The youth of the country observed the 70th birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘National Unemployment Day’ (Rashtriya Berozgari Diwas). The mainstream media, which was busy celebrating Modi’s birth day, not only paid scant heed to the youth unrest against unemployment but also maintained a conspicuous silence on the ensuing police crackdown.

While the Hindi dailies prominently covered several stories related to Modi’s birthday, they were reluctant to pay attention to the country-wide protests and the police excesses on the protesting youth activists. While stories about Modi’s supporters celebrating his birthday were published with pictures, the news and pictures about the police raining batons on the protestors were missing.

For example, Dainik Jagran (National, September 18, 2020, p. 4) published two stories about his birthday event. The first story is about “how the whole world came forward to wish Modi a happy birthday”. It was published with a picture in which women in Ahmadabad were making an image of Modi by drawing Rangoli patterns. The second story is about how the BJP leaders celebrated his birthday across the country by donating blood and plasma.

Punjab Kesari (Delhi, September 18, 2020), Hindustan (New Delhi, September 18, 2020), Jansatta (New Delhi, September 18, 2020) were also not different in their approach. Several positive stories were carried to further build up the image of Modi and the BJP. For example, stories were published about how Modi’s birthday was celebrated as Seva Diwas (Service Day). It was claimed that on the birth anniversary children were given cake and gifts.

Punjab Kesari (p. 7) also carried a big news story in which UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had sent a congratulatory message to Modi, claiming that the condition of anarchy (arajakta) had been put to an end by him during his six years of the rule in the centre. Jansatta went a step further and published a hagiographic opinion piece by BJP leader Prabhat Jha with the following title “The world is an admirer of Modi ji” (Modi ki Qayil hai Duniya).

Other Hindi dailies such as Pioneer (Hindi, September 18, 2020. p. 4) Rashtriya Sahara (New Delhi, September 18, 2020, p. 1) also carried several stories in praise of Modi. However, they also gave a little coverage to the protests. For example, stories were published about how the protests were held in UP against unemployment and price rise. The activist fried pakora, and begged by holding a bowl as a mark of protest. The police, on the other hand, used batons on the protestor and a large number of them were arrested.

The coverage of Urdu and English dailies were also not much different, as they failed to take up the issue of police excesses. Inquilab (Mumbai, September 18, 2020) published on its front page “BJP activists celebrate PMs birth anniversary (Wazir-e-Azam ki salgirah par BJP karkunon ka jashan), it published on page four a story about how Modi’s birthday was observed as National Unemployment Day. Roznama Aag, similarly, published from Lucknow made PM’s birthday a page one story while the protest story was sent to the inside page. Etemaad and Siasat, both published from Hyderabad, did make PM’s birthday a story but the event of protests was not paid attention to.

English dailies such as The Asian Age and The Hindustan Times carried a story about the PM’s birthday but were not vocal against baton being rained on the protestors. The Asian Age carried yet another hagiographic piece in praise of Modi by BJP leader Syed ZafarHowever, The Telegraph (September 18, 2020) was bold enough to publish the story of protest on page one. Its story did not forget to mention that the protest was being held “amid 23% unemployment rate — higher than pre-lockdown levels — and a contraction in India’s GDP, for the first time in four decades, by 23.9%”.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media has little interest in covering the youth unrest against unemployment visible all across the country. For example, the social media and alternative media brought to us the story how the activists lodged their protests from several parts of the country such as Delhi, Allahabad, Bareilly, Banaras, Arrah, Patna, Bhopal, Garhwal (Jharkhand), Jorhat (Assam). The media even did not raise their voice against the brute force used by Yogi’s government in Uttar Pradesh against the protests.

(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from JNU. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and worked as a Delhi-based reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at debatingissues@gmail.com).


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