From Booth-level Worker To Congress’s ‘Babbar Sher’: Rajiv Tyagi’s Ascent Through Forceful TV Debates

Over the past year, Rajiv Tyagi had become a regular face on TV debates, particularly on Hindi news channels, passionately defending his party.
Rahul Gandhi

Congress spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi passed away Wednesday evening after suffering a massive cardiac arrest. Shortly before his demise, Tyagi had appeared in a debate on a Hindi news channel alongside BJP’s Sambit Patra and other panelists to discuss Tuesday’s communal flare up in Bengaluru. Soon after the debate got over, Tyagi collapsed at his residence in Vaishali locality of Ghaziabad and was rushed to a private hospital at around 6.30 PM where doctors tried to resuscitate him for nearly 45 minutes but failed.

An aggressive critic of the BJP, 49-year-old Tyagi had risen up the ranks in the Congress over the past 20 years from an ordinary booth level worker to become the party’s national spokesperson in January last. It was a chance interaction with Rahul Gandhi back in 2005 during a workshop of the Congress party’s youth workers from across the country that put Tyagi’s political career on a steadily ascendant path. Gandhi was, at the time, trying various ways to revive the Congress party’s frontal organisations, the Indian Youth Congress and the NSUI, in his bid to give younger party workers a greater say in the organisation. Impressed with Tyagi’s commitment to the party and his ability to make cogent arguments on various issues, Gandhi ensured that the young party leader got his political due. Between 2005 and 2019, Tyagi served in the Uttar Pradesh Congress as a general secretary and spokesperson before being elevated to the party’s team of national spokespersons. It was, thus, no surprise that when reacting to the news of Tyagi’s sudden demise, Gandhi said the party had lost a “babbar sher” whose “love for the Congress and struggle will always be remembered.” Later, interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also called up Tyagi’s wife to personally express their condolences while several party leaders went to the Tyagi residence to pay their respects to their departed colleague.

Over the past year, Tyagi had become a regular face on TV debates, particularly on Hindi news channels, passionately defending his party despite often antagonistic news anchors. Last year, he had famously hit out at an anchor, using expletives, when he was repeatedly interjected while trying to make his point. Tyagi refused to back down and ever since that heated TV debate, he would often use the same expletives for that anchor while chiding him on Twitter or other social media platforms.

When several members of the Congress media department began adopting a forceful approach on TV debates in recent months – in part due to violently acerbic tenor of their BJP rivals but perhaps also, to a great measure, due to what the party believes was a deliberate attempt by large several media outlets, to only present the ruling party’s views – Tyagi firmly believed this was “the only way our view can be heard”.

On Wednesday too, as Tyagi made his last TV debate appearance, he was mocked repeatedly by Patra while the anchor made token interjections to stop the BJP spokesperson’s personal attacks against the Congress rival who kept requesting – “please let me speak”. This was, of course, not the first time that Patra and Tyagi had got into a vicious exchange on live TV, the verbal scuffles had become a regular affair in recent months, nor was this news anchor’s evidently partisan handling of the debate, giving Patra a free pass to call rivals various names, a new thing.

As leaders across political parties, including Patra, expressed their shock and condolences at Tyagi’s passing, RJD MP and spokesperson Manoj Jha had a message that media outlets, TV channels in particular, would do well to take note of. Stating that he witnessed Tyagi’s final debate shortly before the leader passed away, Jha tweeted, “I request you all (owners of TV news channels) with folded hands: stop these debates that harvest hate and intolerance otherwise it will mark the end of this country… no one will survive.”

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