Media's hostility for Rahul Gandhi and devotion for PM Modi not quite organic
Why should the media be hostile to Rahul Gandhi, who is accessible to them and answers their questions and not to PM Modi who has not addressed a single press conference in eight years?
Whether we like it or not, Indian politics today is polarised between two personalities, namely Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. One is the Prime Minister of the country. Immensely popular he likes to be in the spotlight. His partiality for the camera is well known. He likes to dress up, changing his dress as often during the day as required for the occasion.
He also loves speaking and does so endlessly. A darling of the media, he is adept at giving media bytes. But he wouldn’t address a press conference. He hasn’t addressed one in eight years. And he doesn’t like answering inconvenient questions or to be proved wrong.
On the other end is Rahul Gandhi. A Congress MP and former party president. He does not avoid the media as PM Modi does; and he is not averse to answering inconvenient or rude questions or explain his stand on different issues. He could have become the PM in 2009 but voluntarily decided to stay out of Government. And he refuses to play to the gallery and act to suit the mainstream media.
But more important than the attitude of these two leaders towards the media is the attitude and approach of the media towards these two leaders. For PM Modi, he just needs the camera crew from the electronic media to have his say. He moves, waves his arm and speaks what he wants to say.
The cameras catch him from different angles and records them for posterity. The job of the reporter and the anchor is left to present the visuals in the most poetic way and highlight the punch lines and catch phrases used by the PM.
The electronic media is now so well trained and so used to this drill that they have forgotten the routine of asking tough questions to the Prime Minister of the country. Press releases, WhatsApp forwards and selective leaks serve the purpose of ‘breaking news’. The silence of the electronic media is so infectious that even leaders of the opposition parties seldom ask tough questions to the Government or the Prime Minister.
But there is one solitary exception and that is the MP from Wyanad, Rahul Gandhi. There are other leaders in the opposition who claim to have much more political experience and a higher stature than Rahul Gandhi. But they raise tough questions once in a blue moon when it becomes absolutely necessary. Unlike Rahul Gandhi, they are neither consistent in asking tough questions nor do they seem as interested in as many subjects.
Take the classic case of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. For almost a year Muslim women sat on the street at Shaheen Bagh protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the NRC ( National Register of Citizens). But Mr Kejriwal did not think it necessary to even comment on the issue.
There are several other leaders who campaign vigorously against the BJP and Prime Minister Modi at election time. Many of them like Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Sharad Pawar and MK Stalin etc. have their own mass base also. But do they consistently put questions to the Prime Minister? The answer is no, they don’t. It is only Rahul Gandhi who has been vocal in challenging the policies of the Modi Government—logically, factually and systematically.
Almost each of these leaders in the opposition has faced inquiries by central agencies—most of them pending and kept alive. but it took the Enforcement Directorate eight years to send a summon to Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald case. It is illuminating that the Modi Government has found no other chink in the armour of Rahul Gandhi to attack or blackmail him.
Rahul Gandhi was vocal in opposing the Ordinance PM Modi introduced to dilute UPA’s Land Acquisition Act. The Government had no answer to his questions and was forced to withdraw the ordinance. Rahul Gandhi once again was the most trenchant critic of Demonetisation.
He led the campaign to expose the suspicious Rafael deal by fearlessly saying “Chowkidar Chor hai” , a slogan which people repeated across the country. So much so that to win the 2019 election, PM Modi had to resort to stunts like ‘Balakot’ air strike.
He has been equally vocal against treatment of Muslims from Tripura to Kashmir or against targeted killings of Pandits. From the Chinese incursion in eastern Ladakh to the government’s failure to manage the pandemic—he has been unsparing in his criticism of the Government. No leader has been as vocal against crony capitalism as Rahul Gandhi, who again raised the slogan, “Hum do, Hamare do’.
The Government knows very well that it has no answers to the questions raised by Rahul Gandhi. Any attempt to gloss over the issues would tie the Government in knots. Therefore it has manipulated and ‘bought’ a section of the media to malign Rahul Gandhi and make fun of him. Even Rahul Gandhi is aware of the several thousand Crores of Rupees spent by the Government to buy media loyalty and conspire to malign him.
Remarkably, when the UPA was in power, even then Rahul Gandhi would often embarrass the Government by speaking like opposition leaders. His commitment to the truth is uncompromising and he has been showing the mirror to whoever is in power.
The media can be used to muddy the mirror for some time. But the mirror does not lie and sooner or later would reflect clearly the shortcomings of the BJP Government.