Rat Race begins at Lok Sabha TV; Sumitra Mahajan vs PM Modi vs RSS


Just days after Jawhar Sircar resigned from Prasar Bharti’s CEO post, the Centre’s Narendra Modi government is faced with another challenge. This time it is to find a replacement for post of Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief of Lok Sabha Television.

The post, currently held by Seema Gupta, is likely to fall vacant next month. But a rat race of sorts has already begun to succeed Gupta after rumours suggested that she had fallen out of favour with the Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan.

Seema Gupta, current Editor-InChief and CEO of Lok Sabha TV

Gupta, who’s had nearly 25 years of experience in broadcast journalism, had taken up the role in 2014 on a two-year contract. According to insiders, Gupta’s appointment had taken place at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention even though she was not Mahajan’s choice.

Mahajan, sources said, was in favour of Abhilash Khandekar, a fellow non-resident Marathi just like the Lok Sabha Speaker herself. Khandekar, like Mahajan also hails from Indore.

Khandekar, after having missed out for the top job, was later given a regular programme on the channel even as he continued with his regular job with the Bhaskar group.

It is alleged that Gupta’s proximity to the PMO, was simply too strong for Mahajan to even contest the former’s appointment.

One source said that the relationship between Gupta and the Lok Sabha Speaker has not something to write home about adding that her ideas would rarely find the support of Mahajan.

The outgoing (unless she gets an extension) CEO and Editor-in-Chief allegedly struggled in striking a chord with her juniors and was at loggerheads with her bosses in the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

Testament to this was how she invoked the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s name to ‘intimidate’ her senior colleague during an official email exchange.

The email exchanges, when made public, caused considerable embarrassment to not just Gupta but the Modi government as the episode posed serious questions on the functioning of the Lok Sabha TV. Critics began to ask questions if Lok Sabha TV had drifted from its core purpose of being a tool to acquaint citizens with the functioning of the parliament.

Gupta’s email suggested that the channel was being run at the behest Jaitley, the then I&B minister and his junior Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

Gupta, when contacted by Janta Ka Reporter, said that she was not authorised to speak either on her possible extension or relationship with her colleagues (both seniors and juniors alike).

A top source close to her said that she was aghast that her rivals within the Lok Sabha secretariat were planting stories to defame her.

“Gupta has had 25 years of an impeccable career in journalism. You only have to see the quality of Lok Sabha TV programmes compared to how they were, say 10 years ago. The fact that she is a woman and has occupied the top post in the channel for the last two years hasn’t gone down well with her detractors.”

Though sources close to Gupta deny she’s had any political links claiming that her appointment in 2014 was purely ‘based on her talent,’ some reports lately suggested that she had been in touch with senior RSS functionaries with a view to get an extension.

Her decision to commission a series on the RSS ideologue Deen Dayal Upaddhaya to Deen Dayal research Institute located in Jhandewalan, the RSS office in the national capital, was widely seen as her attempts to woo the Sangh top brass.

Likely successors 

Khandekar has now fast emerged as Gupta’s likely successor even though he had lost out to her two years ago. But, giving Khandekar a tough competition is Rahul Dev, who had filled in the shoes of charismatic Aaj Tak journalist and anchor, SP Singh after his sudden death in 1997.

After his stint as Editorial head at Aaj Tak, Dev took many several roles in several news channels, but his career in most channels lacked longevity.

Dev has lately become frequent a visitor to several BJP power centres, it is alleged. His increased proximity to influential BJP leaders has given credence to rumours that he too may have thrown his hat into the ring to succeed Gupta.

Another person’s name doing the rounds as the dark horse is Rajkumar Sharma, who is a relatively low profile ex-ABVP functionary, but enjoys the much-needed support of the RSS.

The RSS office in Jhandewalan is reportedly keen for Sharma to replace Gupta. Sharma is currently working as the OSD media to Chhattisgarh chief minister, Raman Singh, and works out of the office of the resident commissioner, Chhattishgarh in Delhi.

His previous job profile includes career with Panchjanya and Swadesh newspapers. As Raman’s media advisor in Delhi, Sharma, is also known to work from the party president’s residence at 13 Teen Murti, rather than the usual Chhattisgarh Bhavan.

Sources said that, unlike Gupta, who held both the posts of CEO and Editor-in-Chief at the LSTV, the Lok Sabha Secretariat was actively considering hiring two different individuals for these two posts.

“Don’t be surprised if we have two people replacing Seema ji’s and not one,” said another source at the LSTV.