Ranjona Banerji: Publicity Blitzkrieg UnLtd

17 Sep,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Distance lends enchantment goes an old song. And watching events in India from far away, can it be that those rose-tinted scales of sycophancy are slipping? Whether it’s the misery unleased on Kashmir or the horror of the NRC or the collapse of the economy, it seems that the Modi-led government has faced from media flak. Not as much as it deserves, obviously, but well, maybe.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal however have both been the butt of internet jokes, memes, cartoons and articles for their rather ill-informed and ignorant comments about the economy, Uber, millennials and that classic mistake anyone could make (though not anyone with a basic education) of confusing Einstein with Newton. Ah well.

State governments also get some criticism, although one might argue that Uttar Pradesh gets away with a lot for being a BJP-ruled state. But sometimes there is hope and courage, like reporting on the case filed against a reporter in Haryana. The reporter was only doing his job, but since that involved reporting on wrongdoing by a BJP government, the consequences can be dire.

Haryana journalist booked at ‘behest’ of BJP minister after report on rotten grain storage

However, when it comes to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo, for the media all this “courage” vanishes and it’s business as usual. In other words, the usual full-scale, non-stop sucking up. Modi’s publicity blitzkrieg continues no matter what. And while Sitharaman grapples with the collapse and shutdown of the economy, the media allows Modi to swan about the world and come up with cringeworthy publicity about his “Howdy Modi” meeting with NRI fans in Texas or wherever. Modi is still forgiven all by the media and Whatsapp Indians because he won two elections. The RBI meanwhile comments that GDP figures are even lower than recent estimations.

Incidentally, and with no sense of irony, Amit Shah, India’s Union Home Minister, has roiled South and East India by declaring that it’s time for Hindi to become India’s national language, thus imposing it on the whole nation. Maybe “Howdy” is a famous Hindi word I have never heard of?

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Out here in the UK, it’s obviously all about Brexit. No one knows what’s happening and the media appear to revel in bringing home the impossibility of the situation to their viewers. Rather than appear like judgmental know-it-alls, many TV journalists and their guests make it clear they do not understand what will happen on October 31 when the Brexit deadline runs out. Obviously while diehard Brexit supporters defend their stand, the factions in various parties are well-documented and exposed to the viewing and reading public.

And, as in any democracy, the prime minister, as in Boris Johnson is the one held to account. I can imagine what they would do to him if he hooked off to a “Howdy Boris” meeting in the midst of a national crisis. It would not be “Oooooo, we’re so excited to watch fans say Howdy to Boris” from breathlessly stupid reporters, I can assure you.

Thankfully the British media are unlikely to cover a Howdy Modi event for 24 hours a day, so I have a lucky escape here. All the best to you!

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

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