Aditya Raj Kaul is the foreign and strategic affairs editor at Republic TV. Previously he has worked with Times Now and reported from Kashmir to Baghdad and Ramallah. In this exclusive interview with acadman.in he talked about his migration from Kashmir, student activism in Delhi, working with Arnab Goswami at Times Now and Republic TV, among several other things.
How was your early life? What made you pursue journalism as a career?
I was born in Kashmir and my family had to move out of Kashmir in 1989 because of terrorism. We settled in Delhi and it was really very hard in the beginning. I did my schooling from Delhi itself and later studied Political Science at Delhi University. Thereafter I went to St. Xavier Bombay to study journalism.
Journalism is something which comes from within, it is not something which can be taught. It is not something like English, History or Political Science on which you can research. Journalism is something which stems from the inquisitiveness within.
I had an interesting background because when I left school I somehow joined activism even before joining college and this was in 2006. Initially, I became part of various campaigns and that is how my journey really began.
Then I joined an anti-reservation campaign and met the then president Abdul Kalam who invited me for negotiation on behalf of students of India. I also formed a Kashmiri awareness group called – Roots in Kashmir, which used to protest and organise seminars and talk over the injustice meted to Kashmiri Pandits.
So from 2006 to 2008, I used to be in activism. That was my claim to fame. Later around 2008 I began to write for Times of India which continued for a year or so. Then I contributed to a couple of Australian newspapers.
Do you think that the Kashmiri Pandits would ever be settled back in the valley in our generation?
To be very honest, I don’t feel that during my lifetime there will be a full-time solution to Kashmir issue because even though terrorism might slow down because of security forces’ operations but there is a growing radicalization in Kashmir and that is a challenge for both security forces and the government.
So even if certain measures are taken, I don’t think anything is enough.
Congress or BJP or PDP they promised a lot to Kashmiri Pandits about rehabilitation and justice but nothing happened. There have been only promises for last 28 years.
I feel that even after exodus and the ethnic cleansing meted out to Kashmiri Pandits, there hasn’t been any justice, not a single person has been convicted for crime against humanity and all the terrorist leaders roam freely in Kashmir.There is no sense of security. So how can a Kashmiri Pandit return?
You also went to Indian Institute of Management?
That was for a short span. They had an executive education program so I was selected by my company. I used to work as a principal correspondent of Foreign Affairs at Times Now so 11 of us from the entire Times Group went to IIM Bangalore. It was a great learning experience.
How did you get the job at Times Now?
Before Times Now I was working with a magazine called The Sunday India. I worked there for a year as a special correspondent and covered Politics. During that tenure, I felt that this was a very comfortable job. Because a magazine didn’t have as much work as a newspaper or TV channel.
Hence I felt that I landed myself in a comfortable job with an average pay and that this was a major hindrance in my growth. In the beginning of your career, you have a chance to gain new experiences and learn new stuff along with working in the field, which a job with a magazine won’t be able to provide.
So in a way, all was going well but I felt suffocated working there and concluded that I wouldn’t learn much from staying there anymore. So even though I feel like I gave my best during my time like interviewing the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi along with Syed Salahuddin (Chief Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen), I left the job.
When Arnab came to know about my interview with Syed Salahuddin he saw something in me. Until that moment I had never reckoned to work with a TV channel nor did I have any desire to do so.
An interesting fact not many people know about is that I had a lot of trouble joining Times Now. They kept me on the waiting list for 9 months. Perhaps they were wondering if an activist like me would make a worthy journalist. It took me 9 months to convince them of my lack of connection with any ideologies or affiliations to any political parties and all that I did was under a student movement.
Meanwhile, Arnab Goswami felt that I should be given a chance and hence offered me an opportunity to work with him. It was a great learning experience and I gained a lot of insight about Arnab. No matter how much people criticize his character; his role is very different in the media. After working with him every day I have come to believe that nowhere in this field have I seen such integrity and truth in anybody else. I have seen plenty of editors in my life but not one matches his honesty.
I’m happy to say that I made 12-13 foreign visits while working with him. My first international tour was in 2014 when Islamic State was formed in Iraq. It wouldn’t be surprising to know that I was, in fact, scared along with my family members who were equally concerned. I stayed in Jordon for a week and on coming back realized how much trust Arnab had in me for sending a 22-23 year old to such a disturbed place for his very first international tour.
Overall it was a great experience and I would hopefully use everything I’ve learnt from Arnab to for good.
