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Media culpa

Media culpa

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 17, 2002

The man who wryly calls himself the media's favourite dartboard, Mr Narendra Modi, made a keen observation in an interview following the announcement of the Gujarat poll results. He had been noting, he said, the media spin being given to the landslide victory he had crafted, in order to denigrate it. This, he added, was all of a piece with what had gone on for 10 months: A refusal to acknow-ledge the popular groundswell in favour of his anti-terrorism plank, which had unified "five crore Gujaratis" against the Congress- style fissiparous politics based on the minority-majority conundrum. Mr Modi's advice to his detractors was to look reality in the face. The advice is badly needed.

For, Mr Modi cannot be faulted for pointing out that over the recent past very few people were willing to stop milking the post-Godhra violence, which he himself had repeatedly said was limited to certain pockets. Yet now that the BJP has won, these very sections are no longer talking about the whole of Gujarat being scalded by communal fires but about the supposedly 'localised' nature of the BJP victory in riot-hit Central Gujarat. Such retrospective rationalisation betrays an attempt to dilute the BJP's unequivocal popular mandate and to save face. In this regard, Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani did an irrefutable post-mortem on the media's behalf, saying the results expose the "disconnect" between its self-serving projections and popular concerns.

There is no doubt Godhra and Akshardham were central issues in the public mind, despite not being spelt out so as not to ruffle so-called secular sensibilities. 'Terrorism' acted as a terminological surrogate for the BJP, to the curious disapprobation of the Congress and its media backers. The latter's objections to Mr Modi's electioneering jibes at "Miya Musharraf" defy explanation. By insinuating a subtextual association between terrorists and the minority community, it is the latter's champions and not demonised votaries of Hindutva who are harming Muslim interests. If anything, the poll results are a heartening sign that threats to national security can act as a unifying force even in a State election. They suggest voters can transcend the level of the mundane, transforming into a rallying force around those who best articulate their love of country. It is India that is valorised when nationalism can motivate voters to set aside bread-and-butter issues, which remain constant irrespective of which party is in the saddle. That Godhra, followed by Akshardham, lingered in popular memory symbolises the emotive power of both, which neither their forced untouchability nor the delayed polls could suppress.

There is also an abiding lesson for the Election Commiss-ion, which invited the charge of partisanship, both political and communal. It postponed the polls with a questionable view to perhaps scuttle the BJP's electoral chances. It then did not allow communal wounds to heal, with Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh making minority-majority distinctions that angered Hindus and deepened Muslim insecurities. This went along with a vilification of the State Government and its officials. The BJP victory in the face of such hostility proves two things. One, popular emotions can be crushed neither by being in denial nor by administrative fiat. Two, the acrimonious nature of the Gujarat contest, on which much ink has flowed, originates in a political and institutional failure to recognise Godhra as a horror touching society in its entirety. In its massive mandate to the only party to have seen February 27 for what it was, Gujarat has commemorated Godhra's victims and repudiated the conspiracy of silence that emboldens the nation's destabilisers.

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