Media-NGO nexus bolsters Modi

via Chandan Mitra - Daily Pioneer published on March 20, 2010

For more than eight years, Narendra Modi has faced the wrath of the media and some motivated NGOs. Paradoxically, he has emerged stronger!

There is this story and I don’t think it’s apocryphal. It involves Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and a leading television news anchor. This apparently happened after Mr Modi won a stunning two-thirds mandate from the electorate in 2002 despite a sustained campaign targeting him in the national, as well as local, media for his alleged role in the post-Godhra riots. When the TV personality walked into the Chief Minister’s chamber for an interview Mr Modi got up, shook his hand and thanked him effusively. Taken aback by this unexpected gesture, the anchor asked the Chief Minister why, in spite of the hostility shown by the channel, he was being thanked. Mr Modi tersely replied, “But for your hate campaign against me, I would not have won such a huge victory. I hope you continue to spew venom in the years to come.”

More than eight years after the ghastly mass murder of innocent kar sevaks in Godhra and the frightening reaction to that incident, Mr Modi still remains a demonic figure for most of the media. Barring this newspaper no other English-language publication presents a balanced picture of his formidable achievements. The Gujarati media, propelled by brazen financial greed, continues to snipe at him because he spurns their endless demands for official favours. English news channels spare no opportunity to haul him over the coals on the slightest pretext. Yet, Mr Modi remains the greatest Gujarati icon since Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and perhaps India’s most dynamic Chief Minister with a development record that is the envy of his counterparts. Mr Modi’s 2002 assertion that the media’s demonisation of him will work to his political advantage has turned out to be prophetic.

This article is not meant to be an ode to Mr Modi; he hardly requires more adulation than he already gets. But the manner in which the English-language media recently went ballistic over the SIT’s decision to summon him for questioning underlined the visceral hatred of this section of the so-called secular news dispensers towards him. Having tried strenuously and failed repeatedly to dislodge him from the Chief Minister’s chair the media now clutches at straws. Last week they again demanded to know: “Shouldn’t Modi resign now that the SIT has summoned him?” This poser didn’t go far, because being called for interrogation is hardly ground for an elected Chief Minister to put in his papers. Many senior politicians, some of them holding high office, have appeared in court to testify after chargesheets were filed against them and trials commenced. It is not even clear if Mr Modi will have to physically appear before the SIT or merely send the State’s Advocate-General to reply on his behalf. In fact, after the Supreme Court’s observation in a related case last week that the SIT was set up to oversee proper conduct of the probe and could not also appropriate the right to investigate, even the legal validity of the summons is in question.

The media then fell back on tried and tested tear-jerkers, recalling in lurid detail the atrocities perpetrated during the post-Godhra violence, without even a cursory reference to what happened in Godhra itself. It was conveniently overlooked that following tantrums thrown by various motivated NGOs, fresh trials were ordered by the apex court in several cases of mob violence. In the gruesome Bilkis Bano case, in which the pregnant woman was not only brutally killed but allegedly the unborn foetus also ripped out of her stomach, the Gujarat Police filed charges against 18 people. After a fresh trial, this time outside Gujarat, the same 18 people were convicted. Now it transpires that the doctor who conducted the post-mortem testified recently that the ripping of the stomach and murder of the unborn child was a figment of some people’s macabre imagination. So much for the hyperbole about the subversion of the investigative process by a ‘communalised’ Gujarat Police! Exactly the same happened to the probe into the Best Bakery incident, proving yet again that the shifting out of trials from Gujarat has made no difference to their outcome.

This brings me to the crux of the matter. Certain dubious NGOs, obviously on the payroll of Mr Modi’s political opponents, have been getting their way with the courts through sheer lung power, nuisance value and ‘secular’ credentials. They got cases shifted out of Gujarat, kicked up enough ruckus through a sympathetic media to get the SIT installed by the Supreme Court, and used every ploy in their arsenal to fulfil their political paymaster’s objectives. These NGOs have been guilty of forging signatures in the distribution of relief to riot victims, and stand accused of bestial behaviour towards those who did not toe their line. Best Bakery’s Zahira Sheikh learnt this the hard way and served a jail sentence for perjury because she could not bear the NGOs’ torture and changed her statement in court. The same NGOs are now livid with the SIT, which in many ways is their brainchild.

Because there is no FIR or chargesheet against Mr Modi, they think the SIT too has been indoctrinated by Mr Modi’s brand of Hindutva. They have publicly accused some members of the SIT of being the Chief Minister’s sidekicks. The NGO concerned seeks to be the complainant, advocate, judge and hangman all rolled into one! I recall one of their ilk, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (also anti-Gujarat and anti-Modi) using abusive language against Supreme Court judges because the verdict on Sardar Sarovar didn’t go in their favour. An avuncular Bench of the court let off the rabble-rousers, including a well-known anti-national litterateur, with a mild warning. The social and media clout of these professional disruptors and diabolical breast-beaters is truly incredible.

It is, therefore, with some amusement that I followed the same media’s incandescent rage against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati last week. Her money-mala at the BSP’s 25th foundation day rally was undoubtedly crass and exhibitionist. But it wasn’t a political crime the way the media portrayed it. For decades, politicians have been weighed against coins at public meetings and the funds thus collected were viewed as donations from ‘adoring’ supporters. Many of Ms Mayawati’s actions run counter to accepted social norms as well as aesthetics. Installing statues of oneself is not something Indians (irrespective of caste) are comfortable with. Ms Mayawati’s political opponents have every right to question the use of public money for such activities. But in gunning for the garland of notes, the media should have recalled how Chaudhary Devi Lal had made it a habit to have his formidable bulk measured in coins.

By cocking a snook at the media and accepting yet another garland of notes 48 hours after the first, she has not just brazened out the criticism but probably enhanced the admiration with which her core supporters behold her. In the end, the media diatribe may have ended up as a much needed booster for the embattled leader. Isn’t it time our media pundits stepped out of their air-conditioned ivory towers and conducted a reality check for themselves?

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