As the assembly elections near in West Bengal, the media is busy constructing and spreading a new narrative that the TMC Government under Mamta Banerjee has failed to maintain law and order in the state. The recent incident of the alleged hurling of stones at convoy of the BJP National President J P Nadda not only became the big news on the front-page of newspapers but also drew the editorial condemnation of “lawlessness” in Bengal. However, the same media remains a mute spectator when the farmers’ right to life, liberty and dissent are being crushed. The media continues to ignore the use of brute force by the police on the farmers protesting against the Farm Bills.
According to The Telegraph (December 11), “stones were thrown at several cars in the convoy of J P Nadda en route to Diamond Harbour on December 10”. But the much bigger questions concern as to who pelted the stones; what led to such unfortunate incidents? and, of course, who were behind them. Without any probe, the BJP leadership, its social media team as well as several national media started laying all the blame on TMC cadres and its Government. The BJP termed it “lawlessness”. Home Minister Amit Shah said that the centre was “seriously looking into the matter”. Within no time the West Bengal Governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar, a former BJP leader, commented that “Events indicate total abdication of lawful authority.” While making such comments, he forgot that he was discrediting his government: “As constitutional head I share my shame with you as it is on account of your acts of omission and commission”.
J P Nadda was careful not to miss this opportunity and cash in on the religious sentiments of the people of West Bengal. After the throwing of the stones on his convoy, he thanked the popular Hindu goddess Durga, days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked Chhat pooja in Bihar. “Today I could reach here only because of the blessings of Ma Durga”. BJP National Vice President Mukul Roy invoked the image of “jungle raj” that was used by Hindutva forces against Lalu-Rabri rule in Bihar: “The rule of law has ceased to exist in Bengal. The opposition parties are not allowed to conduct their programmes. A jungle raj is going on in the state”.
The Home Ministry, unmindful of the federal structure, went ahead with summoning West Bengal Chief Secretary and DGP. However, they defied the Home Ministry summons as the TMC Government contested that law and order is a state subject. TMC lawmaker Kalyan Banerjee contended “law and order is within the domain of the state under 7th Schedule of the State list…How in respect of the law and order situation you can call both the officers for any sorts of discussion?… It appears that with a political motive and at the instance of your minister, who is a political person belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party, you have issued the said letter. You are trying to coerce the officers of West Bengal with political vindictiveness. It appears you are interfering with the federal structure” (Pioneer, December 13, p. 4). The Home Ministry has now directed three IAS officers of West Bengal to report on Central deputation.
As is evident above, the incident of alleged stone-pelting on cars in the convoy of the BJP president is being deliberately hyped. It is the political interests of the Hindutva forces that are behind such a campaign. No one is here defending the TMC Government and several incidents of violence have been reported in West Bengal, causing serious human rights violations. Media is free to discuss and analyze the law and order situation. However, while discussing it, the press is expected to take a holistic look. It has to take a comparative method to conclude if West Bengal has seen law and order collapse. Or other states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have also reported law and order problems. However, the media is more interested in peddling a particular narrative and help a particular party win the elections.
On December 11, the pelting of the stone on cars in the convoy of Nadda was prominently covered by several newspapers. Jansatta, Punjab Kesari, Hindustan, The Indian Express and several others printed it on the first page in three columns. On the same day, the much bigger stories related to farmers’ protests were downplayed. In running the headlines or reporting the event, almost all of the newspapers indulged in sensation. The BJP leaders were portrayed as “victims”, while TMC Government was demonized as protector of “goons”. “The convoy of Nadda was attacked” (Nadda ke kafile par hamla) —was the four columns lead story of Punjab Kesari. The headlines were in bold letters with an image of the car’s smashed window and pictures of BJP leaders Nadda and Kailash Vijayvargiya. The story presented just one side of the picture and it reported the incident from BJP’s point of view. In its introductory lines, it used the term “goonda raj”, “collapse of law and order” in West Bengal. The version of TMC was conspicuously ignored.
“Anger erupts over attack on leaders” (Netaon par hamle se ubal) – is the five-column lead story in Hindustan on the front page. It carried the image of Kailash Vijayvargiya who is showing an injured hand. This reporting ignored TMC’s version as well. Hindustan also made Nadda’s statement that “intolerance has increased in West Bengal” as its section-heading. Amar Ujala also carried a four-column story on the attack on Nadda’s convoy. This daily, like several other newspapers, published another story about “the centre seeking a report from Mamta Government”. But it did not give space to TMC’s version, knowing well that the political allegations and counter-allegations increase in a particular region where the elections are imminent.
Several newspapers were quick to pen their editorials to sound alarm over the alleged law and order problem in West Bengal. In its editorial, Rashtriya Sahara (Dec. 12) laments that the cases of political violence are often reported from West Bengal. It says that such an incident is a reflection of serious law and order problem, given that the attack has been done on the BJP national president. “The fact that the national president of the BJP had to suffer points to huge difficulty a common worker will have to undergo to carry out his political activity there”. Aditya Narayan Chopra writing a front-page editorial in Punjab Kesari began to teach the lesson of liberalism and free speech when he said that “violence has no place in a democracy”. However, he forget to give the BJP governments the lessons of democracy when they are using police to crush its opponents as seen during the anti-CAA protests and the ongoing farmers’ protests.
The above-mentioned development shows how the media has become part of propaganda machines. The coverage of media puts a big question mark on its accountability and neutrality. As is increasingly becoming clear, the media is a part of the electoral war machine of the ruling classes. Its assumed role in initiating debate and discussion and informing people about correct information in a democratic society is being sacrificed at the altar of profits.
(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 email@example.com).