Ravish Kumar, one of India’s best-known news anchors, resigned from NDTV soon after it emerged that Gautam Adani would take control of the network. Kumar, who has been a critic of the Narendra Modi government, sat down with Karan Thapar for an interview published by The Wire on December 19. He expressed his belief that Adani was spending thousands of crores to buy NDTV just to silence him. He also discusses various other issues, such as the state of media freedom in the country and what the future holds for him. The following is a transcript of the interview, with Kumar’s responses translated from the original Hindi to English.
Karan Thapar: Ravish, let me start with the obvious question. Why did you resign from NDTV when it became clear that Gautam Adani had acquired 29.9% of the company’s shares and he had launched a public offer for 26% more? Most people think they know the answer, but I believe they’d like to hear it from you.
Ravish Kumar: Thank you, Karan, for giving me this opportunity. My reply is a bit long. As it is the first question, kindly hear me out.
As soon as the news about the Adani Group’s impending takeover of NDTV broke in August, one thought flashed through my mind – you have not succeeded in buying me over all these years, so now you have adopted the takeover route.
No doubt NDTV is a distinct brand and has its own identity. But as you are aware, it has been quite obvious in these times that the channel has come to be associated with me to some extent – that it is ‘Ravish’s channel’. [Pranoy] Roy never had a problem with this perception; on the contrary, it pleased him.
In his piece in The Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan has also written that this entire game has been played to remove me from the television space. When this news broke many people expressed a similar view across social media as well. I too am convinced that this entire scheme was hatched to remove my presence from TV. There are also those who say this is a normal corporate takeover.
Fine, you may want to reduce me to a footnote by pushing me away, but I am not a footnote. And Adani sahab must also have realised this by now. In fact, the reason for this takeover is clear to the people as it is clear to me – since you have not succeeded in buying over the voice of the poor, you decide to obliterate it from the platform, simply buy out the entire platform where my presence would exemplify a much larger contradiction. I could not be bought over, so I was removed.
The way I see it, Karan, hundreds and thousands of crores have been staked to render me jobless. This money could have provided jobs to thousands of boys and girls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Now I want to focus on what Adani said in an interview with Financial Times on November 25. He said, “Independence means if government has done something wrong, you say it’s wrong. But at the same time, you should have courage when the government is doing the right thing every day. You have to also say that.”
In a way this can be seen as Adani’s editorial diktat, indicating what would happen at NDTV.
Let me flip Adani’s statement and ask him this – certainly, the government does the right thing, but if someone criticises it, that should be taken note of, too. You should have the guts to state that as well, which the ‘godi’ (lapdog) media and its owners don’t have. Can Adani say this? If he had, then I would have felt that he is sending me a message – you continue to do what you are doing, no one can touch you.
It is well-known that my identity is that of one who questions the government. Can Adani tweet that if someone engages in criticism, the BJP and the Modi government’s ministers should not boycott that journalist’s programme? If he were to do this for four days, he would be seen hunched up on a stool in the office of the Enforcement Directorate (ED). He will retain his position as long as he refrains from criticising the government. The day he does so, he won’t even get a stool at the office of ED or CBI.
My programmes were boycotted, but as soon as I left, second-rung BJP functionaries started showing up. What does all this show? Just that 99.99999% of the Indian media praises the Modi government, spends lakhs and crores of rupees to spread falsehood and hatred. This media includes Mr Ambani’s channels and others.
Look at the godi media’s empire, how vast it is. Even then, Mr Adani feels that no one has the courage to praise the government. There is nothing but praise from morning to evening; the voice of the people finds no place in these channels and he is talking about courage! The lecture on media freedom that Adani sahab is giving is idle talk. Big people are often known to indulge in such nonsense.
Godi media seths (owners) would do well to remember one thing – I have not engaged in criticism for the sake of it. You cannot reduce my questions, my shows and my hard work to statements that are merely designed to be against someone. I have worked hard, using facts in context, with journalistic skill and ethics, to raise questions, not slogans of zindabad and murdabad.
Take any episode of my primetime shows, be it Baagon mein bahar hai (The gardens are in bloom), Black Screen, or the ones telecast during the time of COVID. He [Adani] talks about the independence of the media. Can he tweet these programmes tagging Narendra Modi? Can he say: The gardens are in bloom/Modiji, see, there is a journalist in the land/a journalist whose work is grand.
