Media on Mute!

21 Jun,2022


By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiA week into protests over the Centre’s new armed forces recruitment scheme and the bulk of the media is still unsure how to play this.

It went all out against a few members of the Muslim community who protested against their homes and establishments being destroyed by government-sanctioned bulldozers, and against the BJP’s comments on the Prophet Mohammed. How dare “they” attack trains and buses? How dare they throw stones? Democracy is about peaceful protests.

Media outrage is comparatively muted against the widespread arson, vandalism and disruption of life by protestors across India who are opposed to this new scheme.

However, let us not assume for a second that TV’s mainstream channels are concerned about why these young men are on a rampage. Because the scheme has come from the Modi government, these TV people are all in favour for it.

And for the cynical, there is great studio hot air to be generated by fomenting hatred, which will definitely puff up bonuses.

Apart from angry mobs, much of the anger comes from retired Armed Forces veterans. They find the scheme untenable and dangerous. Some of the less scrupulous of our brave veterans are TV regulars. They spend their evenings screaming at Pakistan, China and so on. Now they scream at each other. The fire is stoked by anchors who want to know who’s provoking these youths.

In all this, as ever, some vital journalism has been forgotten. Before the debates, the basic job would be to educate viewers and readers on what exactly the Agnipath scheme entails. And speak to the mobs about why they’re so angry.

Actually, because of the reach of social media, these armed forces aspirants who have spent years preparing for the usual recruitment drives, are more than willing to tell you why they’re angry, where they think they’ve been cheated and why they want the scheme to be rolled back. In most cases, they’re saying the same thing as the retired Armed Forces officers.

As usual with the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just issued one statement about how the scheme will not be rolled back, apart from a couple of anodyne and unhelpful remarks which amount to: no pain without gain. Given Modi’s persona and how he terrifies journalists, no one questions him.

He carries on with his electioneering, yoga poses, inauguration of temples and whatever other publicity stunts he has planned.

The Armed Forces chiefs are trotted out to defend the scheme.

Various ministers make equally unhelpful remarks.

No one wants to actually speak to those affected.

BJP members try to reassure people that after four years, these former “agniveers” will be hired as security guards in BJP offices.

Other BJP ministers claim they will have been or will be trained as electricians and plumbers.

A few captive corporates honchos promise they will hire all these people after four years. They get full coverage on this.

None of them have any track record of hiring jawans after they retire. They are barely questioned on this.

The Indian media therefore retains its trend on getting adversarial with those who have no power while succumbing with joy to those who are.

All Hail!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.

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