Ranjona Banerji: Disturbing account, but a pleasure to watch

16 Apr,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Kudos to Headlines Today for its investigative report into the Gujarat riots of 2002, based on police wireless reports which the Gujarat government had claimed had been destroyed. Ashish Khetan, editor, investigations trawled through pages of police reports to put together a picture of what happened in those days after compartment S6 of the Sabarmati Express was attacked at Godhra station. The Gujarat government has maintained that the riots which broke out were a “spontaneous” reaction to the 59 deaths of passengers, mainly kar sevaks returned from Ayodhya, where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was building a temple to replace the Babri Masjid demolished by various factions of the Sangh Parivar.

 

The Headlines Today investigation showed message after message from the state Intelligence Bureau as well as local police stations reporting of Muslims being attacked, incendiary speeches by VHP and Bajrang Dal activists and mobs on the streets, from the afternoon of February 27, only a few hours after the train was attacked. The Ahmedabad police commissioner PC Pande – in whose possession these papers were found – on the other hand maintained to the Special Investigative Team and others that he found no reason to believe that anything untoward was about to happen.

 

Headlines Today took us back to those days with careful detail and minus any overblown hype or hysteria. Rahul Kanwal as anchor was sober and serious, an attitude he carried over to the now mandatory television panel discussion whenever anything at all happens in India. He was firm and sober with his guests as well and did not allow anyone to dominate proceedings or run away with the discussion in order to push forward their own agendas.

 

At periodic intervals in the discussion, Kanwal went back to Khetan to analyse and explain the findings and to the details of the investigation itself. It bears mentioning that these police wireless reports were released to Zakia Jaffrey, a riot victim who has been tireless fighting the Gujarat government, by the Special Investigative Team only after a court intervention. As Khetan pointed out, an SIT interim report in 2010 complained that the Gujarat government was being uncooperative but in its final report appeared to give the government a “clean chit”.

 

In spite of the disturbing nature of the investigation, this was one TV news programme that was a pleasure to watch. http://headlinestoday.intoday.in/programme/gujarat-riots-took-place-due-to-cops-ignorance-india-today/1/262417.html

 

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Other news channels concentrated on the supposed rift within the NDA as the BJP and ally JD (U) wrangled over the possible ascension of Narendra Modi to the prime minister’s chair. These discussions amounted as usual to nothing, with the usual suspects fighting it out. Frankly, after the work put in by Headlines Today, all other orchestrated debates became irrelevant. The IPL was a better bet if you wanted relief.

 

However CNN-IBN did take a detour to the horrifying story of a woman bleeding to death on the road in Jaipur after she was involved in an accident – no one stopped to help

 

Tuesday morning’s newspapers stuck to the same theme, with the BJP-JD (U) spat dominating headlines. The Headlines Today investigation was not picked up, although most papers reported that Zakia Jaffrey had filed a protest petition.

 

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Economic Times continued with the stories coming out of Goafest and on Monday had this rather disconcerting story about allegations of plagiarism against McCann’s creatives which won it the Grand Prix. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-04-15/news/38556065_1_agc-awards-governing-council-ddb-mudra

 

Clearly, the advertising industry needs to do more than introspection. It needs a thorough spring cleaning.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own. Follow her via Twitter at @ranjona

 

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