Then I would have known how much he or the suave English-speaking journalists brought by him respect press freedom.
Can he, say, tweet The Wire’s story on Pegasus? Fine, he can’t do that. Take the Washington Post story on the Adani group by Niha Masih and two others [Gerry Shih and Anant Gupta]. Can he tweet it? Can Sanjay Pugalia [the CEO and editor in chief (Media Initiatives) in Adani Enterprises] tweet it?
There have been several reports about the Adani Group. I was watching some reports in which the Adani Group did not respond to any question. I was watching the programme Listening Post on Al Jazeera which contained a report on Adani’s takeover [of NDTV]. At one place it says they sought a clarification from the Adani Group but were asked to look at Adani’s interview published in Dainik Jagran in which he talks about media freedom. I would like you to display on the screen the page containing the interview in which he speaks about editorial freedom.
He gives an interview to Financial Times in which he says, there is no channel like Al Jazeera in India, there should be one. Yet he does not reply to any question posed by the reporter in the programme on Al Jazeera! Isn’t that amazing?
You should read that interview. It is a Power feature interview. Power feature interviews are sponsored write-ups. If it were not sponsored, there would be a journalist’s byline, the name of the editor asking the questions. This is a full-page interview but there is no journalist’s byline to be found.
I will finish with this final point, Karan. The talk is about editorial freedom, but consider this – who is asking the questions from Dainik Jagran is not known, the face of the journalist is not known; have the replies been written by someone or has Adani said those things is not known. He who does not respond to journalists’ questions, threatens a defamation suit, gives a featured interview, is expounding on press freedom.
Karan, there is no doubt in my mind. When such a person – who does not respect the media, does not reply to their questions, gives featured interviews – talks about media freedom, then, like Savarkar, we should all take to writing letters seeking freedom.
I want to end with this: having money in the pocket and having a heart full of courage are two very different things. That is why I resigned. My message to the godi seth was that you keep the money in your pocket, I will keep courage in my heart. I made my exit.
This takeover is not a normal takeover. Snatching the pen from a journalist the way food is snatched from the mouth of a person – it is that kind of a takeover. Moreover, the poor people of India have understood this.
You have explained in great detail the reasons for resigning from NDTV. I will come in a moment’s time to the comments you made on the interview Mr Adani gave to the Financial Times on November 25. But first I want to ask you a question about this takeover. Do you believe Mr Adani genuinely wants to control a TV channel like NDTV? Does he really want to include a media branch in his empire or is he doing this because he wants to neutralise and silence the critical voice of NDTV because NDTV is disliked by the Modi government? If it is the second, is he doing it at the behest of Mr Modi directly? In other words, is this an acquisition happening because Mr Modi asked Adani, “Silence this channel for me.”
Karan, many things have emerged clearly. Adani does not promote questioning or criticism in any manner. If he did, as I said, my episode Baagon mein bahar hai in 2016, when NDTV was being banned – let him tweet it. There are many such episodes. In no way is Mr Adani an icon of press freedom. If you watch Gangs of Wasseypur, you will understand the reality of the coal business. In the state I come from, when Bihar and Jharkhand were still one, separate, we knew the kind of people associated with the coal business then and those who came later.
Similarly, earlier NDTV had just NDTV. It did not have a hotel or newspaper business in addition. Now it boasts a coal business as well. Or you could say that the individual who is variously described by the press as the emperor of the coal business and the world’s biggest businessman in coal, now has a TV channel as well. If his intent was to do great journalism through a news channel, he could have realised his goal through BloombergQuint, in which he had invested. What great journalism has been achieved through [that acquisition]? [Editor’s Note: Ravish Kumar spoke of an Adani stake in ‘Quint’; in fact Adani contracted to buy a 49% stake in the business news website BloombergQuint earlier this year. The site, now called BQPrime, is a separate entity to the website The Quint].
