It is not JNU vs NIT, but Kanhaiya Kumar vs Who?

After being denied entry in Srinagar, Anupam Kher lamented— rightfully so—why the media, which had eulogised Kanhaiya Kumar in the JNU issue, was silent on the attacks on non-Kashmiri students at NIT.

The answer is in his question itself.

Kanhaiya Kumar. The ‘5 ft. 7 inches, innocent faced’ Kanhaiya Kumar. That his family earned a meagre Rs. 3,000, his father was paralysed, his mother was an Anganwadi worker, etc., were useful add-ons, which would insulate him even from a murder.

Good or bad, beautiful or ugly, genuine or fraud—does not really matter. All that media needs is a face. Consider the recent cases.

Intolerance debate could not sustain the momentum so long as it rested on ‘attacks’ on churches. Of course it served the limited purpose of helping Arvind Kejriwal win the assembly elections. But then, it fizzled out. Barkha Dutt’s desperate attempts to ‘connect the dots’ fell flat. Why? Because it did not have a face. People judged the issue on merits. Rupa Subramanya was able to counter the motivated media coverage with facts. Even hard-core secular journalists like Sagarika Ghose had to admit— of course, much later— that the media had ‘jumped the gun on church attacks’. But the moment intolerance debate got an Ahlaq as the face, facts took a back seat. Eyewitness account that the meat was found far away from Ahlaq’s house and that that the incident might have happened out of personal grudge did not deter Nayantara Sahgal et al from surrendering their awards.

Ghulam Ali and Sudheendra Kulkarni are other faces that etched the intolerance issue permanently in the collective memory of the nation.

Let us move to another issue: crime against women. Media’s frenzy for a face forced it to report Jasleen Kaur’s story and Rohtak sisters’ version as gospel truth. It is a different matter that these cases ended up embarrassing the media finally. But who cares about embarrassment these days in media? All that matters is ‘eyeballs’ which the media gets in plenty with a face. Suppose the media does a story on the crime against women by interviewing assorted women from faraway villages in UP and Bihar. Who would watch the documentary?

So, it is a face which makes a documentary into a story.

Consider the anti-Anti-corruption agitation of 2011. The agitation, by itself, would not have taken off if it had not been for the faces of Anna and Arvind Kejriwal. That the movement eventually fizzled out and burdened the country with a liability in the form of Arvind Kejriwal is a collateral damage. But the media got what it wanted—eyeballs.

Now come to the NIT issue. Kashmiri Muslim students celebrated India’s defeat in the ICC 20 World Cup tournament on March 31st. Non Kashmiri Hindu students objected to it and were promptly beaten up. What did the non Kashmiri students do next? ‘Undaunted by the physical hurt’ they hoisted the national flag and chanted ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’

Here is the problem in the whole episode. Who objected to the celebrations over India’s defeat? The faceless non Kashmiri Hindu students. Who hoisted the national flag and chanted ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’? The same faceless non Kashmiri students. How do we expect the media to be interested?

The left liberals have been dominating media space since independence. They know how to find a face in the absence of one. Take the FTII students issue. The students objected to the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of the Institute. In this story, there was no particular student leader whom the media could eulogise. Gajendra Chauhan, in spite of his ‘limited artistic abilities and dubious capabilities’ and questionable ‘creative credentials’, was not one the media would be happy making the ultimate villain of. It had to be someone better, someone more charismatic. Who else but Narendra Modi and his ‘right wing agenda.’

It is a fact that the secular, liberal journalists will have an upper hand in this game, but the right-wingers have to learn this fast. And what has been their performance so far? Pathetic. Even when they had a face like Prashant Poojary they could not generate enough outrage against the gruesome murder.

Right wing has to learn more. One Anupam Kher or Vivek Agnihotri is not enough. It needs more.

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