Modi@8 : Trumpets blow all around

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By S Jha

Newspapers have loudly woken up readers that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completed eight years in office. Reams of editorial commentaries and columns, ‘penned’ by Ministers, have swept away news from publications to remind people of Modi’s ‘monumental’ contributions to herald ‘New India’.

On May 30, 2019 Modi had taken oath in his second term as PM in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on an evening still breathing the hot air of the summer with crimson sky as sun was setting. All eyes were set on a set of chairs for the ministers to be sworn in on the left of the stage which awaited President Ram Nath Kovind.

Amit Shah as expected had taken his seat in the coveted box. But usual faces were missing. Rajnath Singh soon joined in to give relief to audience that there is no deep surgery of the previous Cabinet. S Jaishankar quietly took his position. The audience was stunned. There was no Sushma Swaraj there. Eyes searched for the faces in the box, and they saw the likes of Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Giriraj Singh, Narendra Singh Tomar eagerly waiting for their turns to take oath as Cabinet Ministers.

The consensus message in the press box was clear that the semblance of collective Cabinet form of government in Modi’s first term, 2014-19, is headed for history books.

That was in the backdrop of the Bharatiya Janata Party    winning an unprecedented mandate, bagging 303 Lok Sabha seats with 37.36 per cent aggregate vote share. The scale of victory was massive, and all accolades went Modi’s way, for he alone was responsible for BJP’s giant leap in electoral politics.

The stage was set for unveiling of cult worship.

Beginning May 30, the BJP as part of a set annual practice launched carpet-bombing with opinion pieces written by ministers to eulogies Modi. The exercise is stated to last for a fortnight. Newspapers, newsmagazines, portals and the television channels have always been willing to host the blowing of trumpets. Readers have to bear the one-sided commentaries, shorn of journalistic standards, which warrant an unbiased critique of an issue in opinion pieces.

The practice is annual, but exercise is regular, as the media spaces have yielded to hosting opinion pieces by the ministers, BJP spokespersons and camp-followers. A few publications attempt to cover up the exercise by giving a tiny fraction of the space to the opposition leaders. But that’s scanty.

Information bombarding by a political party with scale unfavorable for the opposition parties should raise serious questions about media ethics. That will be besides the larger questions on the status of the health of democracy.

At a time when India is yet to institutionalize watchdogs who can keep eyes on incidents and events which can tilt the scale in favour of a political party by way of capturing the mass media platforms should be debated by the civil society freely. Excessive bombardment of opinion pieces, which are essentially part of a cult worship practice, is widely documented as an instrument of indoctrination.

The media in India is essentially in full control of family-owned business houses. Such businessmen of the past era have no interest in the journalistic values. They seek to milk the publications and platform for their financial gains, and some even to get into the Rajya Sabha for the elite club entry. The readers and consumers of news and contents aren’t yet vocal enough to demand accountability from the established media houses. That gives liberty to the media platforms to swing from propaganda carrier to occasional genuine news outlets.

In the meantime, trumpets are blowing all around.

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