Ranjona Banerji: The media’s tizzy between the farce of exit polls, glorification of a gangster and a new wave of protests for a more tolerant India

06 Nov,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


The media this week was in a tizzy over protests by creative people against intolerance, led by film star Shah Rukh Khan, the Bihar elections and the return to India of the “patriotic don” Chhota Rajan.


Let’s take the least significant of the three first. Our “patriotic because he is Hindu and not Muslim” gangster Chhota Rajan. Make no mistake, he was an integral part of Dawood Ibrahim’s gang and also a big Mumbai gangland boss. He is not a returning hero, he is not a fine example of patriotism and he is not a fictional character from a Bollywood movie. He is a gangster. However, we have breathless reporters giving us his every move and Chhota Rajan milking every TV op in the craftiest manner possible.


Once more I return to my old and now tired even to me theme: if only we had some journalists out there who were around when the Bombay Underworld ruled. Instead we have a bunch of ignorant editors and reporters romanticising a life of murder, extortion, smuggling, prostitution and worse. As a sign of the times, India’s newspaper with the best institutional memory, The Times of India, gave us a history of Bombay’s underworld by referencing the film industry and particularly Kamal Hasan’s Nayakan (1987) where he played Vardarajan Mudaliar, one of the city’s biggest ganglords. I would have also added Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda (1989) for its remarkable understatement and realism. The flip side is that our lack of contemporary history or our contempt for history in general (look at the reaction to the protests) means we have few other reference points especially for the internet generation.


Then we have the Bihar elections, the run-up to which has been vicious and vitriolic. Last night on TV we had the regular and routine farce of exit polls. Whoever gets within 100 seats of being correct will claim victory. We will all agree that exit polls don’t work because people lie and then we return to them the next time round. Meanwhile, we have worked out every theory of win and loss to hedge our bets.


Finally, there is the rising tide of creative people and academics speaking out against what they perceive as a corrosive atmosphere in the country today. Journalists have responded in interesting ways. Some have aligned with the protestors. Some have aligned with the government and played the idiotic and favourite “whataboutery” game of all politicians who are accused of something.


And the most dangerous of all have sat on the fence, waiting it seems to see which side prevails. Almost no one, and I include myself here, has managed to be a dispassionate observer. Perhaps that will be a loss later: this is one of those clichéd wait and watch situations.




In a sweet display of intra-media love, both The Times of India and Economic Times picked up a story from Mint to carry in their editions. The credit in the websites is hard to find. The dateline just says “By Livemint” and below that the byline “By Shuchi Bansal”.


Of course what is important is that the story itself talks about the importance of print and why even e-commerce companies have to depend on print advertising. Thus, win-win for Mint and TOI and Hindustan Times and so on.


Mint interestingly is part of the Hindustan Times stable. And while Times of India and Hindustan Times are bitter rivals when it comes to readership surveys and circulation figures, they also share a “no-poaching pact”. This means that you cannot switch jobs from one to another without a six-month wait. But evidently, you can share stories.




I welcome the All India Bakchod (AIB) to Indian television with its political and social satire. Perhaps in some ways, this is a sign of an India growing up where some of us at least are willing and able to laugh at ourselves.


The other good news is that Jon Stewart, recently retired from The Daily Show, will be back on air with HBO.



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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: The media’s tizzy between the farce of exit polls, glorification of a gangster and a new wave of protests for a more tolerant India”

  1. ashok759 says:

    There may have been something romantic and glamorous about the underworld when men like Haji Mastan were bringing in the noble relic by the dhowload at $ 35 an ounce. There was no ugly edge of violence and extortion at that time. The age of, Choron ke hi imaan hote hain. Then the hard faced youngsters took over. The final line was crossed when the bomb blasts took place in March 1993, aligning large parts of the underworld with terrorism and truly antinational activity. Chhota Rajan appears to have played a useful role for the Indian security establishment.

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