Ranjona Banerji: The Media and What Rajiv Gandhi Did or Did Not Do

10 May,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


As we get closer to the endgame, the media gets less professional. Am I being fair? The Prime Minister of India has moved from blaming Jawaharlal Nehru for all his problems to Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi. Having informed Congress President Rahul Gandhi that his father died known as ‘Corrupt No 1”, Narendra Modi has since “researched” misuse of power by Rajiv Gandhi.

You might argue all’s fair in politics and this is campaign season and politicians say things and then they’re actually really sweet when they invite you over for dinner. Well, whatever.

Modi claims that Rajiv Gandhi used the INS Viraat for a personal holiday to Lakshwadeep, with his in-laws from Italy. Senior retired naval officers like Admiral Ramdas, Admiral Arun Prakash, Vice-Admiral Vinod Pasricha (then captain of the INS Viraat) and Vice-Admiral Madanjit Singh, who were all around at the time immediately debunked this.

Junior naval officers however claimed it was true and said that they could not speak up then because they would be done for mutiny! One retired naval officer (Lt Commander Harinder Sikka) went as far as to say on national television (okay Times Now) that Admiral Ramdas was a political appointee, with the implication that his word could not be trusted. The other implication was that a foreigner was onboard an Indian warship as in Sonia Gandhi. However, as per other reports, this Lakshwadeep visit was in 1987. Sonia Gandhi became an Indian citizen in 1983.



So we have a massive controversy brewing. Or do we?

To my mind, the Prime Minister tried a neat deflection from the shortcomings of his government to some partially fake issue from the past. And luckily for him, his obedient supporters in the media like India Today TV and Times Now picked up the ball and ran with it. In the process, they sullied the name of Admiral Ramdas, who made himself a target by attacking the politicisation of the Armed Forces by the BJP and the Modi government and for generally speaking up for secular issues since he retired.

The news which is then lost in this cacophony of what Rajiv Gandhi did or did not do is dire. It includes that of further economic misery, of increasing farmer distress especially in the sugarcane belt, water shortages across the country with high rainfall deficits for March and April and of the plight of Odisha in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani.

The NSSO has found new holes in the Modi government’s method of GDP calculation. The NSSO as we know is in trouble for researching job losses in the past five years.


The markets have been dropping for the past week.


Although Odisha’s disaster management was commendable, the state now assesses the damage and has to work on rebuilding. It is going to be a long haul, from all accounts. And yet, those stories are largely missing from the mainstream media.



Why is what Rajiv Gandhi did more important than Odisha’s immediate problems? The answer is easy: because Modi said so and for some aspects of the Indian media, that’s all that matters.

All Heil, eh?



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

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