IT is not always that the majority of the media shows concern over a given development or event to make uniform editorial comment on it. It is interesting to note, for instance, that three leading dailies had something to say about Francoise Hollande who became the first Socialist to be elected President of France in 17 years. Obviously the papers The Times of India, The Hindu, Business Line and Deccan Herald believe they have a sophisticated readership deeply interested in international affairs. The Hindu pointed out “Hollande’s victory….. is notable on several counts”, a matter on which it elaborated. Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, in his turn, has received attention, most of it negative.
Prabhu Chawla, writing in The Indian Express (10 June) noted sadly that “events of the past few weeks have diminished a leader of great stature like Modi”, adding that “Modi has betrayed his insecurity” and “has damaged himself”. Chawla pointed out that “if Modi feels that like Indira Gandhi, he can win the peoples’ mandate by trampling on internal democratic processes, he is sadly mistaken”. Added Chawla: “(Modi) has proved his skills of governance. But he is yet to prove his pan-Indian acceptability, like Indira Gandhi did. To do so he has to attract workers….” Writing in Asian Age (29 May) Sunanda Datta-Ray made the point that events in Gujarat in the past “suggest less a man with a cause and a commitment to his people than an ambitious strategist with a carefully orchestrated campaign to advance his political career”. Datta-Ray said Modi’s “stage-managed public rallies….confirm the impression”. The Economic Times (10 June) carried an article by Pradeep Chhibber and Vasundhara Sirnate which argued that “for BJP to get big, its leaders must get small”. Noting that “the current leadership doesn’t fit in with a brighter future” and that the BJP “looks more like the leadership of a North West Indian party and not a national party” the two co-authors made the point that “if allies such as Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar objects to Modi’s candidature (as possible Prime Minister) it does not make a strategic sense for the BJP to project him as its leader”.
Meanwhile, a shocking event recently took place. A foundation stone was laid in the Golden Temple in memory of those killed in Operation Blue Star. Along with that comes the glorification of BS Rajoana, a convict on death row for the assassination of former Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh, as a living martyr. It is as if the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) was commemorating the death of those killed during Sant Bhindranwale’s attempt to set up a Khalistan. On the surface, it looks like an attempt by the Khalistani hard-liners to resurrect that demand. Hindustan Times (9 June) almost alone among our national newspapers raised the issue, which, let it be said, is a vital one. It warned deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal whose party Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is in touch with SGPC to see that any attempt to encourage any “radical stream, at a time when Punjab is firmly in peace mode, is fraught with danger”. Said the paper: “Self-interest dictates that Badal steer clear of the radicals otherwise they may find it hard to cork the genie that they themselves have freed”. That is very sound advice. A few papers have expressed their concern over the approach taken by some non-Congress ruled states. Thus, writing in The Times of India (26 May), Kanji Bajpai maintained that these states should not “sap the will and effectiveness of the Central Government” considering that “India is slowly but surely sliding into mob rule, rule by comedians and mediocrities and absurd rule-making”. Discussing the attitudes of the likes of Sharad Pawar, Jagan Reddy and the like, Bajpai referred to the way they have made “the Central Government dance”. As it is, he said, “the imperiousness of Mamata Bannerjee in Bengal makes for high comedy, but it is sapping the will and effectiveness of the Central Government”.
A very concerned The Times of India (7 June) carried an edit page article by one Govind Rao, Director, National Institute of Public Finance & Policy who pointed out that state leaders cannot continue to use regional bogey to flex political muscle. He wondered whether Mamata’s behaviour does not add up to “blackmail federalism”.
Fear is being expressed in other ways. Writing in The Sentinel (6 June) veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar wants to know whether “India’s story is over”. That, alas, is the general feeling in the country. As Nayar put it “the inflation crossing the figure of 10.5 per cent makes one still more pessimistic about the future”. His faith in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on the wane. His words carry a message. As he put it: “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an economic wizard, but looks like King Canute who had placed his throne near the shore and vainly attempted to command the waves to recede until he almost drowned. The Prime Minister sees the demolition of India’s success story, but does not know how to pick up the pieces from where to start. The main drawback is his inability to have his way”. As The Times of India (13 June) sharply remarked, “although Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has put up a brave face on the economy, evidence that it is on the skids can’t be glossed over any more”. The government especially must listen to the paper’s warning that said that “if corrective action is not taken at this stage to rescue the economy, the chances of social unrest spreading – and taking on a variety of ugly forms whether communal, casteist, ultra regionalist or ultra left – are unaffordably high”. There is danger ahead. And let it not be said that the media did not care.