Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an impassioned speech in the Supreme Court on 27 May in which he called a section of journalists “prophet of doom” and compared them to vultures. Mehta’s description of the scribes came in the context of media reporting on Narendra Modi government’s response to the migrant labourers’ crisis.
In the middle of a pandemic, Tushar Mehta, it seems, had found a soft target in the journalists. The Solicitor General’s description of democracy’s watchdogs shows the fate of the media today.
Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron, while delivering an address to Harvard University 2020 graduates, said: “There’s a systematic effort to disqualify traditional independent arbiters of fact. The press tops the list of targets. But others populate the list, too: courts, historians, scientists and medical professionals – subject-matter experts of every type.”
It is now routine in strongmen democracies to shoot the messenger if you don’t like the message, and the messenger inevitably is the journalist, whether it is in Erdogan’s Turkey, Putin’s Russia, Trump’s US or Modi’s India.
Why is Tushar Mehta angry with journalists? The question in the Supreme Court was on the plight of migrants. Although in a subtle way, even PM Modi now agrees that migrants have suffered.
Journalists doing their job
Mehta seems to have forgotten that journalists are the fourth pillar of democracy. It is their job to record and document the happenings in society. From war zones to containment zones, they get into such places only to record events and present it to people. One can’t argue why they are not fighting on battlefronts. The truth is that they are doing their duty, and this is the duty they have been assigned to. However unfortunate it may seem.
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What about the duty of the governments? Do they not have the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of the citizens? And what are the duties of political parties? Furthering their political agenda? Well, that has not stopped even in a pandemic.
Maybe Mehta is also forgetting that the Modi government in India presently enjoys support like no other government. The state governments, the opposition, the media and the public have all supported the central government in the last two months, which is unprecedented in recent times. There has been criticism, but no demonstrations or vile attacks on the government. Even the most prominent face (if we may call him) of the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi has avoided taking direct jibes at the Modi government, only suggesting from time-to-time measures it should take to ease people’s pain.
What about govt duty?
When the threat of coronavirus spread was looming large in India, the BJP was busy occupying office in Madhya Pradesh. Before that, the prime minister was busy with the Namaste Trump event in Ahmedabad. Then came the unplanned lockdown, which has disrupted millions of lives and brought death upon many. Does this not require vehement criticism from all sections of the society, including the media?
This is not something the Modi government can be proud of. The plight of workers walking for hundreds of kilometres, the Shramik trains getting lost and police brutality has gone unnoticed by the government.
Still, the Solicitor General will put journalists in the katghara (witness box). If he goes by the true spirit of the Constitution, he would know who to hold accountable for the mess?
Celebrating in crisis
Celebrating Modi government’s six years in power, articles authored by senior BJP leaders are doing the rounds on social media and in newspapers. Not sure if this is the best time to showcase a party or government’s achievements, especially when the country is going through an unprecedented health and humanitarian crisis. Is the party bigger than the country? If a person lies on his/her deathbed with Covid, will the family members narrate the laurels of the past or attend to their health?
There are thousands of people working selflessly, feeding the migrants. They are spending their own money. Actor Sonu Sood has been working tirelessly to send people home with his own money. Is he also a prophet of doom? Or a vulture? Is he doing all this to make a name for himself?
In Bihar’s Buxar, which is also the constituency of MoS for health, Ashwini Choubey, Ramji Singh and Sharafat Hussain, who run a youth organisation named Yuva Shakti, are working tirelessly for the past 70-odd days, feeding the migrants. Are they prophets of doom? Are they trying to put the Modi government in a bad light?
The Modi government has all the support it needs to fight the coronavirus, but its representatives are trying to abdicate their responsibility and shift the blame on to others. And journalists are a soft target. If only someone could tell them, there are better ways to deal with their mistakes: identify, recognise and correct them.
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