Ranjona Banerji: A government paranoid about criticism

03 Sep,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


A video about children in a school in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh being fed only salt and chapatis for their government-sponsored mid-day meal has gone viral. The response of the authorities has been to claim a conspiracy against them to “defame” the state government by a local village politician and the journalist Pawan Jaiswal who shot the video. The government has gone into a long and complicated explanation about the late arrival of vegetables for the mid-day meal. An FIR has been filed against the journalists, the local politician and an “unknown” person.


The extent of the paranoia of a government that depends on optics to keep its voter base happy clearly knows no bounds. Even The Editors Guild which has we know would rather pussyfoot around media issues than take on this government has issued a statement on the criminal charges against Jaiswal.

The statement says:

“It is a cruel and classic case of shooting the messenger. It is precisely exposés such as these that show how valuable free and fearless journalists are to a democratic society. It is shocking that instead of taking action to fix what is wrong on the ground, the government has filed criminal cases against the journalist. Even if the government believes that his report is wrong, there are easy and conventional redresses available. Using the IPC and police is no way to respond to this.”



This is really the crux of the issue. A government obsessed with image and paranoid about criticism can only react in a vindictive and over-the-top manner. The re-election of Narendra Modi and the BJP in May 2019 has only made matters worse. Far from being a confident government, it appears to be even more insecure in the way it pushes through its political agenda, crushes all opposition and reacts so badly to media scrutiny.

The world has a good laugh at US President Donald Trump’s dubbing of everything he doesn’t like as “fake news”. The Indian government has followed in his footsteps by accusing every reputed news agency, journal and news television company in the world of propagating “fake news” when it comes to its crackdown in Kashmir.



It is only when it comes to the economy that there are rumbles of distress… It is hard for even a genuflecting media to ignore job losses across various sectors and a general slowdown. However, lack of courage remains an abiding constant in many in today’s media and given the level of vindictiveness shown against Jaiswal, it is not hard to understand this cowardice. Although it is unpalatable.

Given the extent of the all-round pusillanimity from my dear colleagues, bit of satire from Scroll at least allows us to laugh at the absurdity in JNU asking Romila Thapar for her credentials. Laughter might be the only way out.


While on satire, I bring you back to #AltSarkar which is going strong on Twitter. It is worth following not just for the fun but also for some great ideas on how a government could be.





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


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