The media’s handling of the student leader’s arrest and its sensationalizing of the events following his release point to a malaise that needs to be corrected
By Inderjit Badhwar
Haathi ghoda palkhi, jai Kanhaiya lal ki! This was one of the slogans with which Kanhaiya Kumar was welcomed back to JNU after his brief stint in jail. This 28-year-old president of the JNU Students’ Union seemed to have galvanized the entire nation and created a rift between the haves and the have-nots, the Left and the Right.
While the media is now eating out of his hands, (“A New Leader Is Born,” screamed some headlines) as witness the simultaneous gushing interviews with Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, and Sanjay Pugalia (who tweeted: “this video had700 pageviews, Yesterday 20K views, today 2.88 lakhs. #KanhaiyaKumar is made hero instantly”), following his fire-and-brimstone classical Marxist class struggle peroration on March 3 which made him a global social media icon, it was dancing to a different tune in reporting the story of his arrest on sedition charges starting on February 9.
The CPI (the parent party of the All India Student Federation to which Kumar belongs) and the CPI(M) are already projecting Kanhaiya as a campaigner for the forthcoming assembly elections.
On February 9, JNU held a “cultural” meeting to commemorate the third death anniversary of Afzal Guru, the 2002 parliament attack convict, where it is alleged that some anti-India slogans were raised. On February 12, Kanhaiya was arrested on sedition charges. Subsequently, Arnab Goswami of Times Now invited JNU student leaders Lenin Kumar and Umar Khalid on Newshour and severely upbraided them for being “anti-national”. Other TV channels, such as Zee News, followed suit.
However, charges later flew that the video where these anti-national slogans were shouted had, in fact, been doctored. This led to Zee News producer Vishwa Deepak resigning and asserting that the caption “Pakistan Zindabad” was deliberately added to the audio clip of the JNU event. And when Kanhaiya was brought to Patiala House court for a hearing, lawyers pounced on him, journalists and JNU teachers there. This led to the media doing a complete U-turn.
The media needs to curb its hysteria and self-defeating hype lest it also be blamed for creating controversies similar to what politicians are blamed for. Its role in this sorry state of affairs has come up for scrutiny and it has been found to be lacking in its moral judgment. The job of the media is to report, analyze and expose injustice. But, in recent years, the social atmosphere has been surcharged with vitriolic statements from fringe elements grabbing headlines.
The media demonizes and deifies politicians and public figures at will as witness the see-saw rides of Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Anna Hazare, Kejriwal and also Narendra Modi. The creation of personality cults through mass hysteria fueled by the media is not healthy for a democracy.The obvious casualty is balance and credibility.
Here is my tweet on this subject: “Yes 2 freedom, debate, vs misuse of sedition law/gagging, but cannot support Kanhaiya holding tyrants Lenin/Stalin as icons of liberation.”