era has its own peculiarities. Short and crisp pieces are peculiar to this one. And then, as my colleague Mohan Rao used to say, if you cannot say something in 50 words, you cannot say it in 500 words,” he says. Here’s wishing him success. 
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017