Indian journalist and writer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay in conversation with Kitaab’s Interviews Editor, Dr. Debotri Dhar

Women are shown in the (love jihad) campaign as being incapable of taking independent decisions – they can only be seduced or abducted; they cannot, by choice, fall in love with a man of another community […] Religion today is not a route to finding peace. It is a tool to subjugate the enemy other.

Nilanjan MukhopadhyayWhen one reads Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay (columnist and author of The Demolition: India at the Crossroads and Narendra Modi, The Man, The Times, published by Harper Collins and Westland respectively), one is immediately struck by his incisive understanding of Indian politics. Engaging in knee-jerk generalizations may be particularly easy given the currently polarized political climate, but his critiques are more meticulous–and munificent when they need to be.

When we first got in touch, I absent-mindedly addressed him as Professor Mukhopadhyay (as an academic, “Dr. and “Prof.” being my default modes). He wryly confessed that he was not a fan of formal education, and was a college dropout. (“Couldn’t resist that wisecrack!” he said.) As someone who agrees that college can sometimes seriously interfere with education, I was delighted. “Then I shall always address you as Prof. M,” I responded, with equal parts of affection and admiration. In our chat below, he generously shares his views on religion, right wing politics, journalism, “love jihad”, Modi, masjid, gender, caste, and the challenges ahead for Indian democracy.

Did you always want to be a journalist? Do share some of your insights on journalism.

I couldn’t have been anything else but a journalist because of the unplanned manner in which I got into the profession. I joined Jawaharlal Nehru University almost straight out of school, to pursue a 5 yr integrated MA course in Russian Language & Literature. But I had an unarticulated angst against formal education. I wanted to be a self-made person and did not wish this route to be through formal education. But by the time I came to JNU, the option of becoming an entrepreneur was foreclosed. I did make some money on the side by picking up stray assignments as a guide for Russian tourists but did not see myself as a lifelong ‘Raju Guide’ type.

I also used to take pictures at the time and was secretary of the photo club, and a friend who was working in a monthly magazine asked if I was willing to do the photos for a story on Chambal dacoits. This was in 1981-82, prior to the big surrenders of Malkhan Singh and Phoolan Devi. I did the pictures and when they were published, I quite liked seeing my name in print – my first byline. Around the same time, a Mrinal Sen retrospective was being screened. During a break, a friend and I saw Mrinal Da in the lobby and mustered courage to seek an interview. He heard that we were students and invited us for breakfast the next day at the hotel where he was staying. I typed out the interview after transcribing it by hand from my tape recorder. That was the first time I had typed anything – and with a single finger, one on each hand!