The fact is that there are many aspects of this kind of corporate exercise that do not emerge in the foreground. Otherwise, he who talks about creating a channel like Al Jazeera might as well have given an interview with Al Jazeera. Or he could have given an interview with you. Mr Adani knows English and so do you…
The crux of the issue is that there is a journalist who is standing in a corner, posing questions of accountability that are well-prepared. He is not like someone from an Opposition party, shouting murdabad. To remove him you have placed a big wager. The problem was with me, not with me but with the questions I was raising and the issues of the people I was foregrounding. That platform is gone.
Five or six times you have stated with great passion that the real intention of Mr Adani was to remove you. He has acquired the channel because he wants to get rid of you, silence you. Is this because you have made Modi uncomfortable and he has asked Adani, ‘silence Ravish’s voice somehow or the other’? Is that the reason, you believe, that Mr Adani is silencing you on behalf of the prime minister who doesn’t like you?
I am not privy to their conversations. But I remember that image of the 2014 Lok Sabha poll when he [Modi] is boarding a plane that has Adani emblazoned on its side. I also remember the image of Mr Adani sitting relaxed on the plane, so also Mr Modi. I have no doubts about the closeness between them. This view is not so baseless. Although knowing what exactly they say is not possible, we can make an educated guess in a particular context which would not be entirely baseless.
He [Modi] never ever gave me an interview. He preferred to speak to the ‘counterfeit’ Kumar, ignoring the real Kumar. Now that I am out of that formal platform, certain benchmarks that had been established through questions – if you are so fond of giving interviews to all manner of Kumars about how to eat mangoes and chhole bhature, why don’t you give interviews to this one – have been swept out of the way.
When he steps into 2024, there will hardly be any critical media on a mass platform like television. Fine, all of us will be on YouTube, but we won’t have access to resources like before. All these contexts indicate that thousands of crores of rupees have been spent to eliminate my presence. The idea being, cast him out, he will keep pottering around doing something, but at least he will not be doing what he is doing now.
Let’s come to the Adani concept of freedom which he spoke about to the Financial Times on November 25. I will remind the audience of what he said – “Independence means if government has done something wrong, you say it’s wrong. But at the same time, you should have courage, when the government is doing the right thing every day. You have to also say that. “There are two questions I want to ask you. “The government is doing the right thing every day” – is there any government in the world that does the right thing every day?
(Laughs) That is why I said when any businessman starts saying such things… Remember what happened to Rahul Bajaj when he dared to ask a question? The point is that the entire spectrum of the godi media is doing nothing other than praising the government, even for things it has not done.
The way in which India’s media is continually waging an assault on the common sense and civic sense of the public, changing its perceptions about the image and responsibility of the media, is shameless. Day and night there is only praise [for the government], so who are you addressing in your lecture about having the courage to say the government is doing the right thing every day and sometimes does something wrong? It’s mindblowing.
The journalist who gets a Pulitzer [Sanna Irshad] is not allowed to go to the US to receive her award. The journalist who is killed on the field and receives a Pulitzer, Danish Siddiqui, is not even acknowledged by the prime minister. Can Adani acknowledge? Can he talk about the freedom of such journalists? When he is talking about Al Jazeera and FT, can he talk about Sanna Irshad or Danish? He can’t.
Adani told the FT you must have the courage to say the government has done the right thing. I want to ask you a simple question. Does it take courage to praise the government or does it take courage to criticise the government? In India, when you criticise the government, you can be punished, you can be hounded, you can be persecuted. In India, if you praise the government, the government likes it. So, has Mr Adani misunderstood where courage is needed? It’s not needed to praise; it is needed to criticise and expose.
Mr Adani knows only too well – which is also why he is talking about the need to praise [the government] – how closely [the fate of ] his business empire is linked to the government. His businesses in infrastructure, mining, port and airport are all closely linked to the government. These issues are not being debated at present, but the people of this country will talk about them one day. I also want to see how long they will remain slaves to the intoxication of religion.
That is why an atmosphere is being created – that there is no praise of the government, only criticism. Who is engaging in criticism [on television] except me?
You asked the right question – it is to question the government in these times that great courage is needed. You risk your life, your family’s life; you are virtually on the road due to the kind of circumstances that are created, as has happened to me. This is the price one has to pay. All kinds of cases are slapped on you, you are viciously trolled. Cases are manufactured against you. NSA charges too are foisted illegally, and this is a court statement.
