Ranjona Banerji: The media failed on what the PM did in Corbett

22 Feb,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


The number of CRPF personnel killed on February 14’s terrorist attack in Pulwama now stands at 49. The media has played the story from all angles, except perhaps done any work on one crucial point: where was the PM? Since the attack, Kashmiris in several parts of India have been threatened, beaten up, discriminated against. The ruling party first made lots of sabre-rattling noises, the Opposition parties decided to show restraint for a week before taking the government to task. The Government and BJP then went into “protect-the-PM” mode, which is apparently now the default position.

So where was the PM? Definitely in Uttarakhand when the Pulwama attack happened. Narendra Modi was first stuck at Dehradun airport (Garhwal) because of bad weather. He then took a helicopter to Corbett (Kumaon), attended a conference on tigers and took a boat ride. He managed to address a political rally waiting for him at Rudrapur, through the Uttarakhand chief minister’s telephone. He also did a shooting for the Discovery channel.


The Pulwama attack happened at around 3 pm (I have read conflicting reports of 3.10 pm to 3.30 pm). The prime minister got back to Delhi only in the late evening. He continued with his earlier commitments in Uttarakhand, even after the attack. His speech to the rally at Rudrapur for instance was at 5.15 pm. He also stopped at a rest house. As opposition parties started raising questions about the PM’s absence, a new spin was put out by the government, naturally bought hook line and sinker by our loyal news houses.

Therefore, the PM was informed late, at 4 pm because of poor connectivity, Ajith Doval, the National Security Adviser was to blame, and so on. But as the Scroll link shows, the Doval story came and the vanished. Which leads one to suspect the media’s intentions and integrity even more. All this has emerged days after the PM gave many more campaign speeches in other parts of the country, inaugurated a train, said he had left the answer to this attack to the security agencies, did not attend the all-party meeting, received the Saudi prince at the airport and left for South Korea.

This “story” of the PM being informed late appears to be a late spin to stop a bad situation getting out of control. Why do our newsrooms buy it without checking? Why do they present all stories questioning the PM with the tag: “the Opposition claimed”? Why not ask directly why the PM did not immediately take a helicopter back to Delhi? What sort of an excuse is “poor mobile connectivity”? As people have asked, surely the SPG have satellite phones? What then is our emergency protocol? Are BJP campaign speeches more important than national security? These questions however are now being left to the Opposition.




Here is an analysis of unfolding events and implications of the PM’s programme post-Pulwama, but once again the focus is on the Opposition:


The burden of proof however must fall on the media.


And so to the Telegraph, Calcutta. Which strikes hot with its front page headline, “Commander Corbett”. We also get the PM’s programme but once again the focus is on the Opposition’s allegations and the government’s answers.



I tried The Indian Express, where once again, the Congress and opposition parties raise the questions, the BJP responds and it all sounds like a prime time TV slanging match. Where are the journalists?

Were there no journalists with Modi on this entire trip? Or even hanging around close by, on the outskirts? Is that possible?



What we have here is a giant media failure. It’s not just about media houses, mentioned in the Scroll analysis who put out the news about Doval being blamed and then went silent. It is about the larger body of journalists not doing independent checks.

What is the point of telling the Indian Armed Forces how to retaliate on TV every night, if you cannot even find out what the Prime Minister of India was doing for a few short hours on one evening?


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

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