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JNU Row: The real damage

Attack on journalists will not intimidate the media, but it should seriously worry the government.

By: Express News Service | Published: February 17, 2016 12:00 am
JNU students stand in solidarity with Kanhaiya. (Express Photo Praveen Khanna) JNU students protesting. (Express Photo Praveen Khanna)

The dismal saga that began with the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar on charges of sedition, after a protest on campus to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru, goes on. On Monday, students and journalists — including two of this newspaper — were assaulted by lawyers and a BJP MLA inside and outside the premises of the Patiala House Courts, where the hearing in the sedition case was to begin, while the police looked on. It was a sobering spectacle. That journalists should be targeted and labelled “anti-national” for doing their job, that such an attack should be mounted in a space meant to be the citadel of justice, and that it should be unchecked by the police, should bring a moment of pause. Monday’s outrage doesn’t just appear to confirm the sense of rights and liberties under seige. It also carries a message for the government that it can ill afford to heed.

The media in India has endured attacks more savage. Over the decades, it has also acquired a self-confidence and a thick skin that an attack like the one on Monday can scarcely unsettle and bruise. But after Monday, the Modi government needs to reflect on the perils of the inaction — or of the dangerous messaging, as when the home minister invokes Hafiz Saeed — at its top echelons in this entire episode. There are two possibilities here: One, that the government is riding an animal it is now helpless to control. That is, having mobilised and emboldened those like BJP MLA O.P. Sharma, who took it upon himself to teach a lesson, violently, to a CPI leader for allegedly abusing “our mother (India)” in Monday’s melee, it finds it difficult to call a halt to a careening display of their chauvinism and intolerance. Or two, that at its top echelons, this government calculates that a debate, even if raucous, on “nationalism”, actually serves its political interests at a time when it is seen to be losing the initiative, politically and vis-a-vis the economy.

If it is the former, it is a sad commentary on a government that prides itself on its decisiveness and control. And it would raise a question that it cannot evade: How is it that, having come to power on a promise to rewrite the India story, it is now letting those like MLA Sharma run away with its own script? If the confrontation with the students and the attempt to intimidate the media are part of the government’s own script, then it must remind itself of this: It owes the large mandate it got in 2014 not just to the rousing of the base, but more crucially to its success in persuading and attracting those outside its boundaries. By hardening and shrinking its politics now, it stands to lose far more than it could possibly gain.

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    Himwant
    Feb 17, 2016 at 4:22 pm
    Your being journalist does not give immunity to people's anger. TIE is not being looked upon as a newspaper by people, it has its political inclinations and serves as propaa pamphlet of some crooked political parties. You are free to speak against or take sides against BJP, but do not dare to do this with India.
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      Harish Kumar
      Feb 17, 2016 at 11:47 am
      why dont media term this as "Freedom of Action" by lawyers. Media finds justification for people who calls for "Bharat Ki Barbadi" . NDTV CEO tweets "govt is acting seriously for few handful of people chanting anti national slogans" but why not the same logic apply on attacks on media. Media has lost its credibility when media supported people who called for "destroying of India". Worst media ever
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        pankaj
        Feb 17, 2016 at 2:24 am
        I doubt people gave mandate to modi to fear the kind of journalists blabbering intolerance and jnu on hourly basis. And modi knows it well. General public will eventually disown these deceptive journalists who have been trying their best to heap insult on modi on all occasions... Indian express web desk, need desk.... Yupp create more desks and see what you can get... The real losers will be these people who with their biased mind and ill intentions tried to portray India and modi as bad but anti nationals as good... You already lost, but you will keep getting your score cards in times yo come.
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          prashanth
          Feb 19, 2016 at 7:46 am
          Journalists are not holy and certainly not honest. When they report wrongly how are they to be treated. Just say great reporting and go on.
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          1. G
            Guru
            Feb 21, 2016 at 3:07 pm
            In India it is the right of our citizens to burn buses, trains, throw stones, beat up people for any pretext,. We get angry for all issues but we dont get angry when somebody uses roads as a urinal or uses public space as a garbage dump. We dont get angry when a farmer commits suicide, we dont get angry lots of children beg on streets, when people cant afford medicines or poor cant afford food
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