Ranjona Banerji: Coverage that makes you laugh, and cry

28 Mar,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

The coverage of BJP MP Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh especially on television or by television journalists makes you want to laugh and cry. This is Gaurav Sawant of India Today TV on Twitter: “More than 350 cows at the Gorakhnath temple Gaushala. Several calves ran to Yogi Adityanath as he reached & gave them Gur & their feed”

How sweet is that? Can you not see a Disney movie in the making: Yogi and the Moo-Moos?

Meanwhile, in UP, butchers are closed and abattoirs being attacked and for sweeties like Sawant who missed this, the implication is clear: target Muslim livelihoods. There’s that old Hindutva saying: Pehle kasai, phir Isai. First the butchers, then the Christians. There is a cold calculating violence there which everyone will miss except evil liberals and commies.

Also, the idiotically named “Romeo Squads” are running amuck pretending to save women from evil men but in fact targeting couples who do not follow the moral precepts of the Sangh Parivar. After all the pre-election screaming about law and order in UP, cops must be really happy to have this daft pointless job where they can harass people instead of doing any actual work.

Most journalists can see the writing on the wall. In fact it was evident with the prime minister’s speeches in the election campaign and in the selection of the hardline Hindutva priest Adityanath as UP CM. “The move is a shocking rebuke to religious minorities,” says a New York Times editorial, “and a sign that cold calculations ahead of national elections in 2019 have led Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to believe that nothing stands in the way of realising its long-held dream of transforming a secular republic into a Hindu state.”

Bring on the singing cows led by Sawant, stage right.

The BJP is not happy with NYT. Ho hum. The BJP is not happy with anyone who does not love it. But it has Sawant and a whole host of other journalists to push its agenda, to cover up what it does not want the world to see and to replace in-house cheerleaders when necessary. Speaking of which, veteran columnist Tavleen Singh, who has repeatedly told us that Mr Modi is the best thing ever since jalebis, if only he was not surrounded by bureaucrats, fringe elements, other people, also finds the choice of Adityanath questionable. No Padmas here?

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, academic and columnist, who also spent much of 2013 and 2014 convincing us through his much-read columns in the Indian Express that Modi was indeed IT, has lately been disillusioned, far more than Singh. In the most recent of a string of critical columns, Mehta observed that “hubris” has set in for the BJP, “its politics shaped by resentment rather than hope”.

Rakesh Sinha, RSS ideologue and a professor at Delhi University and also the RSS’s most visible face, wrote in a column the other day that Indians who believe the lie that the RSS did nothing during the Freedom Struggle must now free their minds. However, he provided no evidence of what the RSS did do during the Freedom Struggle. Interesting lesson there.

Since many rightwing commentators and intellectuals are most upset about freedom of expression and its “misuse”, it was fascinating to read a rant against Tamil actor Kamal Haasan by Manika Gupta in the Financial Express. The writer objected to some comment made by the forthright superstar about Draupadi. A long diatribe followed telling Haasan he has no right to comment on Hinduism but should look to “his own religion” instead, which according to Gupta is Islam.

This is the finest example of “my freedom of expression is more important than yours”. Haasan has no right to say what he wants but Gupta has the right to tell Haasan not to say what he wants. Besides, why should Haasan not comment on Hinduism? The writer, while denying him that right, makes a number of comments on Islam.

And then there’s shoddy subbing and editing at Financial Express. Gupta may have jumped to some ignorant conclusions but anyone in India and journalism ought to know that Haasan is not a Muslim. The website has made the requisite changes after some social media mockery though one may argue that the damage has been done. And the vile, divisive pettiness exposed.

These are just some examples of what we are in for as the pro-Hindutva media lobby gets into whine and defend mode. Fasten your seatbelts.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator, and Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own.

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