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During Emergency, the ruler was extolled but Opposition wasn't punched around: Scribe

Anand K Sahay
By Rajiv Shah
A just-released book, “India: The Wrong Transition”, by a top Delhi-based scribe Anand K Sahay, has quoted “journalistic circles” to say that the Indian mainstream media – with certain “honourable exceptions” – has virtually abandoned the “practice of journalism”, and  this happened following a “sting operation” that showed that “the crème de la crème of Indian journalism were only too willing, for a suitable price, to let poisonous Hindutva propaganda prevail in their news columns.”
Calling this “mortifying”, Sahay, who has been in the profession since 1970s, occupying senior positions in dailies controlled by top media barons, and specializing in politics, governance and foreign policy, says, “If the media had stuck to its job, the Modi government is likely to have been running for cover.”
Published by Aakar Books, the book is a collection of Sahay’s 70-odd articles over the last five years (a dozen each on Kashmir and foreign and neighborhood policy, with emphasis on policy failures and lack of vision) in his monthly column ‘Far & Near’ in “Asian Age” and “Deccan Chronicle”, as also elsewhere, mostly about how under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government (2014-19) RSS-BJP’s “ideological underpinnings” shaped the government’s actions, and the “response these elicited within the political system.”
Pointing towards how, after 2014, the Congress – and the “idea of India” that it espoused and which is enshrined in our Constitution – seemed to be “no match for a rampaging RSS-BJP under the command of Modi”, Sahay insists, “Such was the scale of the support from a craven media, especially television”, that in opinion polls “routinely published on God knows what basis”, Modi was projected as “India’s most trusted leader, the safest pair of hands in the country to take us to glory”.
A media insider, Sahay, who has been president of the high-profile Press Club of India, argues, “It is, in fact, plausible to argue that, while the Modi government is no doubt a creature of RSS ideology and organisation, it may have found it difficult to establish itself if it weren’t for the fawning media, which was responsible for the building of the Modi persona.”
All this has happened, says Sahay, even as on social media, the Prime Minister has been “reported to ‘follow’ those with criminal intent who in the name of religion have plotted murder, and has not heeded calls to ‘unfollow’ these unsavoury types.” At the same time, “Armies of thousands of Hindutva thugs have been unleashed on social media in controlled fashion in order to intimidate critics of the regime, among them politicians and journalists.”
Noting that Modi has held not a single press conference during his term as Prime Minister, “a perverse record for a democracy”, Sahay says, “Even the outrage-causing president of US allows himself to be questioned by a hostile media every other day. However, the Prime Minister has a one-way communication running through his Mann Ki Baat talks over government radio and television.”
While Rahul Gandhi making “pointed references” in the Lok Sabha to not just the Rafale contract, but also to the sudden good fortune of Shah’s son, were “practically blanked out in the media”, Sahay recalls, fake news was propagated by none other than the Prime Minister himself – he accused his predecessor Manmohan Singh, former vice-president Hamid Ansari and a retired Army Chief of conspiring with Pakistan to have him defeated during Gujarat assembly polls in 2017.
Giving yet another example, Sahay says, recently, a book was published detailing how BJP produced propaganda on an industrial scale against political opponents and ideological antagonists, with its “most prominent target” being Rahul Gandhi. Authored a participant in the exercise “whose conscience began to prick and she defected”, the book “speaks of the massive effort that went into making the whole country believe for a long time that Gandhi was a ‘pappu’ – a duffer.”
According to Sahay, this was “sophisticated fake news meant to degrade a key opponent before battle is joined, in the spirit of the teachings of Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist who taught that the enemy should be defeated before it takes the field.” Yet, this book was “practically ignored in the Indian media – no doubt out of fear of the ruling establishment – but was reported at length in the Guardian, a famous British newspaper.”
Further, when the Prime Minister was in Varanasi, his constituency, and over 1,000 Banaras Hindu University women students protested life under the regime, pointing to sexual violence, while Modi “had no time for them” even though they were “lathicharged”, the “friendly media looked the other way.”
Sahay insists, “The Indian media has caved in by and large, scared further by bullying searches by the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate or income-tax authorities. The media has fallen in line. Prominent television stations have been intimidated and the others are doing the needful. The newspapers have held out on the whole, but just about. They tread with caution. They spill out the propaganda on their front pages, and ask few questions.”
Asserting that during the Emergency years, “the ruler was extolled but the opposition was not punched around in the media and called names, leave alone on a steady basis”, Sahay says, today, “A particular channel has gained particular notoriety since the Modi sarkar was ushered in. Studio guests on the carefully prepared list go on a hunt each day, led by the especially obnoxious anchor.”
Even “a rival channel – a ‘sober’ one, which claims to give us news, not noise – has now joined the ranks of the faithful”, claims Sahay, citing the example of how it “dropped” an interview with P Chidambaram, who was finance minister in the last government, and before that the country’s home minister, and in both capacities a member of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
This situation has come about because, says Sahay, because “a number of news outlets these days are run by businessmen or politicians with a close nexus with the saffron party that is running the show.” The consequence is that “the Indian media today, or prominent sections of it in any case, arguably represents the worst in journalism for any democracy – being the least hard working, the least enlightening, the least questioning.”

Comments

Chamarthi Sadasiva said…
The period of emergency need to be reexamined in the light of Modi Raj. A deeper analysis from class and caste point of view is needed keeping in mind the then international situation and contradictions. No doubt, a difficult task. The outcome of such an approach may not suit even left that includes present leadership of CPI.

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