Tuesday 24 May 2022
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Blabbering Janata Party

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]elf-styled intellectual from the BJP fold, Tarun Vijay has landed in a soup following a ridiculously argued article in The Indian Express that was expectedly blasted within 24 hours by the newspaper’s in-house thinker Pratap Bhanu Mehta. This was no aberration. Not only right wing social media activists but also several leaders in the rank and file of the ruling party are not satisfied merely by cursing some high-profile journalists day in and day out; some of them additionally fancy their chances as new-age journalists and commentators.

PB Mehta's take on T Vijay's article
Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s take on Tarun Vijay’s piece

This, even as the party recently announced the formation of a five-member national media team headed by the venerable MJ Akbar, with the mandate to discipline the blabbering mouths masquerading as BJP’s spokespersons on television, newspapers, Facebook and Twitter.

It was a trap laid by the apparently pro-Congress, pro-left section of the media and, even as a seasoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi found the “beef murder” best left unaddressed, the unassuming Vijay readily walked into it — unmindful of the high probability that his byline would be virtually passed off as an expression of the party’s official stand on the murder of a certain Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri.

Who does not know Uttar Pradesh is a crime-infested state? Who does not know the Akhilesh Yadav government is responsible for its law-and-order situation? Tarun Vijay didn’t. Waiting patiently for the preliminary reports to emerge would have saved the day for him and his party that he embarrassed by shooting from the hips. In no time it was revealed that a homeguard of the state was the perpetrator of the crime — the guy who spread the rumour that the victim was found to be in possession of beef. The party ruling at the Centre could have ignored the few accused who have “BJP links”, as the link at best is through kinship with some local members of the party.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister AKhilesh Yadav, along with family members of Akhlaq [Photo: The Deccan Chronicle]
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister AKhilesh Yadav, along with family members of Akhlaq [Photo: The Deccan Chronicle]
After a cooling off period — not before the impending elections in Bihar would be over — Tarun Vijay could have raked up the issue of crimes against Hindus with gusto. While few believe Muslims can vote for a BJP-led NDA, the main harm is caused by these reports’ ability to disturb urbane Hindu voters and fence sitters who then start looking for options other than the BJP. Make no mistake about it — the media frenzy is not about UP; through this high-pitched reportage, they are addressing the Bihar electorate.

Secondarily, spoiling the prospects of Narendra Modi’s foreign visits is another target. Not satisfied by the visa ban on him between 2005 and 2014, which had to be lifted by the US Administration once he became India’s prime minister, they had the audacity to call for his boycott by Silicon Valley. Simultaneously, incidents of “communal” strife surfaced everywhere. This happens every time the PM steps out of home, and his band of idiotic juniors never get the opposition game!

My Twitter contact PR Rajeswari got it.

The pattern in the negative reports and their invariable follow-up in the form of a concerted expression of outrage by opposition leaders is obvious. Much as all police records would defy it, cheerleaders of the ancien regime would make it appear all hell has broken lose since a “communal”, “divisive” and “polarising” Modi came to power. Earlier, Swarajya had exposed how all instances of alleged sectarianism were actually those of petty crimes. Taking a cue from it and/or a few other articles that argued on similar lines, better sense seems to have prevailed both on Prime Minister Modi and Finance and I&B Minister Arun Jaitley, who have stopped entertaining flimsy grievances of delegations of Muslim and Christian clerics. It is time BJP president cracked the whip on loose cannons who think of themselves as gorgeously presentable on television and profoundly reasonable on op-ed pages.

Finally, a wise Jaitley did issue a statement on the matter during his US trip. “India is a mature society. We need to rise above these kinds of incidents because they certainly don’t give a good name as far as the country is concerned,” the No. 2 in government told reporters following a lecture at Columbia University in New York, PTI reported. I do not know whether this was an answer to a question posed by a journalist. Whether it was that or he said so voluntarily, this is akin to conceding the opposition’s point that attacks on religious minorities started or peaked since Narendra Modi came to power. That is far from the truth.

