The constant moaning and winging of Ravish Kumar about the state of the country and media is old news. In the last few years, this star of NDTV has gone from being a sanctimonious preacher who spent half the duration of his show in a self-indulgent monologue, to a journalistic version of a Rudaali.
With his customary long face, he has tried to explain how, in his view, the Indian media has sold its soul to Modi and denuded itself of all journalistic ethics.
Now, he does have a point in criticizing the television media. The debates on most channels are intolerably chaotic shouting matches. Coverage of stories by media outlets too follows a pre-determined script rather than an honest investigation.
But is it a phenomenon only witnessed after Modi becoming PM? Furthermore, is it something that is always working in favour of the BJP?
The latest pearl of wisdom pronounced by NDTV’s star anchor is an advice for people of India to stop watching television news till the completion of general elections. The main reason cited by him for this radical idea is that Indian media, in his view, has become the ‘jooti of India’s strongest politician.’
I think we need to take this advice seriously. Yes, news television has been misguiding people since Modi came to power. But how? Contrary to what Ravish would have you believe, the shallow coverage of Indian media has been extremely averse to BJP.
In 2014, TV channels were ablaze with reports of atrocities being committed by ‘right-wing groups’ close to BJP. We were told that ‘Hindu outfits’ are vandalizing churches and government trying to suppress Christmas celebrations.
The publishing of an image of the original preamble of the Indian constitution, which didn’t contain the word secular, and an incident involving re-conversion of few Muslims was added to the list of outrages.
India was fast descending into religious fascism, the reports in the media suggested. Soon, it came to light that the attacks on churches were by goons not related to any ideology. 25th December was designated as ‘Good Governance Day’ due to it being Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday and not for disrupting Christmas.
The word secular not being in the image of the original preamble of Indian constitution was because the word wasn’t actually there in the original preamble. And regarding ghar wapsi, the hypocrisy of people who called opponents of conversions bigots suddenly complaining about re-conversion was for all to see. The announcement by the government of their readiness to bring in a law against conversion by force or allurements was deviously ignored.
So, as early as 2014, the TV media would have led you into believing that Hindu supremacists are destroying India as we know it. What followed was a continuous attempt to exaggerate every event catering to this narrative – like the lynching of one man in a country of 130 crore people – and downplaying of everything that went against it – like brazen policy of Muslim appeasement in Bengal.
Attacks on Dalits in a BJP state were discussed fervently while the killings of people from the same social groups in ‘secular’ states like West Bengal and Kerala completely ignored. The opposition to cow slaughter, an intrinsic part of Indian history, was described as a tactic to target minorities.
Killings of some prominent individuals was blamed on the influence of central government while Congress and SP-led state governments vindicated.
In short, if you take your cue from television channels, you would believe that India is coming apart at the seams. There are blood-thirsty mobs of Trishul-wielding Hindus out to kill Muslims, minorities scared to come out of their houses, nation about to become bankrupt, every opponent of Modi being persecuted, large-scale censorship of press and no space left for dissenting views.
Almost every citizen of the country who lives in real India would laugh at this dystopian picture. The fact that more venom has been spewed against Modi in media than any other PM in the past, doesn’t stop people from claiming a chilling effect on media. As to dissent, even airing of most outrageous opinions – from army chief getting equated with General Dyer to slogans in favour of India’s vivisection – hasn’t stopped ranting about curbs on freedom of expression.
Just think about it, how many Prime Ministers in this country’s history have been called psychopath, thief, neech, scorpion, illiterate, low-caste, murderer and a lot more. In spite of PM Modi enduring all these vicious attacks, he is still considered the biggest threat to Indian democracy.
But this is precisely the view of India that has been thrust upon viewers of news television. These channels allow a man as unworthy of national attention as Asaduddin Owaisi to rant about PM Modi’s wife but wouldn’t dare to mention Rahul Gandhi’s girlfriends. They let people of little worth question PM Modi’s educational qualifications but can never summon enough courage to ask about Sonia Gandhi’s academic endowments.
So, Ravish Kumar is right, isn’t he? The media did indeed become the ‘Jooti’ of India’s strongest politician. But it wasn’t Narendra Modi but Sonia Gandhi and the period was the ten years of UPA rule and not the five of Modi’s.
He is also right that people should stop watching news television. Because the constant peddling of a negative narrative meant to run down Modi government is very misleading. Ravish, who claims to be the lone honest voice on television and thinks of others as sell-outs, would do well to remember that famous couplet of Kabir: bura jo dekhan main chala, bura na miliya koi, jo man dekha aapna, mujhse bura na koi (when I set off to find evil, couldn’t meet any such, when I beheld my mind, found none more evil than me).