(By BA, May 28, 2018)
A recently sensationalized sting operation by a reporter for Cobrapost made some recordings of meetings with bosses of media houses. A quote from The Wire reads:
“Cobrapost said on Friday that the recordings it made showed how some two dozen news organisations were willing to ‘not only cause communal disharmony among the citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party’ for a price.”
Among those implicated in some of these sting operations are Mr. Vineet Jain of the Times Group as well as Ms. Kalli Purie of the India Today Group as well as senior members of the Andhra Jyothi Group, not necessarily in the precise context above. Among various interesting aspects of the sting operation, it emerges that media houses play a role in shaping public opinion, sponsoring communal tension and keep the pot simmering, trying to shift electoral balance and creating a Hindutva wave.
Media observers will testify that there is nothing particularly new in the knowledge. Media Houses in India have always been hand in glove with political parties and the Indian ruling establishment. The idea that somehow in India or elsewhere these is an independent media flies in the face of all facts. Given the gigantic scale of investment that is required to run media operations, it is obvious that they are part and parcel of the establishment in the country. That there are fissures in the establishment is also a known fact. From time to time this or that faction prevails while another faction sits out and warms benches and waits for its turn. Since 2014, those that promoted the BJP under the banner of Hindutva in the ruling circles have been benefiting from the various decisions of the government. Traditional Congress backers have had to take a back seat. With the 2019 General Elections looming, all the factions in the ruling circles are now trying to hone their strategy to make gains. One of the important arenas where these dogfights will take place is the media. The Cobrapost sting operation needs to be viewed in this light.
The post 2014 events had led to a situation where India now has an ugly world image with news reports of rapes, murders, lynchings becoming a daily affair. In addition, natural calamities, man-made calamities, bridge disasters, railway disasters, typhoons, monsoon, dust storms and the like making an appearance on an unparalleled scale. There are many genuinely nationalistic individuals and organizations who consider this to be an appalling state of affairs. Tired of the seemingly unrelenting wave of disasters, there is a yearning for something new, and a breath of fresh air. Against this background, the sting operation has taken place to take the wind out of the sails of the Hindutva movement, and to try and establish that it is a sponsored product of the big industrialists in cahoots with media houses and political parties. The hope of those fed up with this state of affairs is that once exposed the Hindutva wave can be curbed and one can bring back a modicum of peace and sanity back into the polity. This in turn would mean electoral gains for so-called secular parties, such as the Congress and a plethora of other parties who have been waiting on the sidelines.
The above said, it must be kept in mind that sting operations are actually another weapon in the arsenal of ruling circles. Since the days of the Watergate Scandal almost half a decade ago in the USA which forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon, sting operations are one of the preferred weapons to depose unwanted and discredited political forces. India has seen its fair share of sting operations including those carried out in the past by Tehelka, and the like. While these events play themselves out, the people of each of these countries gained nothing from such activities. It is more of the same under the same garb. As things heat up, we will all start to see the besmirching of the credentials of individuals who are carrying out the sting operation. There will be mud slinging on all sides. There will be no outright winners. There will only be losers, which are the people of India, unless there is due vigilance, to be discussed below.
The events above offer a valuable opportunity for all those who are interested in political life and the well-being of the people of India to really ask what are the phenomena unfolding in front of their eyes. It is also an opportunity for them to really learn about the modes by which the ruling circles divert and manipulate them. Sponsor Hindutva one day, only to jettison it the next. Sponsor Secularism one day and jettison it the next day. And while all this goes on, there is rising inequality, hunger, poverty and destitution, and growth in the number of billionaires and growth in the fraction of those left at the bottom, experiencing a permanent famine. This is the spectacle that India poses to the world. All political forces of the status quo and the Indian ruling establishment over the last 70 years have remained wedded to the system that nurtures and creates all the disasters above. It is an occasion for the rest of us to wake up and see what is what. Let us not be distracted by sting operations and the like. Let us build those organizations and develop our own theory and practice and not leave things to this or that faction of the ruling circles.