Ritu Rathaur is right-wing, no doubt, but she is not a BJP leader that some jouirnalists are passing her off as
Ritu Rathaur is right-wing, no doubt, but she is not a BJP leader that some journalists are passing her off as

While news of attacks on Hindus is pouring into social media — an FIR has been lodged against activist Ritu Rathaur for reporting one such incident — mainstream media has, for reasons apparently fishy, conveniently kept its reporters away from those troubled spots. A leftist but mature Hindu has shown the decency of putting the words “spreading rumours” in quotes; some fly-by-night news and views portals have passed her off as a “BJP leader”! Worse, some professional journalists have joined the Congress chorus on Twitter where nothing is subjected to editorial scrutiny.

The fact is that India might have been multicultural for centuries, but other than special occasions Indians have never been pluralist, where communities share space with each other. And most certainly India has never been secular where the state policies are not dictated by religion; the very existence of Personal Laws blows the official claim in the Preamble of the Constitution to smithereens.

Indian language media would tell you what English language media wouldn't
Indian language media would tell you what English language media wouldn’t

Tolerant, yes. We have tolerated each other for ages. But this peace has proven shaky in the face of every rumour, several inter-faith love affairs, many alleged desecrations… Do not even begin to count how often invaders from central Asia marauded this land in the mediaeval era. I recently chronicled those dark days on Facebook. The darkness has pervaded up to our epoch; refer to B Rajeshwari’s IPCS research paper on communal riots in India.

Society hasn’t changed since May 2014; albeit the section of media used to ‘entitlements’ from the previous government has. It seems they are either being dictated to highlight only one side of the story and play down the other; or not play it at all! Or, they are both Joseph Goebbels and his subscribers rolled in one; they have begun believing in the myth of their own creation. Must be! Else, how does one explain the massive turnover of employees in media houses coinciding with the change in government at the Centre last year? Didn’t they presuppose Modi, once in power, would go after them!

There is more evidence on how they operate. Refer to the Wikipedia article on the Gujarat riots of 2002; head straight to the reference section; then click on the links of all reports and articles one by one. You will be astonished to see that journalists quoted each other rather than police records, the inquiry commission report, -monitored special investigating team’s report or court verdicts — to portray Modi as the biggest villain of the story. Tehelka went to the extent of rubbishing the SIT report on the basis of non-existent pages!

The best response to “beef murder” is, therefore, one of silence — which has come from the prime minister. Despite television anchors and op-ed writers provoking him every hour to speak up! Wonder why Modi’s partymen cannot take the right lesson from him? Read through till the end.

Our readers must have seen supporters of the BJP complain on social media that the party’s spokespersons are inarticulate, inadequately argumentative and ill-trained. In three WhatsApp groups with membership filled to capacity that I am part of, where there are several leaders of the BJP, the refrain from the party is that a “gag order” would turn into another stick that the media would beat it with. Would a mandatory disclaimer with articles and sound-bytes saying that the expressed views are personal be the same as a gag order? The unnerved BJP representatives think so. And why don’t they issue a statement on bjp.org that states the designated spokespersons alone represent the party’s view? Their excuse is: “That’s too obvious to be stated!”

It is not that the opposition does not have its fair share of boneheads. Akhilesh Yadav has, for example, dared the central government to ban beef exports, which is banned anyway. Atul Anjaan of the CPI recently received a lot of flak for questioning a commercial featuring Sunny Leone. The Aam Aadmi Party’s followers on social media are always ridiculed by a portmanteau of “AAP” and “retard” — AAPtard. But the stakes of a one-state party like the SP and a hardly existent CPI are much lower, and AAP’s leadership cannot possibly be held responsible for their followers’ intellect or lack thereof. Let the “bhakts” of Modi utter nonsense, for all the government should care. No colleague of his can afford a foot in the mouth.

It’s not that one cannot rationalise the verbal diarrhoea. The best known or most frequent BJP spokesman in television debates had told me years ago inside the guest room of a studio that his is an organisation where even a municipal councillor nurses the dream of becoming the country’s prime minister some day. Given such a monumental aspiration across the cadre, the ambition to be a known face is, of course, a lesser milestone the unguided missiles have set for themselves. Modi and Shah can offer them some leeway to their own peril.

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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation

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