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Saturday 19 October 2019
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‘Spinderella’ On Smelly Graph

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Abusing Smriti Irani relentlessly is not fun

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]pinderella” screamed the headline of a regional English daily. It was accompanied by a morphed picture of Smriti Irani on a spinning wheel. The picture had given equal prominence to a tweet from a Smriti troll that said, “I hope she won’t confuse the TEXTile ministry with the ministry for TEXTING…”

This is the state of journalism in Kolkata today. It will not be out of place to mention that the owner-editor of the newspaper had to call it quits after the Assembly election in West Bengal in order to appease the ruling party of the State. During the election, the newspaper group had acted as a pamphlet of sorts for the opposition Congress-Left against chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The attack was so intense that one newspaper that supports Banerjee printed a full page report on the land deals the owner-editor wanted to get approved. There was no defamation suit filed against the newspaper. Evidently, the report contained some truth. Post-election, to placate the chief minister, the owner-editor resigned and handed over charge to his younger brother. However, trained in the school of yellow journalism, scribes apparently continue as before, with Smriti Irani at the receiving end.

But The Telegraph is not alone. Television channel NewsX tweeted that one Anwar Ali of JDU had said that Irani was given the Textile Ministry to cover her body. One Pratyusha Rath observed rightly that for our well-heeled liberal intellectuals “sexism towards some women works just fine.” One Shilpi Tewari pointed it out rightly that Smriti Irani “is also a human with some basic rights to dignity which remains even if she is a minister you happen to not like dear journos”. Certain trolls on twitter might have no clue on decency, but one wonders how a newspaper that claims to be part of a group that is part of Bengali culture can wink at that. What is more, this is not the first time. This newspaper had earlier called Irani “aunty national”.

To begin with, the choice of Smriti Irani as a Cabinet minister in a complex HRD ministry was curious to say the least. Tongues wagged with the worst kind of jokes doing the round. I was shocked when a relatively matured and decent journalist reminded me of the same crass gossip after the Cabinet reshuffle. Accustomed as these persons are in cracking and circulating such crass jokes on women they have lost all sense of propriety. Do they wonder if similar comments are cracked on their near ones, what their reactions will be?

True, Smriti did not make herself popular with her aggression. But that is part of a character. Even when she went to the Textile Ministry, she could not help telling the hordes of journalists that perhaps the unglamorous Textile ministry did not ever see so many scribes gathering in the office. Unsavoury but true, they all came to see Smriti Irani falling from the HRD pedestal to a corner in textile. Even when she is not exactly on top of her political career, her detractors will not allow Irani time to take it in her stride. Imagine them crowding around Priyanka Vadra after she completes her “will she, will she not” act over Uttar Pradesh campaign and asking her uncomfortable questions. Will they ever? Will they crack sexually explicit jokes on Priyanka Vadra as they do on Smriti Irani?

What could be the problem with Irani that made her a favourite target for the liberal and the intellectual? Largely, it is an attack on her leader Narendra Modi and their unsatiated hatred towards him. Also, Smriti does not hail from an illustrious family. In a semi-feudalistic mindset of India, she did the cardinal sin of emerging successful, first in the entertainment world and then in politics. Such characters cannot be acceptable to a media owner who relishes the costliest cigar and wine. His courtiers naturally echo the thought process of their lord.

While their mindset may be explained by their socio-economic standard, what one wonders is whether readers of the newspaper find such sexist comments on Smriti Irani entertaining. If they do, I feel ashamed as a Bengali. I wonder how much moral degradation have the people there suffered! In any decent place, such newspapers would have been completely boycotted by its readership. If The Telegraph Kolkata has not faced it, one can only shudder at the intellect of the readers still reading such a rag.

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Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

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