In our times there is nothing more courageous than to question the government, and in our times there is nothing more spineless or sycophantic than the act of praising and pandering [the government]. You can do it the entire day. That is exactly what the godi media is doing.
And now they are coming forth with a new subversion, namely that India does not have any international media like an FT or Al Jazeera.
That is what I was coming to. Adani sahab has also stated in the interview that he wants to give NDTV a global footprint. I am quoting him – “India does not have one single outlet to compare to the FT or Al Jazeera.”
Prima facie, that suggests two things – one is that he is prepared to put a lot of money into NDTV, otherwise, NDTV will not have a global footprint to equate with Al Jazeera or FT. Secondly, it also suggests that he has to protect the credibility of NDTV, otherwise NDTV cannot aspire to the status of FT and Al Jazeera.
And both of these [statements] are contradictory to what he said about independence.
He is in the middle of a dilemma. On the one hand, he wants to make it global, wants it to compete with FT and Al Jazeera. That means you have to protect the credibility of NDTV. On the other hand, his definition of independence means NDTV will become a propaganda organ for the government, in which case it won’t have credibility and it won’t become the equivalent of FT and Al Jazeera.
Absolutely, Karan. Had he been a supporter of independence, he would not have given a featured interview to an anonymous reporter in Dainik Jagran. This only shows that big motives are attached to business deals in sophisticated English as a means of glorifying those deals. At a time when the PM himself is advocating the local, it is ironic that you are planning to launch a global channel to remove out of the way the Hindi journo who voices the demands of the local populace!
Arnab Goswami also used the same language when he said their channel would increase its global presence. What happened? The same language is being used by Adani now. Similarly, Zee also took to the same language to say it was going to increase its global presence with the launch of WION. Did it manage to do that?
As for some Hindi channels, see how they covered the Ukraine war in the guise of going global. They said such things about Putin that the government had to issue an advisory that they should refrain from spreading falsehoods such as he was ready to push the nuclear button.
Basically, this excuse of going global is being [strategically] employed as fodder to woo the English-speaking middle class. The message is this – relax, we are doing something big, namely coming up with a global channel that will bring to light all that the world does not know about India.
The local issues that I showed – the boys protesting the Agniveer scheme in Allahabad and Patna – will not be shown now. In its place, global fare will be shown in a slick production using slick English, to show that India’s star is rising in the world. Here the stomachs are empty, there the story of those with full stomachs, or their problems, will be told.
This is a subversion. Make everything sound nice to distract people so that they say, he is not such a big journalist that his removal merits a wager of thousands of crores. Hence, this farce that we are going to create a global channel. You could as well have replied to the Washington Post’s queries.
There’s another contradiction I want to put to you. Mr Adani has the money. If he wants to make NDTV global, he can position it on every satellite and make it available on every continent and in every country. But if at the same time, if he has undermined its credibility and reputation, if he has destroyed its independence and its capacity to criticise the government, then what is the purpose of making this channel global? It will be available all over the world but no one will watch it.
A few NRIs who hanker for India because they miss the country and are not at home in the new country they have gone to, they may watch it, but they are a minority.
He will have spent hundreds of thousands of crores maybe to make NDTV global, but if he has undermined its independence and credibility, no one will watch it. He will simply have wasted his money.
Karan, his money has no value. Power certainly, but no value. If it had value, they would have bought me over. I don’t give any credence to this talk of creating a global channel based on their considerable credibility. You know what their credibility in their business is. If viewers read about the coal mining business and deals, and about the rules and regulations, they will realise what Mr Adani is.
Had he been interested in bringing about credibility in the media, he would not have agreed to a featured interview in Dainik Jagran where the reporter’s name is not there. To keep up with appearances, there is a statement – we are talking about media freedom – in one corner.
He has a clear perspective. He possesses a great deal of money. So does the rest of the godi media and that is simply because there is no cost of production for them. All that is needed is to call two guests who will perform the Hindu-Muslim routine or debate a song. There is zero production cost.
The godi media is flush with earnings, so it has a great deal of money to go global. So why have they not gone global until now? The channels that go on about being number one or two – couldn’t they post reporters in New York or London? This talk of wanting to go global is nonsense.
