Ranjona Banerji: Madrasi cyclone, anyone?

27 Nov,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What would you say is the big news affecting India this week? There was Cyclone Nivar which affected most of Southern India. And there were angry farmers on the march which affected parts of North India. But you would be wrong if you picked either. You could also have picked rising inflation especially in the rural sector which has affected inflation everywhere. But you would have been hard-pressed to have even seen or heard anything about inflation in the mainstream media headlines at all!

Nivar as someone put it ironically was that ‘Madrasi cyclone”, somewhere so very far from Delhi that communication is difficult and so remote that reaching is even more so. Protesting farmers, right there on the doorstep of the national capital region. But remote. So very remote. Not geographically or socially even when you consider the very superiority of the capital journalist, but by the very nature of their anger. And between that infernal “geolocation” on the web and the cold shoulder from the national media, you had to search endlessly or rely on friends and relations to find out what was happening if you do not live in South India.

And then, in any other reality, India’s farmers being met with water cannons in the middle of a cold wave, with barbed wire barricades, with roads dug up to stop their protest march to Delhi would have been non-stop news for the sheer dramatic value if you want be as cynical as you can.

But not in Modi’s India. In Modi’s India anything that shows Narendra Modi and the BJP in a bad light has to be ignored or twisted to show everyone else in a bad light. Without a doubt that was why one of India’s foremost TV channels, CNN-News18, headlined one of their flagship shows with one of their flagship anchors thus: “Who is misleading farmers?”.

Who indeed? A government which bludgeons into submission first and talks later by any chance? Ha ha. That’s a sarcastic laugh of course. The diktat from above, according to independent journalist Saahil Murli Menghani, is “label farmers as fake, extremist and politically motivated”. And Menghani’s contention is borne out by the media coverage. Anyone who opposes the Modi government in any way is extremist and anti-national. That’s a horrific narrative we’re so used to that it doesn’t even bother us any more. In between there was plenty of ironical, farcical coverage of ‘Constitution Day” and the “tributes” paid by BJP functionaries even as the very basics of the Constitution were being subverted in front of our eyes.

NDTV, which has got a lot of flak recently for not holding the Centre to task, did at least cover the farmers’ protest as news and not just to manipulate people’s minds, as the accompanying screenshot shows.

Can you imagine if this was any other government and any other Prime Minister? Can you imagine what the media would have done? Even Indira Gandhi, who incidentally the BJP is pretty careful not to mention since she is their idol when it comes to some aspects of her governance, was vilified more in the media than Modi and his band of cohorts. But for Modi and Shah, silence. Some media houses ducked the issue with headlines that “Delhi” had put up barricades to stop the farmers. They do not even have a smidgeon of professional courage to make it clear that it was the Union Home ministry under Amit Shah and not the Delhi government.

I hear from cartoonists that editors have begged them not to draw Modi or Amit Shah because they fear the consequences. The sop thrown is that they can criticise other BJP ministers and politicians. But as we all know, Modi and Shah are the two most powerful and important. Lack of courage and cowardice.

And then, inflation. Frankly you wouldn’t even know it was an issue for the media although you do know when you go shopping. I found a glorious chart on the inside pages of my local edition of The Times of India. Do you remember UPA 2 where we all discussed CPI and WPI as if we were born in some Statistics crunching data before we could talk? Hah! What should be constant headline news is buried somewhere.

Lack of courage and cowardice.

And plenty of chamchagiri.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. Her columns analysing media coverage and issues appears on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal.

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