Ranjona Banerji: Shhhhh!

22 Jul,2022

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiRenowned UK-based sculptor Anish Kapoor was interviewed by India Today about two new exhibitions of his work in Italy.

 

In this interview, in answer to a question, Kapoor said the following about the current dispensation in India:

 

“India is in a desperate place. My beloved country has allowed itself to be beguiled by what I call the Hindu Taliban. Modi’s vile extreme right wing politics is a patriarchal monoculture of hate and is in contempt of the very things that were once the essence of our Indian spirit – tolerance and respect for all irrespective of origin, race or creed. Our utter disregard for the millions who live in concentration camp poverty in our midst is a crime of shameful arrogance. We will be damned for this.”

 

According to Kapoor, the editor of India Today then got in touch with him and said they could not carry the interview if it included this answer.

 

Kapoor withdrew the interview, which has now been carried in toto and with Kapoor’s comments on the episode, in The Wire.

https://thewire.in/rights/anish-kapoor-modi-government-art

 

At the same time, the Government of India has reacted angrily to a question in Parliament about India’s further fall in the Press Freedom Index released in May. From 142, India now stands at 150 out of 180 nations. The Press Freedom Index is released annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media body which advocates for journalists and their freedom to work without threat.

 

There are so many ironies at work here that the mind is boggled.

 

India Today continues to pretend that it subscribes to some “gold standard” in journalism. Long ago, it did. For many publications, standing up to a Congress government was the same as getting a gold medal in the Olympics. It meant you were real and brave. You exposed corruption. You criticised government actions and political wheeling-dealing. If the government hit back, then your chest puffed out further.

 

To be fair, India Today also criticised BJP-led governments and other political parties. But that was long ago. Not for the last eight years. But that it should be so frightened of the consequences of a critical comment by a well-known artist just underlines once more the extent of the cowardice. Kapoor has not said more than what many commentators say, admittedly in a shrinking space for criticism. But India Today has neither the gumption nor the honesty to give Kapoor that much space. Not even to hide behind that disclaimer that these views are not that of the publication.

 

Given this, it is hardly surprising that the Modi government will not accept RSF’s index. After all, its captive media friends never criticise the government, amplify all the government’s claims without question, cheer what is clear bad political practice as cleverness, and happily blame the opposition for everything that goes wrong. Why should the Modi government accept that anything is wrong with the media?

 

Even more horrific and amusing is the fact that the bulk of the media itself is happy to carry the government’s viewpoint without any question or comment.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/govt-rejects-world-press-freedom-index-findings-says-methodology-questionable-non-transparent/articleshow/93028242.cms

 

That is a level of capitulation which is formidable.

 

Apart from all the journalists who have been arrested, killed, threatened, which all points presumably to a vibrant and “robust” media to use one of the government’s favourite words, I leave you with this nugget.

 

According to the Union Government’s own reply in the Lok Sabha, it has spent Rs 900 crore on advertising in the media since 2019.

 

Which do you think is a better excuse: cowardice or greed?

 

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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