Taking India for a ride!

07 Jun,2022



By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiSomewhere in the offices of Bennett Coleman, there’s someone sitting and laughing.

India is in the middle of a very embarrassing diplomatic incident and Times Now has to take responsibility for it. But. Ha ha ha.

We went through this last week, when Times Now anchor Navika Kumar supported BJP’s National Spokesperson Nupur Sharma, who had abused Islam and the Prophet on national television. There was a backlash within India and Times Now distanced itself from Nupur Sharma and her comments.


Ranjona Banerji: Someone trying to cover their nether regions?

What India did not know at the time is that within various Islamic nations in the Middle East and West Asia, there was massive anger building up. Indian goods were being removed from shop shelves, the Grand Mufti of Oman called for action, and then the diplomatic anger began. Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran and Oman are some of the nations which expressed their displeasure and some called Indian ambassadors for explanations.



And then, the BJP and the Narendra Modi-led Union government behaved in a most remarkable manner. First, a statement was issued by the BJP distancing itself from statements by Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal, head of the media cell of the BJP’s Delhi unit. Then, soon after that statement, another one appeared suspending Sharma and expelling Jindal who had also made similar remarks.

Sadly for Sharma, she had in between appeared on a BJP propaganda website claiming to her namesake that the BJP supported her all the way. She claimed assurances from people close to the Prime Minister that she was safe. Alas.

The Times of India has covered the episode, Sharma’s sad humiliation and the anger in Islamic nations but has not mentioned its sibling, Times Now. Instead, the newspaper report said that Sharma made her unacceptable remarks in “a TV debate”.

In its editorial, Times of India says: “That it took diplomatic censure from strategically and economically important Gulf countries for BJP to take action against two spokespersons, whose appalling comments on TV and Twitter have been known for days, says everything about how much political discourse has coarsened in this country”.

It does not mention its colleagues in TV who actively supported and encouraged Sharma, let alone censuring or stopping her. The noxious Navika Kumar and the churlish, petulant Rahul Shivshankar are posterchildren for bigotry and Islamophobia. Both are the lynchpins of Times Now and set the tone. They have not paid any price yet for what they have set in motion. No responsibility, no action.

The toxic “federal structure” excuse used by Bennett Coleman to justify its various platforms promoting opposing viewpoints is further amplified by a comment in The Economic Times. This pink paper feels that the Modi government is set on some great “development and wealth-creation mission” and thus “elements out of sync” – like Sharma and Jindal – must pay the price. It’s an intriguing thought process. By its own argument, the BJP must now get rid of Modi, Shah, Yogi Adityanath et cetera. It may also work if Times Now get rid of Kumar and Shivshankar who are certainly not bringing international glory to India.

(I must thank communications and branding consultant Karthik, of the popular Twitter handle @beasoftraal for the juxtaposition of these two edits.)

That India has egg on its face thanks to the BJP and its despicable bigotry is not surprising. Nor sadly is the fact the media which amplifies the BJP is actively involved in this national embarrassment.

What is somewhat surprising is how quickly the BJP capitulated to pressure from these Islamic countries. Normally it hisses and spits venom at anyone who dares to question its rabid nature. Now suddenly, it rolls over and crawls away in abject apology? Could it be because India’s two biggest billionaires have massive business interests in some of these countries?

Any media house going to take this up? Especially those laughing creatures at Bennett Coleman?


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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