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HVK Archives: Time ripe for introspection

Time ripe for introspection - The Afternoon Despatch and Courier

Tavleen singh ()
March 16, 1998

Title: Time ripe for introspection
Author: Tavleen singh
Publication: The Afternoon Despatch and Courier
Date: March 16, 1998

Let me begin by recommending to you an interesting little
exercise. Before you sell last month's newspapers to the
'kabadiwallah', just scan through the front page headlines. You
will notice that the only political leader whose speeches were
reported nearly every day on page one was Mrs. sonia Gandhi.

If you are a perceptive reader of newspapers, you may also notice
that nearly all the stories sound vaguely similar. Wherever she
went, you will read, she 'touched an emotional chord', women
wept, children waved, grown men lost control and she 'set the
agenda'. The meetings she addressed will almost invariably be
described as 'mammoth' and crowds seemed always to go berserk if
they caught a glimpse and a wave of Priyanka. Then, after her
speech had been made in 'flawless Hindi' you will read that
Madam's helicopter took off into the sunset as the massive crowds
raced towards it raising clouds of dust.

Yet, when the votes got counted, it turned out that Mrs.Gandhi
had failed to make such difference to the Congress campaign.
Should there not then be some explanation from the press? How
could our newspapers, and at least one private television
channel, have got it so wrong? Was Sonia really the star
campaigner or was she merely an invention of the media? Why did
newspapers choose to almost ignore Atal Behari Vajpayee and L..K.
Advani? Even if they managed to draw large crowds themselves, why
did it often get reported as a large crowd but not quite as big
as the Madam drew?

These questions will neither get asked nor answered because
journalists, as a breed, are notoriously allergic to putting
themselves through any kind of self-examination. But, they need
to be asked if only to explain to ordinary newspaper readers the
kind of control the secular liberal-left has always had and
continues to have on the Indian press.

The trend began, perhaps, in jawaharlal Nehru's days since he was
one of the leading members of this school of thought. Then,
somewhere along the way, the communists seemed to make inroads as
well so that in the seventies, when I became a newspaper
journalist, it was hard to meet anyone whose line of thinking did
not veer towards the Left. You also met almost nobody who could
be described as even slightly rightist and if such a person did
exist he would already have been labelled as a CIA agent. This
kind of labelling continued pretty much through the seventies and
eighties and ended only when the Cold War did. After the collapse
of the Soviet Union and virtually every other communist country,
aggressive Leftism went slightly into remission but has begun to
reappear with the emergence of the BJP.

So, already a new process of labelling is underway in Delhi.
Journalists who did not actively back the Congress Party during
the election campaign are now being stuck with a BJP label and a
concerted attack has begun. Columnists have started sneering .at
'certain editors whose political leanings are well known'. You
can be sure when you read about someone's wed-known political
leanings that they will not be talking about someone who is pro-
Congress or pro-United Front. It is politically correct to be
pro-them just as it is politically correct to overlook the more
thuggish aspects of people like Laloo and Mulayam Yadav. Both
Yadavs depend for their political survival on blatant casteism
and minority communalism. Their politics is as much about
dividing and ruling as anyone's has ever been but u will not read
about this much in the Indian press because Leftist thought
dictates that these are the good guys and the BJP the baddies.

The bias is so obvious that more perceptive readers may have
noticed that very few newspapers have criticised the cynicism
with which -the United Front and Congress tried to come together
to form a government.

it was as shameless a political exercise as any we have seen in
Delhi but, by and large, the press treated it as an honest
attempt to 'keep communal forces' out. Any number of articles
created this impression but you could count on the fingers of one
hand the number of articles that said that the BJP and its allies
were closer to a majority than anyone else and should be given a
chance.

There are other obvious distortions that result from the press
being so staunchly liberal-left. One that comes immediately to
mind is the difference in reaction to Kanshi Ram refusing to give
journalists an interview and Mrs. Gandhi doing the same. Kanshi
Ram, if you remember, refused once when a group of journalists
turned up uninvited at his doorstop. He considered it an
invasion of his privacy, which it was an altercation began and
things got so ugly that it ended in fisticuffs. The next day's
newspapers splashed the story as if it were the biggest assault
on the right to information that had ever occurred. Yet, as I
have pointed out before in this column, there has been not the
smallest murmur of protest over Mrs. Gandhi's adamant refusal to
give interviews. Is It not the right to demand that the leader
of the Congress Party answer questions?

No questions will be asked, though, because the liberal-left has
decided that Mrs. Gandhi represents 'secular forces' whereas the
BJP are rank communalists. So you will not hear many questions,
either, about the behaviour of the Congress in the pogroms that
followed Mrs. Indira Gandhi's assassination. In a recent TV
show, I asked the Congress rising star, Jairam Ramesh, that he
had to say about Mr. Rajiv Gandhi having justified these pogroms
and he replied with refreshing honesty that, "It was wrong to do
that and Mrs.Gandhi has apologised." But, no sooner was the show
over than I was accosted by colleagues who said that I had
appeared to be too obviously pro-BJP

In other words, it is legitimate political journalism to demand
answers from the BJP on its communalism but wrong to demand that
the Congress also establish its secular credentials. It is
legitimate to demand that the BJP explain its 'upper-caste image'
but wrong to demand that Laloo and Mulayam explain their
lowercaste image. Does that make sense?

That the liberal-left school of journalism is way off the mark,
in more ways than one, can be seen from the increase in the BJP's
voteshare across the country. Does this mean that all of India is
communal? If not then it really is time for the press to do some
introspection.


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