Saturday, May 25, 2019

Indian Media’s Deus Ex Machina

This piece was written as the 2014 general election campaign was drawing to a close, and in a way predictive of which way the wind was blowing.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
                        – Tennyson, Alfred. In Memoriam [Ring Out Wild Bells].

As the long-drawn election season winds down to choose a new government, two distinct aspects of it are discernible. The first is the agenda of development and its architect, Narendra Modi that dominated this election and the second, the increasingly distortive role played by the Indian media as it reported (or misreported) the election campaign. 
The outcome of the election has been clear since Narendra Modi opened his campaign with a rally in Hyderabad on a hot Sunday afternoon in August last year. The opinion polls, grudgingly reported by a biased English language media have made it increasingly clear that ‘the nation is yearning for a change’, as BJP’s Ravi Sankar Prasad had repeatedly tried to din into the collective thick skull of the media. Only the purblind or the myopic had any doubts about the steadily surging possibility of the next government being formed by the NDA headed by the BJP and Narendra Modi. There may be a tsunami rumbling under, ready to break the surface and change Indian politics forever, but it is safe to assume that the next government will be formed by a party formation led by Narendra Modi. 

From the beginning Narendra Modi tried to steer the election away from the divisive politics of caste and creed, and election-eve largesse that came to dominate Indian elections from its inception. He did not woo this or that caste; did not placate this or that creed nor did he announce reservations and more reservations for this or that section of the electorate. He sought the people’s mandate purely on his projected development agenda. He promised the youth a golden future that is their due. What were his credentials? His development record in Gujarat! What did the media do? It ignored all that. It set out to pick and choose bits and bobs from his speeches, stripped them all out of context and wilfully distorted them. 

The media’s ‘agenda of distortion’ did not begin with its reportage of Narendra Modi’s October 27, 2013 ‘Hunkar rally’ in Patna. It has been doing it since 2002, as detailed in many articles in VOXNDICA. The distortion has only sharpened in shrillness and perhaps in silliness. The rally at Gandhi Maidan was attended by a record number of 300,000 people, not seen since Jaya Pakash Narain.* It was marred by a series of blasts in Patna, intended to subvert it. Modi came to know of the blasts as soon as he arrived in Patna. Had he panicked and cancelled the meeting the inevitable stampede would have killed hundreds of people, many more than the blasts could. Modi retained his composure and addressed the crowd in Bhojpuri and Maithili, two local dialects and in Hindi in his oratorical style. The crowd lapped up every word. He asked the Hindus, whether they would rather fight poverty and backwardness than they did the Muslims. He asked the Muslims whether they would rather fight poverty and backwardness than they did the Hindus

An objective media would have highlighted his composure in the face of an obvious terror attack which saved many lives and the progressive vision which he tried to project while addressing the gathering. Instead, it chose to dissect whether or not Modi was accurate in his historical references, taking a cue from either misunderstood, or malicious tweets from some foot soldiers of the Congress dynasty. As he was addressing a rally in Bihar it was but natural for him to invoke the pride of Bihar, the Nalanda University and as a comparison invoke the name of Takshila the way people speak of Oxford and Cambridge. When people speak of Oxford and Cambridge they do not mean that the two universities are in the same place. Similarly when people speak of India’s two ancient universities Nalanda and Takshila they do not mean that they are in the same place. Yet this was the nitpicking that the media resorted to ignoring the central idea of the speech. The media dissected every word Modi and his lieutenant, Amit Shah uttered. It analysed every gesture and utterance of his other party colleagues to find dissonance. If there were none they simply invented and substituted it. It analysed their opponents too, but always gave them the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes in order to balance their opponents’ misdemeanours they had to read meanings into Modi’s and Shah’s utterances. Thus was ‘revenge’ read into Amit Shah’s speech in Muzaffarnagar. He and the BJP tried their best to explain, what he sought was ‘electoral’ and not ‘physical’ revenge but the media simply turned a deaf ear. It had to balance Azam Khan’s seditious speech and it would simply not budge. 

On the other side are ranged the Congress party and the so- called Aam Admi Party, a phantom created by the media because it did not want the BJP to walk away with the honours without a challenge. Sonia and Rahul led the Congress party campaign for a large part of it. In spite of reading written speeches scarcely looking at the herded, unenthused audience, Sonia evoked a lot of media hoopla. As for Rahul he shot his mouth off as much as he shot his cuffs. ‘Gujarat has 27 crore unfilled jobs!’ This meant every man, woman and child in the state could take up four-and- a-half jobs, which the wicked Narendra Modi was denying them! 

The media realized to its dismay that the mother and son duo was not getting enough traction to head off the challenger, Modi. It needed a deus ex machina. The French phrase, deus ex machina (pronounced dā′əs ĕks mä′kə-nə) means an unexpected, artificial or improbable character introduced suddenly to resolve a situation. The media therefore ‘invented’ Priyanka Vadra. Anchors on NDTV and CNNIBN gushed that she was ‘coming’ as if they were announcing the advent of the next prophet

She was never known to address large gatherings or displayed any kind of vision but she would suffice. She had confined herself to family boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareilly and interacted with rather than addressed small, ogling groups. But going by the press she was getting, you would think she was going to be next prime minister! Several months ago there was an engineered leak that she was going to contest this election and probably would take on Modi himself! 

The media conditioned itself to interviewing Sonia and Priyanka like royalty, by asking leading questions, which included intended or expected answers. A grunt is taken as affirmation. It makes ‘breaking news’ or a banner headline. Thus when a journalist proffers a mike at Sonia and asks, ‘do you think the BJP is polarising the election’ and she says ‘yes’, that is breaking news. Would you expect her to say no? A paper like The Times of India headlines it the next day as, ‘Sonia says BJP communally polarising the election’! 
*Kanwal, Rahul. (2013). “Narendra Modi rocks Patna, record crowd at Hunkar rally”. India Today. October 27, 2013. Accessible from 

Reproduced from Twisting Facts To Suit Theories' & Other Selections Voxindica (2016. Authors Press, New Delhi), pp 146-148