30 Days Later

How Media ‘Covers’ Modi

Subhash Gatade

On completion of 30 days in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he had no luxury of 'honeymoon' period. Any neutral observer would tend to disagree and can easily throw light on the great hiatus between Mr Modi's claim and actual situation on the ground.

Instances galore which demonstrate how media has been kind to him and how it has skillfully tried to avoid raising anything discomforting to his well cultivated image of a 'doer'. Neither his appointment of N K Mishra as his principal secretary by promulgating an ordinance amending the Telecom Regulatory Authority Act 1997 which was enacted by the earlier Vajpayee led NDA government itself to enable this former chairperson of the regulatory body to take up employment with the government, nor his government's 'crude' and 'small minded approach' to put down a candidate's nomination as a judge of the Supreme Court came under its wider scrutiny. As rightly noted by many analysts the campaign of innuendoes by CBI and Intelligence Bureau against Gopal Subramanium has indeed left a bad taste and has definitely dented the image of the government.

Thanks to social media especially Twitter that the world at large came to know how PM Modi addressed Bhutan as 'Nepal' and later Ladakh in his maiden tour outside India and his speech to the National assembly there when members of the assembly as well as other dignitaries were listening with rapt attention. Not very many media outlets even reported this incident and thus saved him from many embarrassing moments.

Imagine (ex PM) Manmohan Singh's trip to some neighbouring country and he committing similar 'faux pas' like calling Sri Lanka Pakistan or 'rectifying' himself by calling it Kashmir on the floor of their house, realising bit late his slip of tongue? Media would not have looked at this gaffe with sympathy but would have definitely chided him for his slip of tongue.

While Modi's mention of Bhutan as Nepal etc can definitely be termed as slip of tongue unlike his earlier campaign speeches showing his scant disregard for facts or his ignorance of history then. One still remembers how he then talked of 'Nehru not even attending Patel's funeral'- despite proof to the contrary or his claims at Patna rally wherein he is reported to have said that 'Alexander had come to Bihar and was defeated by Biharis—despite the obvious fact that Alexander never crossed the Ganges—or placing Taxila in Bihar although it is in Pakistan'.

Remember the treatment meted out to the verdict in the Akshardham terror attack case which incidentally came on the day when Modi emerged victor in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The Supreme Court of the country had nothing but harsh words for the manner in which innocents were lodged in jail on fabricated charges for around twelve years for no fault of theirs and the decision taken by the concerned authority 'without applying mind' to give a sanction to try them under the draconian POTA act. Modi, PM of the country happened to be CM of Gujarat then also handled the home ministry. Forget demanding prosecution of guilty police officers who connived with their seniors to concoct the case—for getting some medal—forget asking for compensation to these innocents, the media—barring few exceptions—had by and large remained silent.

In a press conference held in the capital after the verdict one of the 'accused' who had been honourably acquitted by the courts, told the media his interaction with B L Singhal, a police officer who was instrumental in fabricating the case, and was lodged in the same jail for his alleged involvement in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. According to him Singhal, who was then passing through a bad patch in life—with his son having committed suicide not some time ago—had no answer to his query that why he spoiled his life's precious years.

The same Singhal, a quadruple murder accused and the snoopgate protagonist, was recently reinstated who was out on bail in this case, by the Gujarat government. Here also the media did not put under scrutiny the hurried manner in which this decision was taken by the Gujarat government. It also did not bring forth the fact that, not only a prima facie case exists against him in this infamous encounter case, but he has also been an important link in the chain of events which culminated in the killings. Few months back it was widely reported how he had submitted an audio tape to the investigating agency providing 'proof' of the directions he had received from highest authority in the administration. It was clear what his mention of 'safeddadhi' (white beard) and 'kali dadhi' (black beard) alluded to.(

Perhaps the pinnacle of media's silence pertained to Mr Modi's reply to motion of thanks to the President's address to the joint session of the parliament wherein he talked of "1,200 years of slave mentality". Apart from other details he said "Barah sau saal ki gulami ki maansikta humein pareshan kar rahi hai. Bahut baar humse thoda ooncha vyakti mile, to sar ooncha karke baat karne ki humari taaqat nahin hoti hai (The slave mentality of 1,200 years is troubling us. Often, when we meet a person of high stature, we fail to muster strength to speak up).

The "slavery of 200 years" actually refers to the period when India was under colonial rule. And by expanding this period to 1,200 years—which includes a period in which many rulers of the country were Muslims—he definitely tried to bring about a paradigm shift in the way Indians perceive their history.

It is worth emphasising that this is not for the first time that he has mentioned this 'fact' and has used it in quite a few addresses in previous years which very well suits with the understanding propagated in the RSS circles. One can easily note that this understanding disregards the difference between the British rulers and the earlier Muslim Kings who came here. The British did not make India their home, whereas the Muslims who came here, settled in India and contributed to the country's culture which gave birth to the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (syncretic culture).

Emergency, whose anniversary was recently 'celebrated', happened to be one of the periods in 'India's transition to democracy when thousands and thousands of political workers were put behind bars and there was severe curtailment of civil liberties and democratic rights. It also happened to be a period when media happily abandoned its role of a 'watchdog' of democracy and sang paeans to the 20-point and 5-point programmes started by the mother-son duo of Ms Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, respectively. Commenting on the behaviour of the media during the infamous period of emergency, it was said that it 'decided to crawl when it was asked to bend'.

Today, no such emergency exists but it is evident that the media wants to demonstrate that behaviour during emergency should not be considered an exception.

Vol. 47, No. 2, Jul 20 - 26, 2014