the media lost its money - By Tavleen Singh
If you were politically interested enough to have remained transfixed by your
television set when the results of the assembly elections came out last Thursday
you would have heard it a lot. It tripped gaily and recurrently off the tongues
of political pundits and psephologists as they advised the Congress Party on its
future course of action. I found myself laughing every time I heard the word
because if there is anyone who needs to do more introspection, even than the
Congress Party, it is the media. Last week, in this column I wrote about media
bias against the Bharatiya Janata Party but did not realise then the extent to
which this bias should be called dishonesty. Lying.
It was not
just the polls that got the elections wrong, it was the media as a whole and
where the media is concerned this happened, I believe, because our loyalty to a
twisted, bizarre idea of secularism blinds us increasingly to reality. In Madhya
Pradesh the writing on the wall was in big black letters and so impossible to
misread but throughout the campaign we missed what was happening in Rajasthan
and Chhattisgarh. I cannot speak for Chhattisgarh but having traveled through
rural Rajasthan can say anyone driving down the same roads would have noticed
that the word voters used most to describe what they wanted was parivartan.
Change. Even those who said they did not think Ashok Gehlot had done a bad job
said that change was a good idea.
visit to Rajasthan was before I left for New York in November and I came away
convinced that Vasundhara Raje would win. This is what I told Indian friends in
NYC and it surprised me when they said I could not possibly be right because
according to the Indian newspapers they were reading on the web and according to
the polls they carried there was no question of Gehlot losing Rajasthan. He had
even been voted the best Chief Minister in India, they said. I remember reading
that myself and puzzling over how this conclusion had been drawn. Compared to
friends in New York added that one of the reasons for this was because,
according to the reports they read, he had ‘handled the drought well’ I
reminded them that people died of starvation in Vasundhara Raje’s own
constituency. Remember? And, I can remember driving through the state — before
the rains came — and everywhere I went people complained about fodder centres
that existed in name only and drought relief that came not in the form of grain
but in the form of strange promissory notes. Vasundhara Raje herself pointed out
during her rath yatra that people could not eat paper. But, us political
pundits, we were not listening. We were too busy
sneering at her Rajashtani costume, just as we later sneered at her chiffon
saris. I have seen Sonia wearing a headdress of horns and beads in the Northeast
but never heard anyone sneer.
though, to bias. What worries me is that it extends beyond the BJP and the RSS
to India itself. So, many a liberal hack is given to
equating Hindu fundamentalism with the Islamic variety and making it sound as if
a victory for the BJP is really a victory for Hindu fundamentalism. The result
is that the American state department recently did the same and, perhaps, it is
because of this kind of reporting that India routinely gets equated with
Pakistan. It is only when this happens that liberal columnists sit up
and start pointing out that India is a very different country to Pakistan and
the Indian state cannot by any stretch of the imagination be compared to the
Pakistani state. But, it is our own fault if comparisons are drawn.
too that Islamic terrorist cells proliferate across the country because not a
single newspaper has made the smallest attempt to investigate what is going on.
It is politically incorrect even to call terrorism Islamic. So, it takes a
Bernard-Henri Levy to write a book called Who Killed Daniel Pearl and in the
process of writing it discover just how deeply the Pakistani state is personally
involved in protecting people like Omar Sheikh.
least one Indian journalist not have been following that story? Of course. But,
we have all been too busy debating over the nuances of secularism and
communalism without bothering to notice that the debate became irrelevant and
meaningless long ago. The voter knows this and, to its credit, so does the BJP.
So, not only did we not hear about temples and Hindutva during the election
campaign but we also did not hear from people like Pravin Togadia. Yet, we had
important TV pundits repeat ad nauseam that everything the BJP did was guided by
the RSS. Anyone truly trying to analyse this would have discovered that the last
powerful RSS chief was Balasaheb Deoras and the RSS has been gradually losing
its hold on the party ever since he passed on. The RSS has opposed the Vajpayee
government’s economic policies from day one and been unable to make the
truth is that neither Vasundhara Raje nor Uma Bharati needed the RSS on their
side. It is increasingly the RSS that needs the BJP and if we take our own
advice about ‘introspection’ we could find that it is time for us in the
media to move on. The voter already has.