The BJP-led NDA has come to power again with a sweeping majority riding on the politics of polarisation, deft use of defence matters, helping hand from the polling body and media manipulation. The division of society now seems complete with clear fault lines between the North and the South, the majority and the minority, and between the secular and the communalists.
Majoritarian sentiments overshadowed all other essential considerations. Unemployment, black money, bank frauds, farm distress, price rise, slow growth, etc, were usurped by Pakistan bashing and military jingoism. Demonetisation, which brought immense hardship to the economy and the people, wasn’t an election issue. A section of the Indian media, instead of enabling discussion of these vital issues concerning common people, loudly echoed the divisive line of the ruling dispensation.
Media watchdogs have widely discussed the failure of a section of mainstream media in covering breaches of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by powerful politicians and the biased role of the Election Commission. This section of the media also failed to respond ethically to the aftermath of Pulwama terror attack and subsequent Balakot airstrike, which formed the backdrop to the election campaign.
It is the duty of the press to be neutral in election coverage, expose violations of MCC and malfunctioning in the regulatory institutions. These are vital for fair and democratic elections.
A majority of young voters, especially first-time voters, who are yet to enter the competitive market of employment and are oblivious of non-fulfilment of BJP’s previous electoral promise of one crore jobs a year, were influenced by Pulwama and Balakot factors. Prime Minister Modi’s appeal to these voters to dedicate their votes to the CRPF jawans killed in Pulwama and Balakot air strike perhaps worked very well. In doing so, he risked imposition of MCC violations charges. Fortunately, Modi got a clean chit from the EC though with a dissent note from one of the three Election Commissioners. It is unfortunate that the EC refused to make the dissent note of Ashok Lavasa public by ignoring his demand to record his opinion on the order.
The majoritarian attitude of the media in covering minority matters is evident. Two Kerala youths, Nizamudeen and Razik Raheem, along with three others, who were arrested on sedition charges and jailed for over three years were acquitted by the Kerala High Court on April 12. These men are angry with the media for “acting as mouthpieces of the police” and spreading “blatant lies” against them. “Media made our lives miserable by publishing unsubstantiated and imaginative stories,” said one of them.
Malayalam newspapers Mangalam and Kerala Kaumudi had reported, quoting anonymous police officials, that they were conspiring to bomb Aluva railway station. These newspapers reported that the police had seized from them a map of Aluva railway station and an India map without Kashmir. Kerala Kaumudi also reported that Razik’s wife, who was working with software giant IBM in Bengaluru, had close links with Pakistani terrorists, and the police suspected her of helping terrorists use IBM’s servers. The newspapers wrote that the police had seized a book called ‘Mass Resistance in Kashmir’ published by the Institute of Police Research in Pakistan from them. However, the police failed to submit any such seized documents in the court.
While in jail, Nizamudeen lost his mother and father and is the lone surviving member of his family. “Don’t we deserve to get an apology from the media houses that tarnished our image in public?” asked one of them.
Soon after the BJP government came to power in 2014, there was a media hunt in Assam after police arrested six youths for alleged involvement with Bangladesh terror group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which was responsible for the Burdwan (West Bengal) blast on October 2, 2014. The minority-inhabited areas of the State were depicted as a den of Islamic militant groups. Most media outlets in the State carried speculative news and views for at least a month demonising Muslims.
Perhaps, it was a strategy to polarise people of Assam on religious lines before the run-up to the 2016 Assembly elections, which was eventually won by the BJP-led alliance. Later, it was revealed that Muslims as a community were not sheltering or supporting Islamic militancy. Involvement of one or two disgruntled elements cannot be blamed on the entire community.
The overwhelming victory of the Modi-led BJP in the 17th Lok Sabha election cannot justify the party’s failure to fulfil the electoral promises made during the 2014 parliamentary elections. Renowned essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra commented on BJP’s massive mandate in his article ‘How Narendra Modi seduced India with envy and hate’ in The New York Times–‘the sources of Modi’s impregnable charisma seem more mysterious when you consider that he failed completely to realise his key promises of 2014 elections.’ The author of the book Age of Anger, Mishra commented that since 2014 Modi’s near novelistic ability to create irresistible frictions has been steadily enhanced by India’s troll-dominated social media as well as cravenly sycophantic newspapers and television channels.
The Modi government has divided Indian society by pursuing the politics of polarisation on religious lines. Intolerance and hatred marked its five-year governance. The actual growth rate of the country remained stagnant. Make in India, Start-up India. Digital India, Ujwala scheme and Swachh Bharat have not had the desired impact.
The BJP should realise that the truth cannot be voted out. The BJP-led government in its second term must devotedly work towards fulfilling all of its electoral promises and build unity and integrity by shedding its majoritarian cloak. The media needs to play a bigger role in making the government accountable to the people and in guarding the democratic institutions and values of the country by being a real watchdog or chowkidar.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)