Ranjona Banerji: Misplaced anger against cartoons & cartoonists

11 Jun,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji


A pandemic clearly cannot stop a neofascist state from suspension of fascism while it deals with a massive health and economic crisis. Of course not. What a novel notion. So even as millions of Indians grapple with death, suffering and an extreme shortage of resources including life-saving vaccines, the Government of India cannot stop itself from continuing its agenda to strip India of every last remnant of democracy.


Ooo, strong and pointless words, you might think. But nonetheless valid for all that. The propaganda to prove that India handled Covid-19 better than anyone else, the overriding need to pretend like we have enough vaccines and have vaccinated more people than another one else in the solar system, the itch to prove that Narendra Modi is the best prime minister in the universe, has taken over the government to such an extent that there is no reality except a nightmare.


And since this pretence has taken over the government, it has taken over its media puppets.


The latest government act is against Manjul, one of India’s best-known cartoonists, a friend and former colleague, through Network18, which has carried his cartoons for six years. First Manjul received a notice from Twitter saying the government has informed the social media site that his Twitter content “violates Indian laws” and that action must be taken. Twitter said it was not taking any action now, but suggested that Manjul take action.


Manjul shared this email on Twitter.


Four days later, he was suspended by Network 18.



The link above from The Wire suggests that people within Network 18 are shocked by this suspension. What is worst that Manjul has done? Criticised the Modi government, especially on its handling of the pandemic.


That is Manjul’s job. Cartoonists have become the first responders with the more courage than many other journalists when it comes to speaking truth to power.


As Satish Acharya, also a sharp cartoonist asked on Twitter: “Why so much anger against cartoons/cartoonists? Many BJP leaders used to share cartoons on UPA govt before 2014.”


Acharya’s cartoons have also faced problems, for the same reason as Manjul. Intriguingly, lawyer Prashant Bhushan was threatened by Twitter for retweeting an Acharya cartoon!


It is true that other governments, including the UPA shockingly against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, have misused the sedition laws and threatened cartoonists, journalists, writers, thinkers and more. But no one has done it to this extent and so consistently.


If the Narendra Modi thinks that it can constantly harp on how it fought the Emergency and how Congress governments did the same thing, behaving in the same way means its revokes its rights to pretend to stand for democracy. Between the Modi government’s propaganda and arm-twisting tactics, his captive toady media editors and anchors, and his compliant media owners, Modi and the BJP have far outdone the Emergency and all its attendant attacks on democracy.


As for Network18, just ranting that it is owned by the Ambanis is not enough and only provides both the owners and senior editorial management with an easy out. Since it presents itself as a legitimate news outlet, it therefore has to be open to the same scrutiny. If it is merely a propaganda machine like OpIndia or Swarajya or RepublicTV, then it should openly declare itself. However, if the powerful and rich Ambanis are so terrified of Modi and the BJP that one cartoonist has to suspended, then we are indeed in a fascist nightmare, no doubt about it.


I feel for the few journalists who still work at this “news” organisation.


I feel even more for India, which has lost itself in the past seven years.


Thanks in no small measure to us, in the media.


All strength to the few who still speak up despite the immense pressures. And to Manjul and his cartoons.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal



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