It is easy to make up such [global] stories. While visiting Oxford University, one can easily make a video about an Indian student Rishi who has achieved a breakthrough in Sanskrit grammar with his invention. It will indeed feel good. But the question is, why is that student not able to do so in an Indian university? For that matter, where is [the very idea of] the university in India?
In 2017, the Union government floated the idea of institutes of eminence. In Patna, when chief minister Nitish Kumar urged that Patna University, which was 100 years old, should be granted the status of a central university, his request was laughed off. The question is, who will talk about the abysmal state of education that is being imparted to college students? Who will talk about the state of colleges in Balrampur, Motihari or Patna? Why are they facing a shortage of teachers? Why are students not being taught properly? These issues will not be touched [by the godi media channels].
Better to go to Oxford university and talk about Rishi. No doubt, his is a success story. But there is no debate on the kind of research happening here [in India] or the slightest sound being made about the Maulana Azad scholarship scheme being stopped. Universities here are going from bad to worse, the children who are going there [to foreign universities] are being showcased in a heightened manner. Meanwhile, the real question – why did the students have to go abroad in the first place to study – will be buried forever. That’s brain drain for you.
Back in the day, when Murli Manohar Joshi was the education minister [in the Vajpayee government], he would dispense wisdom about plugging the brain drain. What has happened since? This government has been in power for eight years now, but try naming one university that is functioning at full capacity. Look at the state of Delhi university. It couldn’t even start its session on time this year.
Basically, [through the idea of a ‘global’ channel] you are going to show insidious stories about the rising stature of India abroad (in which you have had no role to play) and in the process ensure that local story is made to disappear from the screen.
Ravish, we have discussed NDTV and Adani at great length. You have explained, in detail, why you resigned, how you view the Adani takeover, the contradictions in Adani’s position and what you think will be the outcome for NDTV. Let me end by asking you a question about yourself. How do you see your future now that you have resigned from NDTV? Will the audience still be able to see you in some shape or form on television? Or are you opting out of TV entirely? What is your future?
(Laughs) The two persons who made this happen would know the answer to this question.
I know that efforts were being made for a considerable time to make me disappear from the screen. Although what I would like to share with you does not directly relate to your question, it is important to mention it. Recently I received a message from an old acquaintance in a district of Uttar Pradesh that his cable TV network, which never aired NDTV, started doing so the day after I resigned.
This was how the initial attempts were made to remove my presence from the TV screen – how to destroy Ravish Kumar. That endeavour did not succeed perhaps, hence this new ploy in the hope that it will finish off Ravish Kumar.
That said, I am nothing by myself. It is for the people to decide – will they allow the godi seth to prove that I am inconsequential? If that is so, my future ends there and then. But if the people are ready to prove that no matter how much wealth the godi seth has, it cannot finish me off, my response would be that I will continue to do something. At this precise moment, there isn’t complete clarity.
I am well aware that a news channel has many resources at its disposal, though even then I functioned with fewer resources. But it equipped one to deliver programmes in a short time period. It will take time for me to reach that point, but I will continue to speak – speak out – through my channel on YouTube.
Such is the state of affairs that no Hindi newspaper is ready to publish my article, and you are asking me about my future! That is how scared they are. Why are they so fearful of my name? Am I not capable of writing a piece that will fetch me Rs 2,000 in some big Hindi newspaper? You are spending crores of rupees to render one journalist jobless, playing all kinds of games to ensure that he is not able to earn even Rs 2,000. You are building an atmosphere for it.
I will take my time but I will say my piece before departing from this world. As for the question of doing it, I should tell you that I am the sort who climbs a mountain slowly. Nor do I fix a height or destination in my mind. I will see what I can do. To do as I did before will be tough but I will definitely try to reach that level.
Ravish, I wish you the best of luck. Yours is the voice that must be heard – loudly, clearly and repeatedly. And I hope and pray that whatever you do you, do quickly so that the audience in India that admires you, respects you, continues to hear you. Thank you very much for this interview.
Thank you, Karan.
Translated from the original Hindi text by Chitra Padmanabhan.
Editor’s Note: Ravish Kumar’s reference to an Adani stake in ‘Quint’ should be seen as a reference to the fact that Adani contracted to buy a 49% stake in the business news website BloombergQuint earlier this year. The site, now called BQPrime, is a separate entity to the website The Quint.