Pressuring the government for pro-market reforms on the one hand and promoting activists and their organisations, the ideologies of which are anti-market, on the other is an irony the editors of news media will find hard to explain. If today it is the dying farmers’ stir, for the whole of the past decade, news television channels, newspapers and their websites have offered prime time and front pages respectively to agitations, in the presence of which anything but business can flourish in the country. One thing that business needs unqualified is peace. With communists, who bear the name and also those who don’t, jamming the streets, staging demonstrations, raising a din in public places etc, neither shops nor customers find the environment safe for their transactions. The editors have got their knickers in a knot with their stand on Rakesh Tikait, whose followers have constantly dwindled after the Khalistani ruckus on this year’s Republic Day, now saying that the reforms the Narendra Modi government brought in with a spate of amendments in laws governing the agriculture sector are welcome and yet the rich, pampered cultivators of the stretch between western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana must be lent a patient ear. The papers argue now that the BJP may have to pay a price for not paying heed to these beggars with a demand for entitlement, keeping in view the approaching Uttar Pradesh election whereas, in normal times, acceding to unfair demands for electoral gains would be pooh-poohed as populism. The media position gets trickier in the context, as opposing the rabble-rousers is not just Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar of the BJP but also his counterpart in Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, a leader whom journalists do not touch with a barge pole.
Far from their history of the 1990s, when both fledgeling television and established newspapers were telling the news consumer that the way Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had run the country’s economy was all wrong, they now promote every noisemaker from Arvind Kejriwal in 2011 to the annually cantankerous lot — the communist students of JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jadavpur University, Hyderabad Central University and other centres of supposed education — all of whom want the nation to go back to 2% rate of growth following their prescription. It was, of course, not a great commentary on intellectual independence that the media should have hailed capitalism only when PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were ruling. They cannot explain why they still celebrate P Chidambaram, accused of fraudulence in two big cases, for his 1997 budget, the only highlight of which was a scheme to voluntarily declare one’s real income. They did not question Manmohan Singh for the 10 years when, at the helm, he appeared apologetic for what he had done under Rao’s instructions in the period 1991-96. The short-lived promotion of the idea of a free market makes it clear they were never driven by conviction.
And now, they simply do not know how to handle Modi, beginning with branding him uncharitably, given his mixed package that includes socialism, Gandhism and tinkering in the name of administrative reforms. Their problem is that the chief minister of Gujarat that they hated has been the prime minister of the country for seven years and they can do nothing to shorten his stature. Crying for Akhlaq of Dadri, damning Hindu ‘intolerance’, celebrating agitations against NRC, CAA, every Bharat Bandh, blockades like Shaheen Bagh, and wondering why riots like those in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh happened in 2019, etc are ruses that they fail to see as their double standards. While Modi must maintain the decorum that behoves his office, the duplicitous media must be served its antidotes by Yogi Adityanath and Himanta Biswa Sarma. Agitations, no doubt, make good stories. But to see in anarchists deliverers of the nation is to fail to take lessons from all the revolutions in the West, none of which brought lasting and favourable changes for the people of France, Hungary and Russia.