Kolkata: Making tall claims about the size of the crowd at a rally by the organising party and the rival laughing at it is commonplace in Indian politics. But hitting a new low in credibility, the news media in Bengal has become a part of the game. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a barely filled Brigade Parade Ground of Kolkata, claimed Ei Somoy of the Times of India group even as One India Bengali service said there were at least 2.5 lakh people.
Ei Somoy said (translated), “This has never happened in the history of the Brigade (Parade Ground). The BJP organised a public meeting of Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) under a hangar (when it found that the huge ground was mostly empty). But this could not save the day for the party.”
The web service of Ei Somoy continued, “BJP workers in the crowd gathered below the hangar. But much of the place in the Brigade Parade Ground was empty. That is what (Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee is also talking about.
“Not only that,” the website said, “BJP workers have raised concerns. There was no food arrangement for the cadre coming from villages. It is a custom for political parties to arrange for food for workers from far-flung areas.”
“A group of around 2,500 BJP leaders and workers from Birbhum, who came to the Brigade on Tuesday night, stayed all night long. They complained there was no drinking water. They said the matter was brought to the notice of BJP’s organisers to no avail. Frustrated, they left the venue before the Prime Minister arrived. Around 3,000 workers left the ground before the event started.”
“The BJP State leadership is silent on the issue,” the report concludes.
What’s funny, the story was filed at 6:26 PM on Wednesday. That is, the said media house had ample time to check out what could happen till Modi arrived at the venue.
Filed minutes after 8 PM, the One India story said this rally of Modi attracted a crowd that was at least 2.5 lakh strong.
It further said that the Trinamool had grossly exaggerated the crowd size of 19 January ‘United India’ rally organized by Banerjee. It had 23 odd opposition faces to boast of, and the party ruling in the State claimed it had attracted a crowd of 10 lakh people whereas no observer claims it could have been larger than 5 lakh.
Interestingly, the One India report is otherwise not pro-BJP. Throughout, it talks of “experts” who say Modi is no match for Mamata in Bengal. The name of no expert, however, finds a mention till the end of the report!
The capacity of the Brigade Parade Ground is 2 lakh people. Even a crowd of 5 lakh would mean that the vehicular traffic and business of the entire Esplanade/Chowringhee area would come to a grinding halt, which most certainly did not happen on 19 January.
While Anandabazar Patrika (ABP), arguably with the highest Bengali readership, said, “The Brigade Ground burst with the chant of ‘Modi-Modi’ when Modi arrived at the Race Course ground by helicopter from the Dum Dum Airport.”
The ABP saw “disappointment” among the cadre over the fact that Modi’s attacks on Banerjee were not sharp enough even as he attacked the Trinamool rule marked by “aunt-nephew” nepotism. The website claimed the prime minister’s attacks on the chief minister in Siliguri were more potent even though he referred to Banerjee every time as “Didi” rather than mentioning her by name.
The drift in most Bengali media outlets suggests patriotism is trivial and tom-tomming the surgical strike, Balakot airstrike and Mission Shakti betrays Modi’s misplaced priorities.
PM Narendra Modi in Kolkata: Today some people in their hate for Modi have started speaking against India. Who raised doubts on airstrike? Who demoralized armed forces? Who had asked for count of bodies of terrorists? pic.twitter.com/aQ3kIpeY3i
— ANI (@ANI) April 3, 2019
Meanwhile, the national media has highlighted the economic issues plaguing Bengal, which Modi dealt with in his speeches.
Under the CPI(M)-led Left Front rule, the State government of the time had once virtually blocked the circulation and sale of the ABP newspaper. Then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu would even remark publicly that Aaj Kal was a better paper.
Now, under the Trinamool rule, while the sister concern of the ABP, the English-language Telegraph, barely differentiates between news and views even on the front page when it attacks the BJP, the Bengali paper is not as harsh on the national party.
Journalists of an agency known as an RSS initiative said to Sirf News on the condition of anonymity it was impossible to work and survive in Mamata’s Bengal if a reporter or editor did not toe the Trinamool line.
A senior correspondent who has developed expertise of faraway Darjeeling said, even in the Gorkhaland Autonomous Region, he has to file stories that favour the Binay Tamang faction of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha because the Trinamool favours it. “I have to write against Bimal Gurung because he is believed to enjoy the BJP’s support,” he said. “Because I, along with my family, must work in Kolkata,” he explained.