At the risk of some mild exaggeration, let me make an observation that is certain to make me thoroughly unpopular with a section of my former professional colleagues. In recent years, I have noticed that control and decision-making in the newsrooms and the umpteen online news portals that have mushroomed since 2014, has passed to a breed of individuals whose Indian-ness is emotionally at variance with the rest of the country. Some may be Indian passport-holders (although even this is no longer obligatory) but a few years of breathing the air of North American campuses appears to have extricated much of their earlier Indian inheritance or, at least, remoulded them into different shapes.
This new breed of news managers and opinion writers — I can’t recall too many of them actually involved in the daunting process of news gathering — may be short of rootedness but they are not lacking in what Americans call ‘attitude’. Foremost among these attitudes is the belief that India is being governed by a venal, if not fascist, political class that should be viewed with about the same level of disdain as American papers reserve for Latin American politicos.
IN the minds of impressionable opinion writers and editors with no sense of Indian nationhood, the turbulence in the Kashmir Valley was a fit case for transformation into another Palestine. Apart from the journalistic benefits that invariably accompany such a conversion into a permanent conflict zone, there is the additional bonus of demonstrating that journalism has no nationality.
In the index of loathing, the BJP tops the list, followed by the Congress and some selected regional leaders. The most favoured are usually the Communists, AAP activists and, most important, the NGOs. Indeed, in the perspective of today’s new English journalism, there is a direct correlation between losing deposits in elections and securing editorial endorsements. Enlightenment is measured by the degrees of separation from conventional wisdom and common decencies.
These are not lessons gleamed from the Indian experience but a collation of attitudes that distinguish say, the New York Times or the Guardian (pillars of well-heeled Western liberalism) from the Trumps and the tabloids. Starry-eyed journalism students in the US have spent countless hours contemplating the romance of the Intifada experience in the West Bank and Gaza. They have even idolised those handful of Israelis who have turned their backs on their own country and embraced the Hamas and Hizbollah for the sake of ‘conscience’. If nothing, unpopular stands at home are always popular with bodies that sponsor and determine lucrative prestigious professional awards.
It is in this context that we can view some of the agonising that has accompanied the death of the glamour-boy terrorist Burhan Wani in an encounter with the para-military forces. That this privileged boy who took to political crime and carefully constructed a legend around himself lived a bit too dangerously was well known. Even his most ardent admirers must have been glad he died a ‘martyr’ to the ‘cause’. For Wani, surrendering to the Indian army and being filmed with his hands held high was an option that the man had himself ruled out through his own image building. Nor would it have suited the romantic narrative if, for the sake of argument, Wani had turned out to be a double agent. The point simply is that Wani had to die dangerously in order to fuel the legend of having lived dangerously.
It is one thing for hardened Kashmiri separatists and fellow travellers of the All Party Hurriyat Conference to feign intense sadness over the death of a glamorous terrorist. What we saw in the past fortnight was the intriguing spectacle of Wani being celebrated as a great political icon by a section of the Indian media. These included celebrities who were Wani’s Facebook friends and, in the process, lost the sense of detachment that must separate a journalist from his/her subject. To a very large extent, the conversion of a relatively peaceful Valley into a Valley of Tears, following the death of some 46 demonstrators in different incidents of police firing, must be pinned on the door of the Indian media that played the role of mobilising agents for ‘azadi’, a euphemism for integration into Pakistan.
In the minds of impressionable opinion writers and editors with no sense of Indian nationhood, the turbulence in the Kashmir Valley was a fit case for transformation into another Palestine. Apart from the journalistic benefits that invariably accompany such a conversion into a permanent conflict zone, there is the additional bonus of demonstrating that journalism has no nationality.
The process has registered some undeniable success. Although the political class and the people at large are unimpressed and unmoved by invocations to ‘azadi’, the English-language liberal media has successfully created the impression that dire warnings against Islamist-sponsored separatism is xenophobia and divisiveness. They have managed to portray the slogan of ‘azadi’ as a romantic ideal far removed from the horrors that have overtaken the peoples of countries that have experimented with religious radicalism. This includes Pakistan, the curse of South Asia. They have tried — and in parts even succeeded — in trying to make the unity and integrity of India negotiable. A few individuals with attitude have set out to destroy the India that has been so painfully reconstructed after centuries of political servitude.
The media has long ceased to be an independent institution. Today, it straddles a wide arena spanning entertainment, the political process and even outright sedition. Should Indians smile indulgently at the subversion of nationhood or should we risk international liberal fury by putting the boot in?
It’s a difficult one to answer but the question will need to be confronted sooner or later.