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A self-righteous secularism

A self-righteous secularism

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: Afternoon Despatch & Courier
Date: May 4, 2002

Scoops, such as they are, don't usually fall into the prayerful journalist's computer lap. They are sometimes, if not more often than one realises, the result of somebody wishing to damage the reputations of a party or a government.

When The Times of India led with a frontpage story obviously planted by sources both in the offices of the European Union (EU) and the British High Commission (BHC) in Delhi that was clearly intended to, damage India's reputation, the paper, let it by firmly stated, did no service either to journalism or to the lives and property of minorities in Gujarat. The plant was vicious and The Times of India fell a victim to it.

Domestic issue

The Times of India, of course, will hold that it has rendered service to justice and free speech, that it has upheld secularism as the highest virtue, that, indeed, it has done genuine service to the nation. The Government of India has, however, taken strong objection to the dirty game played both by the BHC and the EU office. Nirupama Rao, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, bluntly told them that Gujarat is India's domestic issue and no country should use the media to pander to their own domestic lobbies back home. As she put it, while diplomats of foreign missions are free to write their reports based on their impressions, the practices of leaking them is not acceptable". There are now conflicting reports about the odd and offensive behaviour of the official or officials of the EU.

One report in The Hindustan Times (23 April), says that while "Britain has tactfully avoided confirming reports based on a leak of its telegram on Gujarat meant for its foreign office in London, the delegation of the European Union has denied the contents of what has been attributed to it in a national daily

According to the EU spokesman "the contents of the newspaper report is solely the responsibility of its author". In other Words, the spokesman is calling The Times of India reporter a liar. The question is: Should The Times of India have allowed itself to be made use of by a foreign power or group of foreign powers? Was it patriotic to have done so? Are there some Laxman rekhas that should not be crossed? This is a matter for the Press Council to take immediate note of The Times of India may scream that it published the report in good faith, that it is upholding the right of free speech, that it will not be cowed down by criticism etc.

But consider this: The Deccan Herald (24 April) quoted S. Jaipal Reddy, spokesman for the Congress as saying that the situation in Gujarat was "an aberration" which could be taken care of by the in-built "corrective mechanism" of India's vibrant democracy. The Congress is piping down.

The Kolkata-based The Statesman (26 April) has mocked at the Government of India saying that its protests at the EU and BHC amount to "impotent fuming". The Statesman's argument, as indeed the argument of any reporter is: "We do not create the crisis, we merely report it". Nobody has accused the media of starting the crisis; the charge is that by its gross reporting, it has helped prolong it.

And the English media has been guilty of making conditions worse. The other point is made that if India could comment in what happened in South Africa or Bangladesh or Fiji why shouldn't EU or Britain comment on what is happening in Gujarat? The answer to that is simple: In Fiji or Bangladesh or South Africa there are people of Indian origin living there of whose welfare India is, and should be, concerned. How many Englishmen or Frenchmen or people of EU origin have been killed in Gujarat?

Or take another issue. The Indian Express (5 April) reported that "with synagogues ablaze in France, firebombs defacing Jewish property in Belgium and orthodox Jews under attack on Berlin streets, Europeans have been given notice that the raging West Asian violence threatens their peace and security".

According to the report, In France, scenes of the worst anti-Jewish outbursts in Europe over the past week, P.N. Lionel Joseph Jospin deployed 1,100 national guard troops to bolster security around Jewish religious sites". In Belgium vandals painted a swastika on a Jewish memorial in Antwerp and attackers hurled two Molotov cocktails at a synagogue. So has India to protest with the EU? Both Britain and the EU must be firmly warned not to interfere with Indian affairs. India is far more secular than white Europeans are or ever were, considering their record of dealing with Jews. If it comes to that, India must break off relations with the EU. It cannot be allowed to meddle with our affairs.

Meanwhile, consider this report which appeared in a local paper which The Times of India forgot to publish as of (27 April).

A study, conducted by a five-member team led by Justice B.S. Tewatia, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, noted that the Godhra train carnage on February 27 was, an act of terrorism planned at the behest of Pakistan to foment communal riots all over the country".

But an even worst offender of journalistic norms is The Asian Age which put out a story that said that in a question paper set for XII standard students in Gujarat was one question that said: "If you don't like people, kill them". Students were asked what the sentence would mean if the word if was removed.

Other newspapers took up the issue braying for Narendra Modi's blood. Then it turned out that (a) the sentence was taken from a work of E.M. Forster (b) that the question paper was set some six months ago long before the Godhra or Ahmedabad riots and (c) it was set by a member of the Minority Community.

But enough damage was done to the Modi government. There has been no apology from The Asian Age which runs a regular column by a Minority columnist making any dialogue between Hindus and Muslims difficult by its communal overtones and harshness.

So far nobody has taken either The Times of India nor The Asian Age to task and the Press Council has been remarkably silent. One suspects that even Prime Minister Vajpayee's Goa speech was badly reported. It is only when one read the full text of the prime minister's, speech as reported in The Indian Express (24 April) that one realised how innocuous it is.

Journalistic rectitude

Some of our English language newspapers are getting away with murder. It is easy to question their patriotism or even their sense of journalistic rectitude, but when a newspaper becomes a vehicle for anti Indian stories planted by foreign agents, it is time to sit up and ask ourselves where we are heading.

With the kind of self-righteous secularism that is being shown by some of our papers, how can one disagree with the External Affairs Ministry when it says that it is the media and NGOs that are responsible for the violence we have seen in recent times? Who will take the media to task in a meaningful way? The government? The Press Council? The great public?

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