There is news about the Tata Nano plant at Sanand rolling out just one or two cars in the past week. It is, hence, likely that the factory is shut down and in the event it could be a record; a record in the sense that what began with lots of talk of a story of success in the larger context of economic slowdown and the bad news for the company from West Bengal is meeting with its end in just a decade.
But then, the rise and fall of the Tata Nano project (which looks imminent) tells more than just the story of the failure of a manufacturing industry. It also tells the story of a ‘hero’ who sold dreams to the common masses and of the media turning out the vehicle for peddling the dream, advertising the vendor and vouching for his prowess. In fact, it is the story of a villain turned into a hero with help of a car which was yet to be produced. The villain turned into a hero here happens to be none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This story starts from the year 2002.
After the incident of burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra railway station, early in the morning on 27 February 2002,the wrath of communal violence was unleased in the following days on the Muslim population across Gujarat. On 1st March 2002, rather than condemning the act of communal violence inflicted upon the Muslim community, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, declared the Godhra attack as “a pre-mediated act” in the state legislative assembly. This was followed by the arrest of leaders belonging to the Muslim community on charges of terrorism. Rather than attempting to mitigate the violence and working for the resettlement of the victims, Modi held on to his Hindutva agenda of polarising the people.
Unfortunately for Modi and his supporters the violence was reported extensively by the media, both TV and print, unravelling the brutality and the facts by the hour.The violence, in all its dimensions was beamed into the homes across the nation. So much so, RajdeepSardesai went on to say that it was ‘the first riot in the full glare of 24-hour news channels’.
The Hindi news channel, AajTak, telecast the report titled Gujarat: KhooniDastan (Gujarat: Blood soaked story) on 2nd March 2002. The report brought out the callous attitude of the State’s security personnel when violent mobs began attacking people from the Muslim community following the burning of the coach. Also, without naming or disclosing the religious identity of the attackers and the victims, the report stated that the attacks were well organised and planned. Though the report did not make any direct connection, it stressed on the VHP’s procession and informed that it was after the VHP’s procession that the targeting of business establishments of a particular community began.
Similarly, Star TV telecast the programmeReality Bites- The Fires of Godhra in March 2002. It was based on the situation on the Vadodara- Godhra Highway. It specifically gave emphasis to the impact of violence on the poor. Among them was a man called Ramesh. He was a barber and was running a small hairdressing saloon on the highway since the last 10 months, during which, he said he never had any issues with his Muslim friends and neighbours. His saloon was vandalised and looted. The report attempted to highlight the fact that the mob was not creating chaos and killing innocent as the revenge of Sabarmati train incident. If it was so then Ramesh’s saloon would not have been vandalised and looted because he was not a Muslim.
The print media did not fail in its duty either. The Telegraph, in its reportNation Faces Trial By Fire,on 28th February 2002, connected the dots and said ‘Ayodhya returned to haunt the nation through a grisly tragedy in which 58 passengers were charred to death when a mob torched a train carrying karsevaks in Gujarat this morning.’
On 2nd March, The Indian Express, in its editorial, Stop this madnessstated that the Modi Government ‘failed miserably in handling the situation leading to the incineration of 58 ‘Ram sevaks’ at Godhra and the events following the gruesome incident. It is as clear as daylight that the mob of 2,000 or so that attacked the Sabarmati Express had assembled there with clear intentions to kill. Had the government acted on just common sense and prevented the marauders from assembling at the station, the mass murder could have been averted.’
The Indian press, in the coverage of the Gujarat violence in 2002, indeed functioned as the fourth estate of Indian democracy. Both the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in the centre and the Narendra Modi government in the Gujarat were scrutinized and criticised. The chief minister, even before the official investigation started, declared the incident as a terrorist attack which was ‘pre-meditated’ but the newspapers did not give much credence to it, even thoghthey reported on it.
The logical criticism by the Press created an ‘antagonistic’ image of Narendra Modi. This image that the media presented of Modi, however, was to change.
The twist in the story came in the year 2008. That was when the economic crisis, addressed to as the global meltdown,had began to impact economies around the world. The crisis, that had its geneses in the United States, had its impact on the developing nations like India too. The report, Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact on India tabled in the Rajya Sabha, while explaining the impact of the 2008 economic crisis on the industrial sector in India pointed out that ‘In manufacturing sector, the growth has come down to 4.0 per cent in April-November, 2008 as compared to 9.8 per cent in the corresponding period last year.’ This decline, in the industrial sector, it added, had the ‘cascading effect’ on the employment scenario in India.
