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Gauri killing an attack on free media
By Satish Misra
Dastardly killing of 52 year old journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh on September 5 in Bengaluru was yet another attack on the freedom of expression, rational thinking, and independent way of life and followers of the Constitution. Lankesh's murder, by bike borne unknown assailants, though cannot be blamed on any specific group with a particular ideological affiliation yet it is an indicator of the prevailing political environment in the country.

State of media in the country leaves much to desire. Media, print as well as electronic, is in deep crisis. This is truer of the electronic than print where still there is still some semblance of independent view and balanced news. But let us first take up Lankesh's elimination and through the tragic incident, we will try to understand the prevailing political and social environment in the country. For little less than three decades, revivalist movement led by some organisations prominently among them being the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been gaining traction.

Though Ramjanmsthan temple was the face of the movement but there was much more to it than meets the ordinary eye. Those behind the revivalist movement were far more interested in recapturing their territory that they had lost to rationalists and constitutionalists. These forces mobilised masses in the name of belief and their Hindu identity clearly challenging the prevailing order. Strategy was to create a feeling of hurt among the majority community and pitching them against the minorities particularly against the Muslims who were responsible for the decline of Hindu power. Myths were created and falsehoods were systematically spread.

In this backdrop, rise of the RSS, the BJP and hundreds of its sister outfits needs to be seen and comprehended. While the BJP government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not enforce its agenda since it had to function under constraints of the coalition politics. Moreover, the persona of Vajpayee was shaped during the country's freedom struggle and this too acted as a restraint. But still a progress was made however small it was.

Ten years of the Congress-led UPA government from 2004 to 2014 created a fertile ground for the return of the BJP. People, looking for a change, were promised a dream world of fast trains, smart cities, millions of jobs and higher standards of living for the poor as well as the middle class by none other than the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who had created an ideal state that could work as a model for others.

At the same time, the hard core Hindu constituency was fed on fear of Hinduism being in danger through cow slaughter, love jihad and alleged anti-national activities of Muslims. Though slogan of 'Sabka sath, sabka vikas' was raised but subtly it was conveyed that development of Hindus only and it was reinforced through policies of the state government of Gujarat where Muslims were often kept out of welfare schemes on one pretext or the other.

Huge victory of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls resulting in a clear majority created an atmosphere in the country that emboldened forces opposed to liberalism and various rights enshrined in the Constitution. The atmosphere had been vitiated by none other than Narendra Modi who during his election campaign in 2013-14 had vilified the media particularly the English press. Journalists with the exception of those who are part of the system were often branded as anti-nationalists. Terms like "presstitutes" have been used for media persons by ministers of the Modi government. Modi's silenced and his failure to restrain such ministers were interpreted as his approval.

Unprecedented victory had come in tacit understanding of the corporate world which had become tired of the UPA government's socialistic and pro-poor policies. New narrative that was popularised was that these policies were an utter waste of national resources as they were source of corruption, nepotism and encouraged dependency syndrome in society at large.

Media, particularly corporate owned and held by big business houses, became the BJP's ally and extended whole-hearted support. The trend was more prominent in the electronic and big newspapers. Suddenly, the right wing and the RSS viewpoint became acceptable and came to find place in columns and news stories.

Problem was medium, small and regional newspapers and magazines that were surviving in different parts of the country. They were difficult to control as they were closed to ground realities and risked their respective credibility and following if they decided to jumped on the BJP bandwagon. Another area of concern for the ruling establishment was the social media where despite a huge presence of the ideological followers it was difficult to root out or suppress the other opinion, views or even news.

Backed by their ideological masters, followers suffering from frustration at their failure to silence the dissent, debate, discussion and shut up the other view, some extreme elements have decided to embark upon aggressive course of action that includes physical elimination of opponents. Scores of media persons and rationalists like M M Kalburgi have been killed for expressing dissent in last couple of years. As a matter of fact, according to figures of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 72 journalists have been killed since 1992. India ranks 136th out of 180 nations in the press freedom index. Killings and murders have increased in the last five years particularly.

The government of the day led by Modi has not made any serious attempt to stop the increasing violence. Like in the case of violence against Dalits or killings by cow vigilante groups, the Prime Minister's condemnation has not been effective. Possibly in the promised 'New India', old dictums of "pen being mightier than sword" are irrelevant and the sword the only deciding factor is the guiding principle.

(Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.)

— [IFS]


News Updated at : Wednesday, September 13, 2017
 
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