Fifth column: Political pundits. Really?

In Gujarat in 2002, both Hindus and Muslims died, but we called it a pogrom and the demonisation of Narendra Modi began.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published:March 12, 2017 12:44 am
narendra Modi, modi, PM modi, uttar pradesh assembly elections 2017, UP polls, Uttarakhand assembly elections, demonetisation, PM Modi demonetisation, election campaigns, kabristan-shamshaan’ remark, Gujarat, Gujarat riots, 2002 Gujarat riots, election news, bjp, india news, indian express news Woman BJP workers celebrate the party’s win in the Assembly elections in Varanasi on Saturday. (Source: PTI Photo)

Nobody was more resoundingly defeated yesterday than us political pundits. The distance between us and the electorate, that first became evident in the 2014 general election, has grown, not lessened. So I am going to begin by asking why. What has happened to make us so removed from the public mood? Why do mighty TV anchors boast about their ‘extensive’ travels in poll-bound states and then predict victories for all the wrong people? Why do veteran political correspondents use reams of newsprint to make completely wrong prophecies? Not happy questions to be asking in a political column, but if political journalism in India is not to become a bad joke, then they must be asked.

The first thing we seem to be doing wrong is taking sides. Most political pundits in our ancient land have been bred on the ‘secularism’ diet, whose most important ingredient is contempt for political leaders unashamed of being Hindu. This distorts our vision. So communal violence under a BJP chief minister is automatically amplified and massacres under a ‘secular’ Congress leader dismissed. In Gujarat in 2002, both Hindus and Muslims died, but we called it a pogrom and the demonisation of Narendra Modi began. In 1984, there was a real pogrom. Only Sikhs were killed, but most political pundits described the violence as ‘anti-Sikh riots’.

The Indian media’s demonisation of Modi was so effective that leaders of important countries treated him as if he were the first Indian politician responsible for organised ethnic violence. Muslim communities across India swallowed this myth, so in Uttar Pradesh, which has a history of terrible communal riots, it is only Gujarat 2002 that Muslims give as their reason for hating Modi. On my travels I often asked Muslims if they remembered the names of chief ministers who presided over horrific riots in Bhagalpur and Meerut-Maliana. Nobody did.

The problem also is that most political pundits continue to believe their own myth-making. Modi continues to be a monster for us, so even if he says something that is not ‘communal’, it becomes anti-Muslim in our eyes. Personally I found nothing offensive about his suggestion that villages should provide land for both graveyards and cremation grounds, but it became a huge anti-Muslim issue in the national media. Pundits pondered over it for weeks on primetime. Clearly nobody has noticed that most Hindus are no longer prepared to accept that they should be treated to fewer government freebies just because they are not Muslim. In Uttar Pradesh, what nobody seemed to notice either was that the old equations of caste and creed are no longer as relevant as they were even in 2012. Another reason for primetime prophecies going awry.

Our ‘secularism’ so distorts our vision that in Uttar Pradesh we celebrated the arrival in the campaign of Dimple Yadav as if a new political star had been born. Dynastic democracy is a disease that is directly connected to political corruption, but this is rarely discussed on primetime or in ponderous newspaper editorials. It is shameful that the Yadavs have turned our largest state into a family estate. Shameful that the brother of the Chief Minister should pose proudly in a Lamborghini worth more than Rs 5 crore when villagers have no access to decent schools and hospitals. But these issues went unnoticed by most political pundits as we ranted on about the ‘communalisation’ of the election campaign because of the Prime Minister’s ‘kabristan-shamshaan’ remark.

Everywhere I travelled during this election campaign, I met young people who talked of development as the thing they wanted most to see in their lifetime. When asked to explain what they meant, they said it meant a decent job, a decent home, good schools for their children and the hope that they would see a better, more prosperous India in their lifetime. These were things discussed only in passing by us political pundits as we railed on about the evil effects of demonetisation on the poorest of our citizens. On this count I must plead guilty. I met so many people who had suffered on account of their money disappearing overnight that I believed that the BJP would suffer a loss of votes. I was wrong. If anything, it appears to have worked in its favour because it made the Prime Minister seem like a man who was ready to risk his personal popularity in his crusade against corruption.

When the dust settles on this painfully long election campaign and normalcy returns, us political pundits need to take the advice we usually give losers when election results come. Introspection. This is what we need to spend some time doing. Journalism is, as it has been famously said, the first draft of history, and in recent years, we whose responsibility it is to write that first draft have been doing a very bad job.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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  1. O
    Onkar Singh
    Mar 12, 2017 at 11:35 am
    When journalist like you enjoy the freebies,and like to near the powerful people in the metros,you are out of sync with the real people of this country.Travel 365 days out in the country side stay there you will learn a lot of things.Then you will know how Kabristan , shamshan,drives a wedge.You are naive person.And because of your naivety you will not be able to get beneath Modi's skin.Read Carl Gustav Jung's " Essays on Contemporary Events 1936-1946" to understand today's India under BJP and Modi.Since you don't know any of the local dialects of the Hindi heartland,you people can't fathom the depths of this country's rural India's biases and inequalities.
    1. T
      Mar 12, 2017 at 5:52 pm
      "The first thing we seem to be doing wrong is taking sides." That's very rich coming from Tavleen Singh, who's almost been a spokesperson of Mr. Modi since 2013. This is almost dark humor.
      1. D
        Mar 12, 2017 at 9:17 am
        Bang on ! General public is more informed and more intelligent in grasping the reality than the most por journalists nowadays. lt;br/gt;Successive Dynastic politics have created an army of mediocres in all Indian insutions.
        1. Y
          Mar 13, 2017 at 6:40 am
          1. Y
            Mar 12, 2017 at 4:44 am
            Finally Truth Triumps. Where world talking about Post-Truth, India shows way for Truth. Party which labled as "Communal" rise breaking all myths put by so called "seculars" parties. Finally all accepted just doing negative publicity without reason in each step of govt for personal gain does not paid. Try to be positive and check how this positive energy can add to indias growth (Economically and socially).
            1. H
              Harsh Hemani
              Mar 13, 2017 at 7:30 am
              Hi Tavleen, I've never heard your name. this is the 1st time I've read your article that too coz of the catchy headline. But I'm amazed at your honest, crisp, articulate expression. I wish India has more journalists like you just as much as India needs more politicians like Modi Ji. Happy to receive your articles on my mail if you have a mechanism from your side. Thank you so much for this article. Happy Holi! God bless!
              1. I
                Mar 12, 2017 at 5:33 am
                Madam,lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;I also agree that people suffered with Demonetisation. But the point is this was not the only suffering that people are facing;br/gt;lt;br/gt;People are clear about the intent of Demonetisation and hence was willing to sacrifice their troubles and repose faith in;br/gt;lt;br/gt;He has Greater Responsibility now. Surprised your article missed this
                1. S
                  Mar 13, 2017 at 5:17 am
                  For once I believe there is a sane journalist. I for one preferred not to believe news channels as it seems they were taking sides. We the viewers look for anchors and channels who are non pertisan
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