While people in India were trying to comprehend the complete implication of the financial crisis and were in grief, due to job losses, news came in of Ratan Tata’s decision to relocate its small car manufacturing factory in Sanand, near Ahmedabad in Gujarat, on 6th October 2008 from Singur in West Bengal where the project had met with resistance from its beginning.This is how newspapers reported on it.
From 7th October 2008 to 9th October 2008, the Indian Express carried a total of 11 stories on it. The news was reported under the headlineNano gets a new home in Gujaratand Nano gets new home, Gujarat signs MoU with Tatas.But while informing about this, the paper also tried to show how West Bengal was going to suffer from it. The reportMeanwhile, Nano leaves a trail of despair in Singurinformed the readers that ‘those who thought of earning a livelihood out of the project seemed demoralized.’ The report also quoted some individuals who were discontented because of the shifting of the Nano factory from Singur to Sanand. An attempt was made to show how people from different sections in West Bengal were going to suffer. While on the one side, the paper informed about the discontentment of residents in Bengal, on the other, the paper also highlighted the contentment of the people in Gujarat. The reportSingur’s loss becomes Chharodi’s gain appraised the readers that the smiles of local residents in Ahmedabad ‘could not get any wider’when they ‘knew for sure that Singur’s loss had ultimately become Chharodi’s gain.’On the next day, the paper also informed about the joyful landlords who were delighted due to increase in the value of their land in the reportTata’s small car ignites big dreams of Guj realtors.
For, The Telegraph, Ratan Tata’s decision on shifting the factory for Nano car from Singur was the ‘knockout punch to the tottering image of Brand Bengal.’ By differentiating between the sorrow and happiness of the people of West Bengal and Gujarat, press projected that the common people are in favour of such corporate projects.
As Ratan Tata’s decision to establish the factory for its Nano car in Sanand was celebrated by the media in India, the reputation of Narendra Modi among the news outlets also started to transform from being that of someone who was guilty, by commission or omission, in letting the 2002 pogrom happen into one of a saviour of industry and peace.
As soon as the announcement was made about the decision to establish the Tata factory in Gujarat by Ratan Tata and the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in a joint press conference, the same newspapers which criticised Modi during 2002 filled their space with the stories of how Modi and his men, as suggested by a headline in the Indian Express ‘fought battle of wits and won’.
The Times of India, in its report, Modi razes speedbreakers from Nano’s path stated that ‘the Gujarat government did everything possible to ensure a smooth transfer of the land at Chharodi to Tata Motors Limited including taking care of financial liabilities and future water and effluent treatment needs.’
As every successful story needs a successful hero, and Tata factory in Gujarat was a successful story for news outlets, Modi was transformed into a hero from a person responsible for the massacre of thousands of people in Gujarat.If there were any doubts on the changed attitude of the media towards Modi, then the reportage of his speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), New Delhi, on 6th February 2013, cleared the air. Many believe that the speech was the beginning of his 2014 election campaign. All the major news channels telecast it live and newspapers reported on it in the front page of next morning’s issue. However, this was not the only event that occurred in the SRCC that day; a large gathering of students were protesting outside the gate against Modi’s speech and this was reportedonly by The Hindu.
All the newspapers, except the Hindu, sang praises of Narendra Modi while reporting the speech. The Indian Express sang it under the headline Modi stresses ‘packaging, branding’ in DU hardsell, while the Times of India, with the headline, Narendra Modi pitches for ‘vibrant India’, positions himself for 2014 polls.
With this favourable changed attitude of the press the image of Modi was transformed from that of an antagonist to that of the protagonist of a success story. The media did not deem it necessary to recall, analyse and inform the people about his role during the 2002 riots; this, despite the fact that they had presented this side consistently during the riots and immediately after. Such an absence of scrutiny by the press allowed the then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to sell his so called ‘Gujarat model’ of development. As a survey, post May 2014 polls showed, thirty-one percent of the voters across the country believed in his ‘Achhe Din’ and brought him to power with a thumping majority.
However, it now seems the story cannot end here. The failure of the Tata Nano project in Sanand, for all the reasons has burst the bubble of ‘development’ promised by Modi during the 2014 general election. It remains to be seen what the media, those that celebrated and launched Modi ahead of the May 2014 polls will do from now. There ought to be a twist if journalism is what it ought to be.
Dr. Ugen Bhutia is Assistant Professor of Journalism, SLABS, SRM University AP, Amaravati. Dr. Bhutia worked in Hindu Nationalism and the Media in India for his doctoral thesis.