[MJR] The night of January 16 strikes again!

05 Apr,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


It seems to be a strange rule these days that no matter what happens, the Indian army has to upstage it in the news stakes. The Indian Express, with its story about army deployments towards New Delhi which “spooked’ the Government of India stole the focus away from the US’s $10 million bounty on Pakistan’s Hafiz Saeed.


The newspaper has truly put the cat among the pigeons with its dramatically written story which implies that even if there wasn’t a coup attempt by the army, the government was definitely shaken.


The timing of the movements of these two divisions, one airborne, towards the capital was also seen as suspect – January 16, the day the army chief filed his case in the Supreme Court over his age issue. According to the Express report, standard operating procedures about troop movements had not been followed.


TV debates obviously went ballistic. But for all the bombast, the participants were skewed in favour of the army with lots of moustachioed gents pointed out how such a thing could never happen. Other participants – usually journalists – said that the Express story was not a surprise and that a website had come out with the facts in January itself. I did not manage to see Shekhar Gupta, editor of Indian Express on TV, but he was quoted by one of the channels as saying that once they got the story they could not suppress it from the people.


This is from the Express website: “The Indian Express’ report ‘The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt’ has, as expected, prompted widespread reaction.


“The report is a meticulous reconstruction and a very sober interpretation of the movement of two key Army units towards New Delhi on the night of January 16-17. Investigated over six weeks and written by Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta; Chief of Investigative Bureau Ritu Sarin and Deputy Editor and Chief of the National Bureau Pranab Dhal Samanta (with help from Assistant Editor in the Investigative Bureau Ajmer Singh), the report draws on highly credible sources.”


“They have chosen to be anonymous and the newspaper is committed to protecting their identity. The Indian Express’ sent a detailed questionnaire to the Army and the Ministry of Defence and accurately reported their responses in the report. These responses were reiterated by them on Wednesday.” The note ends with: “And in the tradition of its commitment to journalism of courage and the readers’ right to know, it will continue its investigation into the events of January 16-17 and the questions these raise.”


TV debates are often circumscribed by the need for bluster and “patriotism” of the sort that is worn on your sleeve is very common. Not a single panellist on Wednesday night could offer an explanation or even consider why a reputed newspaper would carry such a story without any proof. It is easy to understand that print journalists would be jealous of a scoop – though at a senior level you are expected to rise above that.


It is also possible that “patriotism” even in the media means you have to draw a line somewhere about how much you can embarrass important institutions.


I wonder. Jingoism which masquerades as love for your country is dangerous in any form. The job of the media is to ask uncomfortable questions. I find it very interesting that so many in the media are unable to ask the armed forces difficult questions.


Members of governments and political parties are quizzed every night on TV. Why should anyone else be exempt?


It seems apparent that there is a deep division between the army and the government. It is equally apparent that there are schisms within the army itself and different camps are batting for different generals. All this needs to be examined and exposed.


There can be little doubt that the Indian Express has pushed a few boundaries and a few buttons here. TV is incapable of showing the depth to deal with this story. Let’s see how far print can take it.


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