How Modi & Shah managed to turn Gujarati media, intelligentsia into critics

For Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, it must be a novel experience to find sustained and critical references in Gujarati newspapers, social media and even from generally apolitical Gujarati intellectuals

How Modi & Shah managed to turn Gujarati media, intelligentsia into critics

Nachiketa Desai

Parul Khakkar’s poem ‘Shav-vahini Ganga’ is not the only stinging rebuke that is circulating about Narendra Modi and BJP in recent weeks. Even the normally fawning Gujarati newspapers have been unsparing in their criticism even as social media has erupted with outrage over mismanagement of the pandemic.

An audio of purported conversation between a BJP worker and a BJP MP went viral in which the MP was being warned that people would soon turn against the party and start beating leaders if they continued to indulge in false propaganda about what their great leader was doing for the nation.

‘Prime Minister’s Sun is Setting’, read the headline to an editorial in the largest circulating Gujarati daily, Gujarat Samachar, which has editions from Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Bhuj, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and even Mumbai. The editorial tersely pointed out that the Prime Minister’s image had been severely dented in both Gujarat and internationally.

Gross mishandling of the pandemic by BJP governments at the Centre and in the states, Modi’s obsessive preoccupation with self-glorification and megalomaniac behavior, whimsical decisions, promoting unscientific and obscurantist rituals as panacea for the pandemic were some the reasons listed by the editorial for the sharp decline in his popularity.

It is not just one newspaper. Leading Gujarati newspapers as well as smaller ones have been publishing ground reports that expose the grim realities on the ground.

The Gujarat government has been fudging the number of deaths from COVID-19, accuses another widely circulated Gujarati daily Sandesh, which too has editions from all major cities of the state.

Another multi-edition Gujarati newspaper, Divya Bhaskar, reported that as many as 1.23 lakh death certificates were issued in 71 days this year while government registered only 4,218 COVID-19 deaths during this period. How did the others die? The newspaper also pointed out that 58,000 death certificates were issued between March 1 to May 10, 2020 last year while this year the number of death certificates were twice as many during the same period.

That the government has been under reporting deaths from COVID-19 became obvious also from ground reports by local Gujarati newspapers about mass cremation and burials of the dead bodies carried out following the coronavirus protocol in the cities and towns of Navsari, Valsad, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and Bhuj.

According to a survey conducted by Divya Bhaskar, based on interviews of relatives of the deceased, hospitals have been denying them medical reports that give details of the cause of death and the line of treatment.

It was mainly because of the reports appearing in newspapers that the Gujarat High Court took up suo motu a PIL on the COVID-19 pandemic and criticised the state government for fudging the number of tests, availability of medicines, hospital beds and for red-tapism in admitting critical patients.

The newspapers have also been unsparing in publishing reports about black marketing of life-saving medicines and medical Oxygen cylinders by people having links with the ruling BJP.

State BJP chief C R Patil’s gimmick of distributing 5,000 vials of Remdesivir injection from the party office in Surat to people who were given token by the party workers was also widely criticized by the newspapers, some of which called for his arrest.

How Modi & Shah managed to turn Gujarati media, intelligentsia into critics

That the ruling BJP workers and those having links with RSS and VHP were not only indulging in black marketing of life-saving medicines and Oxygen but also jumping the queues to get inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines were also exposed by ground reports.

Several reports in Gujarat Samachar, Sandesh and Divya Bhaskar also showed Prime Minister Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in poor light. The reports criticized both of them for holding massive election rallies in West Bengal in which no social distancing was followed nor masks were worn by the participants, thus inspiring state BJP leaders and ministers to do the same in Gujarat.

Both Modi and Shah, the reports pointed out, appeared obsessed with self-publicity by inaugurating non-functional Covid care centres and Oxygen plants. Apparently, this inspired the Vijay Rupani government in the state to order its Panchayati Raj department to set up as many as 15,000 Covid isolation centers across the state overnight.

Cots were put up in the open on grazing land outside the villages with teachers, panchayat workers and homeguard jawans manning them and none with nursing or para medical staff. Gujarati newspapers carried photographs of beds without patients at these centres. One report carried photographs of the same ambulance that the government claimed were introduced in two different towns on the same day.

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Published: 30 May 2021, 6:00 PM