The Narendra Modi government banned the Popular Front of India for five years on Wednesday but had you been watching television news since yesterday morning, you’d have thought it acted on behalf of the news channels.
“The government listens to what Navbharat says,” stated Times Now Navbharat, fairly bursting with self-congratulation. “News Nation started a movement for a ban against PFI,” claimed News Nation, haughtily. “We told of this ban…,” declared India Today. “We were the first to tell you about it,” insisted TV9 Bharatvarsh — oh really, does that mean even before the Union ministry told us of the ban in its written order?
And what to make of Republic TV that boasted it was “PFI’s enemy no. 1”? Here we’ve been thinking the Indian State was its primary target.
All things PFI
It didn’t take a Ramanujan mind to figure out that a ban was imminent. Republic TV put the sequence of events most succinctly: “Raided & Banned in 7 days.”
Last week, we saw “maha” TV coverage of “Operation Octopus”, the National Investigation Agency (NIA)’s raids on PFI offices across India. Channels like Republic TV often ignored the Congress’ “high voltage political drama” (Mirror Now) in Rajasthan after “Fail ho gaya High Command ka Project Pilot” (Aaj Tak) to concentrate on the PFI “showdown”.
On these days, TV coverage consisted, chiefly, of visuals showing PFI offices, PFI flag, and footage of PFI protests. In its drive, the NIA was very ably supported by news channels that called out the “radical” PFI (CNN-News18) for its “desh drohi” activities (Zee Hindustan).
Some went even further: Times Now anchor Rahul Shivshankar was so impressed by the NIA raids of “an unprecedented scale” that he confidently promised, “Union government will dismantle Hinduphobia in the country”.
Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami was equally vehement: This is a “battle for the real Indian identity,” he declared, “And therefore, ladies and gentlemen, the PFI must be destroyed.”
Bragging rights also go to NDTV India for its debate on Tuesday evening: “After biggest ever action against PFI, will it be banned?”
Lo and behold, Wednesday morning, the channels got what they had anticipated: “PFI banned” (India Today), “Five-year ban slapped on PFI” (CNN News 18). Excited channels fell over each other to criticise the group and commend the government: “This organisation is a disease,” said a sickened Republic TV reporter. “Pretty much any violence in UP, directly or indirectly, has involved the PFI,” stated an India TV anchor. “Ek thha PFI, sawaal desh ka,” was TV9’s patriotic tagline. Zee News’ love for melodrama led to, “Murder, violence and riots — PFI’s agenda?”
“PFI footprint wiped out/ Biggest nation first message sent/ Uncompromising act,” wah-wahed Republic TV, adding that “India welcomes ban” — to illustrate the point, we saw Muslim men holding anti-PFI posters. News Nation’s obituary consisted of four words: “Chapter closed for PFI”.
Photographs of PM Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah adorned these reports, just in case viewers were in any doubt about who had ordered the ban.
Next up, channels made the case for banning the PFI and its affiliates, based on NIA findings. Among the items reportedly found by the agency were marine radios, swords, weapons, cash, bomb-making manuals, and of course, the Vision 2047 document. Worse was to follow: According to TV9 Bharatvarsh, there was a magazine with a cover photograph of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden — he was the “poster boy” for PFI, the channel claimed.
Zee News tracked a money trail for the PFI to foreign lands — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar, while Aaj Tak cited evidence of its alleged links to foreign terrorist groups. There were training and indoctrination camps, self-defence classes, and manuals on violence and protests — all part of the PFI’s “secret agenda”.
Times Now had a good PowerPoint on why the ban was enforced, CNN-News18 an excellent explainer of what the ban meant.
Then came ‘ugly rajneeti’
Once the celebrations and explanations were over, news channels followed the “Ugly rajneeti over PFI ban” (India Today). It began with the Congress, as always. One of its MPs from Kerala, K. Suresh, had the temerity to compare the PFI and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), demanding a ban on the latter, too. This led a CNN–News18 anchor to ask her colleague if there was any evidence of crimes by the RSS to substantiate the demand. “Absolutely zero,” replied the reporter, “(He) is playing to the gallery.” Well, Suresh achieved his objective then, as all news channels played out his sound byte, and for a few hours, he became almost famous. “This is an out and out terror organisation,” scoffed Major Gen. G.D. Bakshi, “They wish to dismember India” (Times Now).
Most opposition parties used the tele-opportunity to mention the RSS and to suggest that the BJP was playing electoral politics, keeping in mind the upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year. News channels didn’t care to hide their annoyance with this ‘ecosystem’: “Why is ban on PFI causing Cong SP tension?” asked Zee Hindustan. “Congress, NCP, NC, SP up in arms,” added CNN-News18.
A few Muslim leaders were trotted out to speak for and against the ban, and the Social Democratic Party of India, known as the political wing of the PFI, was given its say: “SDPI ‘slams Centre… calls it an undeclared emergency.” (CNN-News18). Abdul Majid of the party told Times Now this was BJP’s “toolkit”.
By the way, where was the Aam Aadmi Party in all this muck-raking? Missing in action. Was it because two more people — Vijay Nair and Sameer Mahendru, reportedly close to Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia — have been detained in the last 24 hours?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)