Through the 1970s and ‘80s, there was a breed of journalists brought up to dislike and question the Congress Party. And in a sense, that is how it should have been: Congress was the dominant party and the primary job of journalists was to show truth to power.
But that was a long time ago. There has been no Nehru-Gandhi as prime minister of India since Rajiv Gandhi and he was ousted by VP Singh in 1989. And yet, India’s journalists have not got out of what I call the “Indira Gandhi narrative”. Nor has much of India’s political class, especially those which cut their eyes and teeth in and around the ‘Emergency’.
To know and be aware of one’s history is commendable. But somewhere we need to realise that we are now in 2019. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984. The Congress Party has been through several ups and downs. Regional powers of all sorts have emerged since then and grown from strength to strength. And, most importantly after the electoral results of 2019, to whom do we show the mirror of truth?
Lo and behold, as far as many of our brave colleagues in journalism are concerned, to the Opposition of course! Obviously, there has to be analysis and conjecture and dare we mention it, actual reporting, on how people lost and how others won. But having done that, surely we need to get back to focusing on what the government in power is doing and what the party in power is up to. Continuing to find an equivalence with something that happened 70 years ago or 30 years ago is akin to a sort of extreme escapism. Or a wilful refusal to deal with those who hold the reins.
The reins are firmly in the hands of the BJP and of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. I write the names in that order because with the general elections of 2019, there has been a clear rise in power. Shah has built up the party in whichever way he could, and Modi will forever be in his debt. But take a look through all those opinion pieces and all those TV debates and compare how many have focused on the Shah-Modi equation and what that change means for India, and how many offer endless advice, in as patronising a manner as possible, to Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and so on.
In one sense, the stomach-churning triumphalism displayed by the media of New India, especially TV anchors, after BJP’s victory in the general elections was more understandable than the older generation’s obsession with the past.
These newer entrants into what passes for journalism in TV land today speak to their core audience of largely BJP supporters while they upholster their own comfort zones. And even if they are not as extreme as that, they pander to the immediate. To them context, whether of the ground reality around them or analogies from the past, are immaterial.
In none of these scenarios is there much self-awareness within the media. With large swathes stuck in the past or caught up in margins of victory, the voices which ask questions are too soft to be heard.
But problems which face India remain exactly the same in June 2019 that they were in May 2019. The economy is in distress, unemployment is at its highest in 45 years, farmers are struggling, growth projections are low, communal and sectarian violence continues… an electoral victory no matter how emphatic, has not changed all that.
Only a TV journalist or a fan would argue that an electoral mandate absolves the elected of any responsibility. Regardless of how much advice you offer Rahul Gandhi, he cannot fix the economy. Mamata Banerjee cannot provide solutions for all of India’s farmers. Akhilesh Yadav cannot bring employment figures up. Any journalist worth her salt will go back to Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. And the very brave ones will look to the Election Commission.
The India where Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched for the suspicion of beef in his house has not changed either. It has got more emboldened. Just because right wing cacophony on social media and on television has made secularism a bad word does not mean that journalists in democratic India must forget the Constitution.
Or, if I may be allowed to go back to the past, it might be a good idea if some of our better-known journalists actually went back and read that book.
(The writer is an independent journalist with over 30 years of experience in the media)