Indian Express, one of India’s national English dailies, in a bid to prove the Indian government wrong has gone to the unprecedented lengths of apparently tracking down and speaking to Ayesha Bibi, the alleged mother of Yakboob Baloch who was supposedly the captain of the “terror boat” shot down off the Gujarat coast on January 1st. Obvious questions that spring to mind are who arranged these interviews and why should one believe some random Pakistani woman over the Indian government? What is even more baffling is the sympathetic interest that an Indian newspaper garners for a Pakistani criminal/terrorist’s alleged death. On the flip side, how many interviews did Indian Express conduct with the family members of Bhavani Balan, the 38-year-old woman who died in a bomb blast in Bangalore just a week ago? How many family members of dead Indian soldiers have been interviewed by IE in the last week?
Assuming for a moment that the journalists and Indian media are right on the terror boat, it still is ridiculous to reach the conclusion that the Indian government and coastguards were in the wrong. Indian journalists like Praveen Swami and Ajai Shukla are essentially telling us that they have direct access to the souls of the passengers of the “terror boat”, for how else could they be so sure that these people were just some INNOCENT drug traffickers or smugglers. Hadn’t another similar set of smugglers carried the RDX once upon a time that was eventually used in the Mumbai blasts of 1993?
Now that as high an authority as the Defence Minister himself has clearly stated that the “terror boat” was in constant communication with the Pak army, the Pakistani-source-based-journalism that Indian media is indulging in must immediately cease. Yet, knowing Indian media, such miracles are beyond their reach, especially, due to their self-inflicted ideological blindness. This is not the first time that certain rogue sections of Indian media have been working fulltime to destabilize the new regime that is in power in Delhi. In fact, there is a clear pattern that has been taking shape since the summer of 2014 when it had become amply clear that Narendra Modi would be the next Prime Minister of India. Let us take a closer look at this pattern from the beginning.
NDTV and Hansa were among dozens of media groups and pollsters who had conducted poll surveys during the 2014 LS polls in the summer, but what really separated them from others is their questionnaire style. Being an experienced pollster myself, I profess to know a thing or two about how easy it is to get skewed responses from the sample surveys by playing around with the questionnaire. So, NDTV was the only channel that had a pre-programmed questionnaire wherein they asked the respondents what they feared most about a Modi prime ministership and gave them a choice of “India-Pakistan war” as one of the options. Just why this question or the response was necessary in an election where Pakistan was not even a peripheral issue is something that only the wild imagination of NDTV can comprehend. After presenting respondents with a never before imagined suitably terrifying outcome of a Modi Prime Ministership, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy was able to report with a supremely self-satisfied bearing that a “majority of the voters are scared that there could be an India-Pakistan war if Modi were to be elected as the PM”.
Barely weeks after the Modi government took oath of office, a hitherto almost unknown journalist, Ved Prakash Vaidik became the darling of Dilli media for a brief period of 1 week when he was variously described as “Baba Ramdev aide”, “Sangh sponsored journalist” and even the “ideological backbone of the Modi regime”. After a week everything was conveniently forgotten and the whole issue of the ill-advised Hafiz Sayeed interview was buried so deep that the poor Mr. Vaidik couldn’t even find a cursory mention in the year-end lists of newsmakers of the year.
Last month, on December 8th, Prime Minister Modi addressed a heavily attended election rally in Srinagar for the first time in almost 30 years. In that rally, the Prime Minister, in a rare gesture of solidarity with Kashmiris, actually talked about punishing culprits even if they belonged to the army. Within 3 hours, Ajai Shukla wrote a scathing article in Business Standard insinuating that the Indian PM had “shocked the army” by his comments. Just how did he gather the opinion of the entire Indian army within 3 hours is a survey methodology that every pollster would be itching to sacrifice his right hand to obtain.
In his article, Ajai Shukla further went on to claim that a WhatsApp message doing the rounds of the “army network” was suggesting that the junior officers and Jawans of the army were totally demoralized due to the Modi government’s omissions and commissions. Of course, Mr. Shukla did not mention that the army and intelligence circles suspected that many such WhatsApp and social media messages were originating from Pakistan in what is part of their covert PSYOPS strategy. In fact, the same Business Standard article further argued that AFSPA must be removed from Kashmir and that junior officers and Jawans may actually mutiny against their commanding officers using social media as a tool!
Next evening Karan Thapar had a debate with three former army generals and Ajai Shukla on Modi’s speech, army morale and the mysterious WhatsApp message. The overwhelming theme that Thapar and Shukla tried to present again was that of the Indian army being immensely angry at Modi Sarkar, despite protestations to the contrary from two former Generals – the redoubtable Gen. B.S Jaswal and Gen. Syed Ata Husnain who have both served distinguished tours in the Kashmir theatre, in fact Gen. B.S Jaswal was a commissioned officer of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. In the video clip below you can see how Gen. Husnain tells us that the WhatsApp message quoted by Shukla was of questionable origin “outside India” and full of falsified facts while Gen. Jaswal painfully tries to tell Thapar that the army is a professional unit which is not demoralized with Modi.