You have also reported from conflict reporting. Would you like to share some memorable incidents?
There are plenty of memorable incidents but there are two specific ones I’d like to state.
First is when I visited Israel with President Pranab Mukherjee, we decided to reach a day earlier privately. When the President reached Palestine for a historic first visit, I myself visited the Palace of Mahmood Abbas and noticed that the staff there was a huge fan of India.
So I requested them if I could interview the President which was rejected at first. But incidentally the very next day I received a phone call that the President wanted to see me. He gave me an interview for half an hour and even clicked a picture with me. It was a memorable incident. Both the countries (Israel and Palestine) were very fond of India and its culture.
Second, I was in Kashmir in May covering a story against the separatists when I received a contact of an ex-terrorist of Hizbul Mujahideen who had surrendered. The injustice that was meted out to him was that he didn’t receive any payment after working for over 4 years in a government job and his family was suffering. This not only angered but saddened me. I felt like helping the man and made certain phone calls which resulted in him receiving his payment the very next week. So I feel like journalism has a very humanitarian side too.
I have even spent a birthday in the dense jungles of Bastar when I was working in Red Corridors.
Which is the first newspaper you read every day?
If I be honest with you, I don’t read any newspaper. I’m very active on Twitter, so all the news I gather I gather through the news accounts I follow (around 6000) like BBC, Aljazeera, TOI etc. Along with covering foreign affairs, I track the online movements of radical terror organizations like Jaish-e-Mohammad, ISIS, Al Qaeda on Twitter and Facebook.
I don’t have enough time to read newspapers. Republic TV has an input team that reads various newspapers; although I’m not implying here that one shouldn’t read newspapers.
What exactly made you move to Republic TV with Arnab Goswami?
I know Arnab personally since 2006 when Times Now was launched and I appeared as an activist in CNN, Times Now and NDTV. After working for four years with Arnab he felt that I should work with him in Republic TV and when he offered me I immediately accepted since I believed in him and his vision.
So four-five members from Times Now became the founding members of Republic Tv which was a revolutionary step since TIMES is Asia’s biggest group and leaving it was difficult. But we were determined to make an independent media organization and who better than Arnab Goswami, who had brought a paradigm shift in the last 10 years, to lead the cause?
So we were fully trusting Arnab and we were successful too, for I don’t think in the history of India there has been an incidence where a new channel gains the first spot in the first week itself. And we’ve gained excellent feedback from people for almost 6 months.
How is Republic TV independent?
There is absolutely no role of any political party in our organization as stated by Arnab publicly various times along with specifying where we get our funds from. Although I can’t say that about other news channels regarding their fund receiving sources. The editorial policies are decided by Arnab since he’s the founder in chief. He doesn’t hinder our story reporting process like if I feel that I need to cover a story in Afganistan, Arnab will extend his full support.
Rajiv Chandrashekhar, who is affiliated to a certain political party, has a share in Republic TV. Hence, certain people question its independence. What do you have to say to that?
I don’t think so. We are completely independent and we don’t need to prove this to anybody. Our reporting in the last 6 months proves this since we’re now the most viewed news channel. People trust Arnab and his honesty. They trust his team. These rumors are from people who envy us and don’t want us to succeed.
When we launched Republic in May 2017, our third story was the case of Shashi Throor and Sunanda Pushkar, which I was covering in Trivandrum where Mr. Tharoor and his men manhandled me, so you can estimate just how difficult it is to work as a journalist when no action is taken against physical manhandling recorded on camera.
As a journalist, what do we do if a personality refuses to answer any question addressed to them?
If a person has nothing to hide, he should come in front of camera and answer the questions. As a media organization questioning people is our right and we will claim it. We don’t accuse people, we just question them.
What would be your suggestions for people willing to join broadcasting journalism?
The first suggestion would be that only those students should pursue this field who along with a serious passion for the work, don’t harbour any soft spots or superficial notions about this job like glamour or fame.
Having worked in the media for over 5 years now, I feel the truth is that this profile requires a lot of physical and mental grit and can get extremely exhausting sometimes. It throws all sorts of difficulties in your path. You have to spend hours in the field which indirectly also impacts your personal life.
I’m not trying to discourage anybody here, I’m only voicing out the stark truth. There are only two facets of broadcasting, one is digital and another is broadcast. Realistically, I feel that there is not much future of print and newspaper, no matter how much people like it. People are now joining digital and broadcast and it indeed offers a promising career but only for those who’re willing to work really hard and for long hours with determination.