Modi and Gujarati media: Two swords in one sheath

21 Oct,2011

By Urvish Kothari

Blatant and vitriolic criticism of Narendra Modi seems to have become the norm for Gujarati dailies of late. Gone are the days when the Gujarati print media, with an average issue readership of more than 1 crore (according to IRS 2011-Q2), mostly adored the chief minister. It supported, or at least was non confrontational  about his publicity blitzkrieg and his self-projection as a tough, non-corrupt, pro-development, ‘No. 1’ leader with a subtle and not-so-subtle communal slant.

As is evident from events of the last few months, Modi has been constantly at the receiving end in many issues — be it the arrest of Sanjeev Bhatt or his three-day Sadbhavana Fast. The prominence and the column space allotted to arrest and release of IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt in the Gujarati media would have been unthinkable a couple of years back.

While English dailies reported the whole episode with restraint, news and images of Sanjeev Bhatt were being highlighted on first and last pages of Gujarati dailies. Bhatt was made out to be a ‘singham’ — a hero.  The pro-Sanjeev Bhatt coverage was not just about appreciating the uprightness of the officer but was fuelled, to a large extent, by the anti-Modi ‘line’. Gujarati dailies had a field day when the late Haren Pandya’s wife vaguely pointed her finger towards the CM in her husband’s murder.

Recent rhetoric against the Modi government, which was, in effect, against Modi himself, took off from very unusual point: the issue of cow slaughter. The issue was hardly discussed in the public forum. But suddenly the failure of the Modi government in protecting cows became the war cry in two major Gujarati newspapers.

The purpose of the intensive news campaign that ran for days was to prove that Modi was un-Hindu, if not anti-Hindu. It was to falsify his deeply entrenched claim of being ‘the saviour of the Hindus’.

Even the usual non-political Modi-baiters were baffled by the anti-cow slaughter campaign which gathered momentum so suddenly. The stage was set, and then came the burning issue of the appointment of the Lokayukta.

Gujarati dailies grabbed the issue with both the hands, one daily even lowering its masthead with the news of the appointment of the Lokayukta by the Governor and the government’s legal challenge to it.

When the Supreme Court referred the Gulbarg Society case back to the lower court and declined to monitor it further, Modi famously tweeted ‘God is Great’ and projected the SC’s decision as a ‘clean chit’. Many news channels echoed his view, but Gujarati dailies were more cautious and less jubilant.

His three-day ‘Sadbhavana Fast’ was treated with scepticism and a pinch of sarcasm, due to the pomp and politics involved. There was criticism about the expenditure incurred during the fast and even the memory of Mahatma Gandhi was invoked for an uncharitable comparison.

 Gujarati dailies have been vocal in making allegations of corruption and in giving considerable weightage to the statements of Congress leaders in Gujarat recently. A Gujarati daily recently devoted a full page to CAG’s criticism of various departments of the Gujarat government. A clean image no longer remains Narendra Modi’s USP, at least for the Gujarati dailies.

Mostly unfavourable and critical of Modi, for the reasons best known to them, Gujarati dailies have been conscious not to indulge in anything that may be perceived as ‘secular’ by a majority of their readership. During the Sadbhavna Fast, Modi’s advances towards the Muslim community were met with veiled criticism. One Gujarati daily even frowned at his attempted pro-Muslim approach in a eight column banner head line: ‘Allah-o-Akbar: Modi begins his fast’.

The real irony is, Gujarati dailies with their massive reach have been successful in reflecting general sentiment but their capacity to generate or shape public opinion has diminished considerably — more so in the case of Modi’s criticism. Yet, there is a strange equilibrium between the anti-establishment stance adopted by the Gujarati dailies and Modi’s wide-spread popularity.

There is a saying in Gujarati that two swords can’t stay together in one sheath, and that seems to be the case when one looks at the strange co-existence of flourishing Gujarati dailies as well as the sustaining popularity of Modi.

The writer is a Gujarat-based senior journalist and columnist

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5 responses to “Modi and Gujarati media: Two swords in one sheath”

  1. Raghav says:

    Since when Gujarati print media’s words have become gospel? Count one professional editor outside of the family of newspaper owners. And if the newspaper’s policy is dictated by the owners, their own commercial guides the content’s policy. Even the one which has come from other state has changed its previous editor to suit some one better for the owner’s interest!

  2. Mggada says:

    Good analysis.

    What I noticed in all your articles, weather English or Gujarati, is your superb command over the language, which is not so common around here.

  3. Purvi says:

    Urvish, its always dilemma whether its Modi’s Media OR Media’s Modi. From the day one Gujarat media has pampered his ego and mood more than he expected for and now it has became procedural practice. Media has no capacity to evaluate a politician who’s pretending himself as a leader. Modi has given plenty hint to correct him but Gujarati Media is stand less and clueless. Though National Media is bit tough for Modi being critical, in-depth and even more opportunistic than Modi but thats mainly in Eng which isn’t for common person of Gujarat. The day every Gujarati will try to see him by their own eye instead of what Media’s portraying him then they would be able to judge Real Modi. I have witnessed him as a Journalist but now observing him as a citizen and he seems more like an Actor than politician. The only drawback is Media’s Role in this reel life, where media should be director of this actor, instead he’s director and actor both, while media is playing, singing and dancing like chorus.

  4. Vistasp says:

    Fantastic pov and great observation Urvish. I had no idea the Gujarati newspapers in their pro-right wing zeal may have even found Modi wanting all of a sudden. This is indeed a very curious phenomenon and must have more to it than meets the eye. Maybe the bonhomie that newspaper satraps had with him earlier is in some strain now. What saddens me though is that even now, for fear of losing their core readership, they are not criticising Modi so much for the right reasons as for the wrong ones.

  5. Aakar says:

    Good analysis Urvish.
    A few more examples would have been welcome.
    In response to your point on the papers staying away from being “secular”: The reason is that their readership is quite prejudiced. But you know this, of course.