Ranjona Banerji: The Curious Tweets of Gaurav Sawant

01 Aug,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


The curious case of Gaurav Sawant, strategic affairs editor at Headlines Today and his tweets about rioting Muslims continues to outrage two sections of the twitterati and leave the media itself indifferent.


Sawant put out a series of tweets about the riots in Saharanpur claiming that “secular silence” had influenced the media not to mention that Muslims had attacked Sikhs and a Gurudwara in Saharanpur and some Muslims had indeed been arrested: “Secular silence as dangerous as communal violence! Covering up sins of one & highlighting crimes of other by ‘seculars’ is playing with fire 11:23 AM – 27 Jul 2014”


He went on to say: “When an IT professional was killed in Pune we screamed about his religion. Why is religion of those killed in Saharanpur a state secret?”


And then, “National crisis when a roze-dar is force fed a roti but no issue when Roze-dars gather outside a place of religious worship & riots start?”


Plus: “That explains the secular silence on Saharanpur riots. Roze par roti becomes headlines but Roze par riots does not.”


These tweets led to massive outrage from what is called the “secular” brigade on social media which felt that Sawant was demonstrating a Hindu rightwing bias and even went as far as to say he should be sacked. At the same time there was a counter swell of support from those who felt that Sawant had been brave enough to tell the truth and that he was being targeted as a result by said seculars who only care about the rights of Muslims. Many Hindutva rightwing blogs discussed Sawant’s situation with sympathy.


Sawant later deleted some of these tweets. Gossip among the Hindutva blogs and among some media professionals said that Shekhar Gupta, who has just taken over as vice-chairman of the India Today group which includes Headlines Today, forced Sawant to delete his tweets. Sawant has also apparently not been seen on TV since. The “secular” side got together a petition asking that Sawant be shown the door.


Whether Sawant has been on air or not (I do know this firsthand), he continues to tweet, some of which are promos for shows on Headlines Today.


Rajdeep Sardesai, lately editor-in-chief of CNNIBN, was one prominent journalist who took issue with the tenor of Sawant’s tweets. Rupa Subramanya, a very popular tweeter (am unclear whether she is a journalist but she is a writer) found that Sawant was exactly the kind of journalist India needed.


The Times of India did a story on the outrage over Sawant’s tweets (warning, I am quoted) http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31804&articlexml=Outrage-over-TV-anchors-tweets-31072014009037


and http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Gallery.aspx?id=31_07_2014_009_037_007&type=P&artUrl=Outrage-over-TV-anchors-tweets-31072014009037&eid=3180


While Newslaundry had this: http://www.newslaundry.com/2014/07/28/the-secular-compulsions-of-reporting-communal-clashes/


There are number of different issues floating around here, all fighting for attention. The first is the most obvious. Sawant has every right to express his opinion, no matter whether other people find it offensive. The second is that right to object is also inarguable but petitioning to attack someone’s livelihood based on a series of tweets is unacceptable.


Then we reach the murky area of “secularism”. The tragedy is that that the word in India is often interpreted to mean “pro Muslim” especially by the rightwing thus making a travesty of secularism.


Left-leaning liberals are seen as the worst offenders by the Hindutva-led rightwing, as they apparently refuse to criticise anything that Muslims – and sometimes other minorities too – and only attack Hindus.


Most of the anger with Sawant however was not that he slammed “secular silence” but that he connected two or three unrelated events and decided that there was a media conspiracy concocted by evil “seculars” to keep quiet about Saharanpur where Muslims were the perpetrators but play up the murder of a Muslim man in Pune (for being a Muslim) and the assault on a canteen manager (A Muslim fasting for Ramzan) by a politician (from a party known for its er, ambivalent attitude to Muslims).


However, Sawant still has a right to his views and it is unfortunate that he deleted his tweets and even more unfortunate if it was done under pressure. No official word on that so far, not least from Sawant.


It is odd though why the Strategic Affairs editor (sounds impressive) of a prominent English news channel could not get his newsroom to spin the news anyway he wanted? If Sawant felt that there was “secular silence” on the Saharanpur riots, Headlines Today could have been the beacon showing the way to the rest of the evil “pro Muslim” media.


The newspapers that I read on the issue did mention that Muslims had started the problem in Saharanpur and that some had been arrested. Did Sawant miss those? Or did he want hysterical prime time discussions on TV? Were his tweets a sign of frustration that he failed to convince the other editors of Headlines Today to showcase the news his way?


Once more therefore we find the Indian media in the midst of a “seculars” versus others fracas. And it is also true that for most of the Indian media, Sawant’s problems appear to be a non-issue. Perhaps we can wait for the book?


Related Stories

  • No Related Stories Found
Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Today's Top Stories