Ranjona Banerji: Sycophantic media confused on govt reaction to Lalit Modi imbroglio

23 Jun,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


For the past two weeks we have been consumed with the doings and sayings of Lalit Modi, ex- IPL commissioner, now on the run from the Enforcement Directorate for alleged financial improprieties during IPL season 2. Well, “on the run” is a slightly erroneous way of putting it since Modi has been safely ensconced in the UK since 2010 and travels all over Europe, thanks to his friends in high places.


His “friends in high places” range from British politician Keith Vaz to a few British royals, India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and many others.


The media has been all over the story and tales of impropriety which started with the UK’s Sunday Times have now taken over our TV channels and newspapers. However what, if anything, the Lalit Modi saga proves is the limited and largely delusionary “power” of the media. In spite of all the hysterics on our news channels and suitably outraged editorials, the Central government has not budged from its support of Swaraj and Raje and the prime minister has not said a word in public. Instead, he has been doing the relaxing makarasana on Rajpath.


Those inside the media insisted that the revelations against Swaraj came from within the BJP – the ruling faction— which wanted to embarrass her. But Lalit Modi being the loose cannon he is, Raje was dragged in as were others. That was not apparently the intended result. Then rumours surfaced that Raje would be sacrificed and Swaraj saved. Be that as it may, the picture emerging now is a government refusing to relent in the face of something as wishy-washy as “propriety” and a sycophantic media a bit confused as to which direction to take.


The neat segue to International Yoga Day and almost two days on non-stop coverage of people and politicians doing yoga underlines that confusion. The Modi (Lalit) imbroglio was almost forgotten as several contortions were made to prove anyone not doing yoga on Sunday June 21 was anti-India, anti-national and so on. Vice-President Hamid Ansari was also at the receiving end from the RSS’s Ram Madhav who then had to furiously backpedal to further incohesiveness.


On Monday, we were back to Lalit Modi. Interestingly, what was called “Modigate” (because of the Indian media’s obsession with Watergate although most would be hard-pressed to remember what Richard Nixon looked like) is now being called “Lalitgate”. The reasons are obvious: Lalit Modi and Narendra Modi. Enough said.


This story cannot go on forever and is already losing traction. There is additional confusion over whether to treat this as a cricket story or a political story. It is possible that to save our politicians and government, the focus will shift entirely to “cleaning up cricket” while everyone pretends that our politicians are squeaky-clean idols.




Soon after journalists in UP were killed and attacked, we have one more gruesome case from Madhya Pradesh. Sandeep Kothari, a journalist who worked in the Japalpur area and wrote for several local newspapers, was allegedly burnt to death for his series of stories on the sand mafia. Local journalists never get either the recognition or the rewards that mainstream and English language journalists do. Many are vilified as being fixers and operators. But it is also true that many do the groundwork that the media rests on. From all accounts, Kothari was relentless in his pursuit of the sand mafia in Jabalpur and paid the price in the worst possible way. Those of us who do not work against such odds must acknowledge, at least, how lucky we are if not the contribution made by the Kotharis, Singhs and Haiders of this cruel world.


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