The world’s biggest democracies – biggest in terms of area and population respectively – are acquiring a family resemblance on certain points. Vets know of this phenomenon – masters often begin to look rather like their pets. In this case, unfortunately, the resemblance seems to be restricted to the warts. One such wart: from the point of view of the press, in both nations, the rise of the right has been marked by vulgar relations.
In India, Gen VK Singh continues to entertain, now with the accusation that the media were somehow responsible for the bizarre armed cult in Mathura. Wouldn’t it still be quietly squatting on land in the holy city, just minding its own business and not really bothering anyone, if pictures of its arsenal had not appeared on TV?
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The general’s world view generally inspires tired amusement these days but over in the US, the press relations of Donald Trump are being carefully watched. His behaviour on the campaign trail is like a pirated copy, with subtitles, of the BJP’s campaign to humiliate and demonise critical sections of the Indian press in 2013-14. Our press was asking for it, of course. Having failed to address the menace of paid news by itself, it was easily targeted with charges of “news trading”.
If this abusive relationship had a face, it would be Rajdeep Sardesai’s. And it would be seen to best advantage in the contrast between Narendra Modi’s abrasive interview in his campaign bus, and a Network 18 schmoozefest later, anchored by Raghav Behl and Sanjay Pugalia, where Modi kindly asked if Sardesai was present and accounted for.
In New York, Donald Trump has been on a headline-grabbing rampage since he was called to account on the promise of donating to a veterans’ fund. The bizarreness of Trump and his uninhibited fibbing had thrown the US media off balance but this issue was like an anchor that reporters could hold on to doggedly. Indian readers are accustomed to excess, and inured to the reality that absurd promises of making India great again will be believed, again and again. But even we find it hard to understand weird Americana like @BabesForTrump, whose motto is, “Making America great again, one babe at a time.”
Otherwise, it’s familiar turf. As the two democracies engage deeper diplomatically, the warts are revealed to be surprisingly similar. In a New York press conference on Tuesday, Trump declaimed, “You know my opinion of the media, it’s very low.” To someone with a question: “Excuse me, I’ve watched you on television, you’re a real beauty…. I think the political press is among the most dishonest people that I’ve ever met – unbelievably dishonest. I’m going to continue to attack the press.”
Like in India, each such attack is a signal to troll armies to launch a new campaign. Just when the States had got
accustomed to Trump’s vanar sena on Twitter, women reporters were savaged online by ‘Bernie Bros’ this week. In reaction, the New York Times’s deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman is leaving Twitter “to the racists, the anti-Semites, the Bernie Bros who attacked women reporters…” Change that to “the casteists, the anti-Muslims, the trolls who attacked women reporters…” and you would have a faithful picture of India’s political Twitterverse, all warts. Weisman will be moving to Facebook where, he says, “At least people need to use their real names and can’t hide behind fakery to spread their hate.” He is an optimist.
From the international news, let’s go totally local. India may no longer live in its villages, but the news from the provinces in still the liveliest. This week, Anand Bazar Patrika of Kolkata carried an anchor about a hair-raising night ride in the B3 coach of the Guwahati-Sealdah Kanchenjunga Express. The coach was apparently alive with cockroaches, which nestled in bunks, ran races on the floor and even sprang surprises from within sealed bread rolls. As night deepened, rats joined the fray and one bit the daughter of a Kolkata ward councillor. One recalls Gil Scott-Heron song about the space race and race relations: “A rat done bit my sister Nell / With Whitey on the moon / Her face and arms began to swell / And Whitey’s on the moon…”
This story appeared the same week that the railways promised bio-toilets in every coach, and a new scheme to conjure up new trains for wait-listed passengers after the regular train leaves. It will be slapped together from rolling stock in big terminuses. The coaches will have sat around long enough to gather big payloads of vermin.
A quick consultation with Uncle Google reveals that bug attacks on the Kanchenjunga Express are reported every other year. Too bad such stories don’t make it to the national media. We are too busy tracking netas and tycoons. No room for roaches here.