Ranjona Banerji: Cowards & Enablers Everywhere!

18 Oct,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


The depths to which the media has sunk since Mr Narendra Modi became prime minister of India has been well-discussed, some of you might think ad nauseum. But that does not mean that the threat has diminished or that life is any easier for journalists who report or comment on the Modi government and what it does or does not do.

And those who are brave enough to take on the BJP and its governments often pay a very hard price, from loss of livelihood to physical and mental abuse. It is true that other governments have also behaved in similar fashions but that is not a licence for this government to do so or for journalists to justify the present by referencing the past. Politicians will do what they do. What we have in India now is a rampant, shameless, evil, toxic, divisive agenda being let loose by rightwing Hindutva forces and this is being gleefully shared and spread by sections of the media. I say “sections”, I mean most. Of course, sadly, television takes the biggest blame here.

Aaj Tak, the Hindi “news” channel of the India Today group, has long been known for its pro-BJP Hindutva leanings. As the Supreme Court heard the last of the arguments on the ownership of the Babri Masjid case, Aaj Tak came up with a tweet to advertise a programme which used the following words: “The birthplace is ours. Ram is ours. Where did the mosque-wallahs come from?”

The translation from Hindi is by journalist Saket Gokhale who has not only sent Aaj Tak a legal notice but also filed an FIR with the UP Police. For “spreading communal hatred and disharmony”. This takes enormous courage for which Gokhale cannot be commended enough. He has shown the sort of gumption that very few journalists or even citizens show today, either from fear or from collusion with the Hindutva forces.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 by members of the Sangh Parivar, including BJP, Bajrang Dal, VHP and also the Shiv Sena, among others destroyed the fabric of Independent India. We still bear the wounds, and the consequences.

The hateful incendiary rhetoric which followed the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, led by the BJP’s LK Advani and the eventual demolition of the mosque led to riots across the country and mainly by Bombay, in December 1992 and January 1993. Those riots and the deaths, injury, madness and mayhem are now largely forgotten. But the bomb blasts of March 1993 are remembered over and over again.

But, the media then did not speak as one voice in favour of the rioters and the demolishers. The demolition did flush out many diehard Hindutva rightwingers, who then claimed they were all for the capitalist economics of the Western right. That was a bogus argument since it was not the BJP which liberalised the economy and the destruction of the Babri Masjid by rampaging Hindutva mobs did not reform the economy either.

We did not have the sort of spread 24 hour news television in 1992. My family watched the demolition with horror on the BBC.  Imagine if it had happened with our current anchors jumping about like Rumpelstiltskin spreading hatred?

I asked Saket about the state of the media as he sees it and the need for individual acts of courage:

“A large chunk of the mainstream media today, instead of doing its job as the 4th estate has become a mouthpiece of the ruling party. In the chase for TRPs, there are outlets which wouldn’t even hesitate to propagate hate speech. When the government fails to uphold the law, the onus falls on aware citizens of the country who need to keep the abuse of power under check. When all dissent is forcefully curbed by the government, I believe it’s the responsibility of every citizen to protect the Constitution and ensure that it isn’t trampled upon by vested interests”.

More power to Saket. It would be worthy of our profession if we stood by him. But. Look around you. Cowards and enablers everywhere.


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

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