Below, a clip from a Hartosh Singh Bal piece from the Caravan’s annual media issue:
In March this year, Modi pulled out of the Economic Times Global Business Summit at the very last minute, citing “security concerns.” Along with him, several ministers and senior bureaucrats also withdrew from the event. The decision caused a huge loss of face for the Times Group. Given the largely favourable coverage of the government in the group’s publications, it was difficult to fathom the reasons for the government’s step. Subsequent events seemed to carry their own message. A journalist critical of the government, Rohini Singh, left the Economic Times, and a spoof on Modi, which ran on one of the group’s radio stations, was soon taken off the air. (Singh went on to author a story for The Wire on the finances of Jay Shah, the son of the Bharatiya Janata Party president, Amit Shah.)
In a recent podcast on the state of the media, Amit Varma and I had discussed this incident and its implications. Bal spells it out, on similar lines, in his piece:
During my time away, a story that fascinated me — in a train-wreck kind of way, and as a cautionary tale of the danger of the media disseminating half-baked news — relates to the murder of one Paresh Mesta. The India Today channel and its consulting editor Shiv Aroor played a lead role in propagating the story; social media backlash then prompted Aroor to write an extended defense of his actions. Here it is, and it is worth reading in full as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with the media in general, and TV news in particular.
The first four paras are an extended ‘woe is me’ pity-party aiming to paint himself as the victim, and an attempt to stake out the high moral ground. Skip lightly over those, and consider the real story, which begins with paragraph five and the tweet that started it all:
I was checking the news just now, and noticed that Parliament is in ferment over Narendra Modi’s December 10 speech in Palanpur, wherein he accused his predecessor Manmohan Singh of colluding with Pakistan to impact the outcome of the Gujarat elections.
It was a particularly low point in an election cycle that was one depressing low after another. Even for Modi, a terminal liar who in pursuit of his ends will slander anyone and devalue any institution, this attack on Singh was unconscionable. (There is also the sheer illogic of it — if, in fact, the Prime Minister of this country believes that senior politicians were colluding with an enemy nation to thwart the democratic process in India, he should have ordered an inquiry into it and, if proof were found, meted out exemplary punishment. To not do so is at the very least a dereliction of duty.)
A small news item from the day before yesterday — the day before the counting of votes in Gujarat and Himachal, the day before Parliament belatedly went into its much-delayed winter session — deserves your attention. The Prime Minister, it said, was in Mizoram to kick off the election campaign in that state. Today, he is in Karnataka and then on to Kerala and Tamil Nadu to “extensively review” the damage caused by Cyclone Ockhi, never mind that the storm hit the Indian coast over two weeks ago. (Nothing — not Parliament, not the responsibilities of government, not even natural disasters — ever come between Modi and an election campaign.)
A constant trope during the Gujarat election cycle is the political rejuvenation of Rahul Gandhi. The celebration of his political comeback was at times almost Shakespearian, echoing the transformation of ‘Prince Hal’, the intimate of Falstaff and his set of scoundrels, into the King Henry V who would lead England to glory at Agincourt when the time was right. Remember?:
To all those who kindly mailed to ask why I had gone AWOL and if all was well, thanks — didn’t realize that in these days of saturated surround-sound commentary, one voice among many would be missed.
My apologies for the silence — a hectic few days of necessary travel, mostly in areas with dodgy net connections, and then a bad bout of hay fever as soon as I got back home, kept me off the net.
Still recovering — this is the first I have been online in about two weeks, but I will hopefully be fitter, and more able to resume normal service, this coming week (which, as it turns out, begins with the election results in Gujarat — and Himachal, of course, but mainly Gujarat.)
See you sometime tomorrow; until then, be well all.
#1. After six straight lows, India’s quarterly GDP growth finally trended upwards to 6.3% in the quarter ending September 2017 — a significant uptick from the 5.7% the economy had registered in the previous quarter. The real silver lining is not so much the GDP number itself, but the fact that manufacturing growth accelerated as warehouses restocked after the twin disruptions of demonetization and GST implementation.
Arun Jaitley is hopeful that the impact of those two structural reforms is now “behind us and hopefully, we can look for an upward trajectory in the third and the fourth quarter.” A pragmatic, unexceptional statement from the FM, that contrasts with the chest-thumping of the BJP-leaning sections of the media, led by the usual suspect:
May 25, 2014: The then Delhi BJP chief Harsh Vardhan says that the first issue he will take up with the prime minister, if his party won the Lok Sabha polls, was the cause of granting full statehood to the capital city. The move, he said, would solve the problem of multiple authorities; he said the NDA had earlier tabled a relevant bill in Parliament but the successor UPA government had not followed up.
Harsh Vardhan’s predecessor Madan Lal Khurana had made a similar demand in 2003, coincidentally, again, just ahead of assembly elections. “The BJP leadership at the Centre says it is drafting a new Delhi Statehood Bill,” the article points out. “This is something it had done in 1998 as well, a few months before the assembly elections in November that year.”