Ranjona Banerji: Be damned if you write about the Right!

01 Nov,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Writing or speaking negatively about the BJP, RSS and Sangh Parivar never fails to attract plenty of anger and insults – both on paper and via the internet. There are enough stories about journalists getting various kinds of threats and women usually bear the brunt as imaginative descriptions of rape are often attached to these threats. While other political groups may also take umbrage in unpalatable forms, the rage of the right wing in India is particularly vicious.

 

In the current battle over who owns the legacy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Hindu columnist Vidya Subrahmaniam went back into history and Patel’s scathing letters to the RSS. Since then, she has received 250 calls threatening death by callers claiming to be from the Tamil Nadu branches of the RSS and VHP. She is quoted as saying, “The callers have been abusive and also threatened physical harm by bombing me at my home. They have used filthy and vulgar words.”

 

While one can get inured to insults and threats via snail mail, email, social media and the comments sections of websites and journals, getting phone calls at home is quite another matter. Political parties need to work out better ways to control their cadre and the police need to understand how to deal with such abuse.

 

Interestingly, our political parties are so caught up in scoring points over each other that the Congress’s Ajay Maken took up the matter with the implication that Subrahmaniam had approached the Congress for help, which she denied. The BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi just sidestepped the actual threats with an attack on the Congress. Taking responsibility for actions is not something politicians find it easy to do – perhaps that requires character?

 

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The trial into the phone-hacking and bribing of police and other officials by former News of the World editors and staff has started in the UK. It is worth following the questioning of Rebekkah Brooks and Andy Caulson, both the accused editors. Lots of murky and salacious stuff is emerging but behind the muck, there are some very real questions of media over-reaching which have to be tackled. The scandal did not just shut down the News of the World, it also led to Ruper Murdoch being questioned by MPs, with him apologising. A commission into media ethics headed by Judge Brian Levenson was set up and its report is still being debated by editors and Parliament.

 

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Media ethics… Hmm not a bad subject to debate in India either? A scuttlebutt says that a prominent cricket “historian” has been dumped by a news channel on which he was a favourite for reasons that could be best described as unknown. However, newspapers of the same group continue to use his ‘writing’. What is going on?

 

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The Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times has started a series on Mumbai’s roads. A full-page everyday looks at problem roads and solutions with excellent graphics. Good layout, negotiable text and plenty of information – HT has to be commended for this effort. This is what establishes a city newspaper.

 

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Newspapers – and they are well within their right to do so – have started using RTI and RTI activists to collect information on how much the government spends on itself. We have been informed about how much petrol and diesel is used by government in Delhi. We have been told that meetings were cancelled because people had to catch flights. We have been told that drivers earn more than ministers in Maharashtra because of overtime. All is well.

 

But as any canny journalist can tell you, all those stories can be reversed. You can outrage that to save on petrol bills, bureaucrats in Delhi who did no work and did not visit troubled areas. The amount of money spent on cancelled plane tickets just for one meeting can be another story. And ministers in Maharashtra who never step out of Mantralaya can be one more. Wait for it!

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Be damned if you write about the Right!”

  1. Guest says:

    A threatening phone call is a criminal act and ought to be dealt with accordingly. More worthy of state intervention than a harmless cartoon.

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