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The man who lost his shadow

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Well-known journalist-turned-neta M.J. [Mobasshar Javed] Akbar, once a Congress MP from Bihar’s Kishanganj and a bitter critic of Narendra Modi post-2002 riots in Gujarat, has now been included as a junior minister for external affairs in Modi’s cabinet. Earlier he was a BJP spokesperson in which capacity he routinely lambasted the Congress party which had launched him into politics during Rajiv Gandhi’s government when he had served as a Congress spokesperson. His tilt towards the BJP, especially towards Narendra Modi in 2014 in the run-up to the general elections, had surprised many.

Akbar is a Bengali Muslim. He was born at Kolkata  on 11 January 1951. He received his education in Kolkata and joined The Times of India in 1971 as a trainee. Within a few months, he moved to the The Illustrated Weekly of India. In 1973 he was named editor of the news fortnightly, Onlooker, and in 1976 he moved to Calcutta to join the Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) Group as editor of The Sunday whose investigative reporting established it as India’s number one political magazine which took an uncompromising stand against Emergency and fought press censorship and dictatorship. Akbar the journalist died the day he joined politics in 1989.

Akbar’s brief stint as a Rajya Sabha member from Jharkhand ended last month, but he was quickly brought in as a member of the Upper House from Madhya Pradesh. Akbar announced his decision to join the saffron party claiming Modi was unjustifiably targeted since 2002 as “none could prove” his involvement in the riots in the 12 long years.

A good orator and journalist who has to his credit the launch of two prestigious newspapers, The Telegraph and The Asian Age, Akbar, 65, has also authored a number of best seller non-fiction, including a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru titled Nehru: The Making of India and others like Kashmir: Behind the Vale, Riot After Riot and India: The Siege Within.

His book Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan, published in 2012, discussed the identity crisis and class struggles in Pakistan. It has been rated highly by the Sangh Parivar think tanks and leaders, including Advani and Modi himself. Akbar endeared himself to the BJP bosses when during the height of the intolerance debate in September 2015 he described Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi as the “spoilt child of Indian democracy”. Team Modi considers Akbar an asset.

Earlier in his political career, Akbar had won Lok Sabha election in 1989 defeating Syed Shahabuddin from Kishanganj. He, however, lost the seat later in 1991. In the same year he joined the Government as an advisor in the Ministry of Human Resources and returned to full-time journalist the next year as he could not go along with Narasimha Rao government.

Akbar had launched, as editor, India’s first weekly political news magazine, Sunday, in 1976, and two daily newspapers, The Telegraph and The Asian Age in 1982 and 1994 respectively.

Akbar had backed the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during the Bofors controversy.  By 1992-93 Akbar was back into journalism. After a stint in India Today from September 2010 to October 2012, he started a weekly newspaper, Sunday Guardian, in early 2010 but it never picked up. This was after the flop of his fortnightly political magazine Covert launched months after his unceremonious exit from the Asian Age in March 2008. After joining BJP two years ago he wrote an apology justifying his decision saying that the BJP has “one person best suited to lift the nation out of a septic swamp”.

Until his entry into the Modi government his columns rountinely appeared in many newspapers though it was difficult to make out, apart from serving as an apologist for the Modi regime, what his verbiage really meant.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2016 on page no. 12

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