On the day of counting after J&K elections, on December 23rd, the NDTV studio was a desolate place with literally all the anchors wearing a morose look. It was as if they just couldn’t comprehend the possibility of BJP emerging as a governing party in a Muslim majority state. First Prannoy Roy and then Vikram Chandra made valiant efforts throughout the day to bring together non-BJP parties by even suggesting that BJP itself was not interested in forming the government until the party president, Amit Shah, put curtains to all their efforts in a late afternoon presser where he unequivocally made the point that BJP would be part of the government in J&K.
It is quite possible that a section of the Delhi media was highly upset that Kashmiris came out in such large numbers to take part in elections which have rendered the likes of Hurriyat and Geelani into useless paper tigers. It has always been an open secret that sections of Indian media have great affinity for extra-constitutional (in fact, anti-constitutional) authorities like the Hurriyat Conference; lest we forget how violently Dilli media reacted when the Indian government cancelled talks with Pakistan due to the Pak embassy meeting with Hurriyat leaders. If a BJP-PDP government comes into being, just imagine the body blow it would be for the secularism-in-danger brigade; literally thousands would be rendered jobless in a matter of weeks!
The latest additions in this scarecrow game are the Praveen Swami and (who else but) Ajai Shukla articles on “Terror Boat”, wherein they are literally provoking Pakistan to attack India. The ideologically disturbed Indian media has almost declared a war on the BJP government by choosing to believe dubious elements in Pakistan over the Indian government because the latter is headed by a man who has dared to win elections despite all the negative press. This is now a bloody battle for survival by the Indian media and the editorial brigade who regularly market secularism to Indian people. At the outset, their strategy seems to be threefold in this battle;
The first part of the strategy is to create confusion within the Indian establishment and sow the seeds of doubt in a fledgling regime – dubious WhatsApp messages being circulated in the army network and repeatedly questioning the government over “terror boat” are but some examples. This strategy hinges on the belief that the Narendra Modi ministry lacks “requisite governance experience” and many ministers are vulnerable to making unnecessary mistakes under the guidance of an ideologically committed bureaucracy, especially in the early stages of the 5 year mandate. A weakened regime could then be potentially vulnerable to attacks of all kinds.
The second part of the strategy is probably to create a war-like atmosphere between India and Pakistan in order to demonstrate that the Modi regime is incapable of governing without war mongering. This part of the strategy was an obvious failure in the Kashmir context as the elections were not only reasonably peaceful but also produced a historic turnout and a BJP-centric mandate. Now, an increasingly irrelevant Pakistan (or at least the military clique that controls Islamabad) can potentially turn an ally for these ideological warriors from Delhi. India cannot afford a debilitating war with Pakistan at this moment and Modi’s agenda of governance can go haywire if such a scenario unfolds.
The third part of the strategy is already working pretty well for the Indian media as the ideological right is willfully walking into this trap every week. Be it fringe Hindu groups who are indulging in Gharwapsi and some such idiocy under the full media glare or the so-called right-wing intellectuals and the loosely grouped “Internet Hindus” who are constantly peddling the “Hinduism Khatre mein hai” narrative – both have immensely helped the media cause. By staging dharnas and vandalizing movie theatres against a silly movie like PK and by constantly making noise on issues that do not make any material difference to Hinduism per se, many “fringe Hindu” groups have provided a staple diet to the Dilli media, which has gleefully accepted this piece of cake. Internet Right Wingers are no less culpable mind you, for you can take a pick of any of the half-a-dozen Right leaning online journals and you will find that every second article is either about Hinduism being in danger or a reactionary article to the latest media attack – reconversions, PK rhetoric, Sangh distorting history and so on. By playing the media’s game, Indian Right has failed to set the agenda as it was doing so brilliantly before the summer LS polls. Today, the entire discourse has been hijacked by a pro and anti-Hindu debate which has simply sidelined all other issues.
Thus, the Dilli media has managed to portray India as a deeply divided country constantly in conflict between majoritarianism and the “helpless minorities”, while the ideological Right has only added fuel to this by continuously reacting to the secular-socialist agenda. Can the game now be escalated further to an external war-like situation under a distrustful establishment of India? Can Modi and his team manage to bring back the agenda of institutional/systemic reforms and a liberal economic regime? Can BJP go beyond electoral victories and establish itself as the natural party of governance like Congress did for six decades? We will probably know the answers to these questions in the next 3-odd months.