Ranjona Banerji: Absurdity Unlimited on News Television

12 Sep,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


The inner workings of the Dera Sacha Sauda compound at Sirsa, Haryana, has been the focus of most of television media for this week. The fact that Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim ran what was virtually a parallel government is a subject which needs to be debated and understood. It is true that most cults the world over run like this and the truth of what is going on inside only emerges when something tragic happens.

Of course, television must continue with its breathless excitement as if this the first time a cult has been exposed or dismantled because television is breathless and excitable by nature. Still, some questions need to be asked about how such cults function and how they are able to function autonomously purely on the basis of faith. For journalists, the collusion of politicians (of all parties), police and state administrations should be paramount. Contrast this with a situation where we have had a Censor Board for years in a democracy, snipping off offensive bits of films, where kissing on screen was banned for years and yet such private republics happily exist within India.


The battle on social media remains intense and absurd. The Prime Minister has faced local and international flak for following abusive and offensive Twitter handles. This has long been known but received far more attention after the celebrations of social media after the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Some of these handles, most “proud Hindus” “blessed to be followed by the prime minister”, tweeted about how they were glad a bitch was dead and that puppies were howling and so on. Rape threats are par for the course to which one could add threats to other journalists to watch out after Lankesh’s murder.

On Sreenivasan Jain’s Truth and Hype on NDTV, Rakesh Sinha of the RSS pointed out that the Prime Minister has no control on those who follow him. This is a neat deflection and was quickly corrected by Yogendra Yadav of the Swaraj Abhiyaan who pointed out that the debate was on who the Prime minister followed – which is a choice made by him or whoever handles his Twitter account.

Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s IT cell, issued a statement after all the anger on the matter. His explanation included statements like this: “(PM) follows normal people and frequently interacts with them on various issues… PM following someone is not a character certificate of a person.” A claim was also made that Narendra Modi had never unfollowed anyone. The statement went on to accuse Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi of something and informed us that the PM also follows people who abuse him.

On the same programme, Pratik Sinha of altnews pointed out that Modi had in fact unfollowed Dr Jwala Gurunath after she complained of being abused by Tajinder Bagga – a serial abuser on Twitter who once attacked lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan for Bhushan’s stand on Kashmir. Bagga is spokesperson of the Delhi unit of the BJP.

No one has explained however why the PM feels the need to follow abusive Twitter handles apart from their loyalty to him and the BJP. In fact, there is an argument to be made that being followed by the Prime Minister of India is indeed a “character certificate”. It gives your views legitimacy. Modi after all has 34 million followers on Twitter but follows only 1779 handles. Do we need to focus more on this before we get consumed by one more dramatic incident in the news cycle?


On a lighter note, if anyone ever felt that they had Yoda-like characteristics or would get along with the sage of the Star Wars saga, they might want to get in “cahoots” and apply for the job of assistant to Samir Jain, vice-chairman of the Times of India Group. I say no more.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior editor and columnist. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal.


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