Ranjona Banerji: The Media in Independent India

14 Aug,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


This particular column is supposed to be about 70 years of Independent India. But it also, essentially, a column about the media in Independent India. And what a dilemma, my country men and women, that presents to one.

I’ve tried to watch television news. But it is all brimming with nationalistic military fervour. Lots of shows on nationalism, patriotism, what it means to love your country, the sacrifices made by soldiers, national songs and anthems and flags and symbols.

I almost look forward to watching Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence on Star Movies on August 15 because watching TV news, you may as well celebrate Independence Day as a defeat of marauding outer space creatures for all that our news TV has any connection with reality.

I have no idea what they teach in textbooks any more. History itself has got submerged with a whole lot of other subjects to provide some sort of holistic sense of ignorance. So maybe I cannot blame journalists and TV journalists. After all, they may read Rakesh Sinha of the RSS in The Times of India and believe when he said that it was the RSS that got India Independence.

Since history now teaches us that the Mughal emperor Akbar was defeated by Maharana Pratap, perhaps journalists also think that the Indian Army, led by the British, got us Independence from the British. For the past three years, Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress and all the freedom fighters have been denigrated, diminished and dismissed. So everywhere from NDTV to NewsX – Republic TV I have not watched on this – we have discussions on nationalism in terms of the military, we have TV anchors visiting submarines and we have attempts to ensure that Subhas Bose, a former Congress member and leftist in his principle, emerges as a rightwing hero who singlehandedly fought and got us independence from British rule.

It was intriguing – or maybe not – that the concept of British or colonial rule was missing from these TV discussions. There was a lot about democracy and the Constitution. I have long known that journalists younger than about 40 have no concept of civics. I suspect civics is not really taught in the holistic approach to ignorance. So Independence Day becomes about the Constitution. When was the Constitution adopted? Was it on August 15 1947? Was India a Republic on August 15, 1947? What does Dominion Status mean? Why are we part of the Commonwealth? Maybe Wikipedia or some fake news websites like postcard or opindia will be good sources for our young journalists?

It is also true that for years we have tried to block out the Partition riots. In the early years that was perhaps understandable. Since then too, the memories are too painful or too polarised. Luckily, India’s newspapers have better institutional memories than our jingoistic ill-educated TV news editors or producers or whatever they are called.

So across newspapers and websites, we have a number of memories, nostalgia pieces, collation of facts and ideas of India 70 years ago and India now. Of the lot, two stood out for me. The first was Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express taking a whimsical look at Jawaharlal Nehru’s “tryst with destiny” speech. Before our rightwing TV journalists become completely ignorant of Indian history, I would like to remind them that Nehru was Independent India’s first prime minister. Tomorrow it may be someone else. Maybe Narendra Modi?



The second piece, also in the Indian Express, is by Sushant Singh, headlined “Heroes and Hero Worship, which unfortunately I could not locate on the website. Singh writes on the transition of the Indian Army from a colonial force to the nationalistic tour de force it is today.


While we’re on the subject of nationalistic symbols, Times Now touched a new low last week if you can believe that. The channel had a discussion about the decision by the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to enforce the singing of Vande Mataram in madarsas, also to be videoed on Independence Day in case of transgressions. A panellist mentioned the death of children in a Gorakhpur hospital. Times Now anchor Navika Kumar chided the panellist, reminding him that he was raking up the issue of children dying to deflect attention from the “real” issue of nationalism.

I suppose that is also one way to celebrate August 15.


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