Millennium Post

Attempting a new narrative

In journalism, there is one thing for sure, that no reporter is ever Mr Know All. His or her knowledge depends on the desire of his sources, to the quantum and quality of information they would want to share. A reporter’s ability comes into play in authenticating the source’s information on the whetstone of his understanding developed over the years through reporting on a particular subject.

There is another thing for sure that the television anchors, howsoever, urbane or garrulous, have seldom done the requisite legwork to develop that “instinct” which comes from years of spending time in the field and not lecturing in the studio. About a decade ago, in an essay published in an anthology brought out by the Oxford University Press, your reporter had mentioned that the best person to report during the elections are not those trained in political reportage but those who have worked on mundane city beats like crime, sewer, water supply, etc. These city reporters understand the mundane but basic issues and have their finger on the pulse of the voter.

Thus, in the name of reportage on Kashmir, what we are witnessing today across media forums is the dissemination of information as per the desire of the source; and of course on television, each channel playing to their respective galleries. Newspapers, unfortunately, too, are falling prey to “biased” reporting. Today Srinagar has locally bred Kashmiris working as correspondents for the national dailies. This has become one of the biggest stumbling blocks in “fair reporting” on the Kashmir issue.

To the question why Kashmiri correspondents based in Srinagar may not be capable of “fair reporting”, the answer is simple: their sources. They are likely to have better sources among the separatists who anyway follow an aggressive media policy than the establishment. I am unable to speak of the mainstream parties in Kashmir but the Army and the representatives of the Centre for sure don’t trust these correspondents “to the fullest”.

Thus, in the absence of balanced input, the poor reporter cannot help but lack in “fair reporting”. Then there is also the issue of the “DNA of journalism in Kashmir.” Like some of the other states of North India, Kashmiris today enjoy discussing politics and have very passionate opinions on matters bothering them. Politics is not necessarily the subject of common discourse in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana but is there in plenty in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. All these factors are behind the opinionated reportage from the Valley.

In the older times, several national newspapers followed the policy to having state correspondents who did not belong to the state they were posted in. In fact, I recall that once a colleague in an earlier organisation, working as state correspondent from Guwahati, during the peak of insurgency in the state, came into his own when he was transferred to Thiruvananthapuram. The company had transferred this “no good” Assamese gentleman with the hope that he would quit on getting the move orders. He not only excelled but was later also selected for prime posting as state correspondent from Chandigarh.

So what your reporter, too, writes about the Valley is largely based on reading the minds of those who “serve in the Valley”, those who “practice politics in the Valley” and those who “report on the Valley.” The fortunate part is that he gets a chance to interact, meet, and talk with several of them belonging to each the three categories mentioned. So what is the understanding of the situation after near three months of turmoil?

Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempting an endgame in the troubled state? This is something which he has not declared, nor have other leaders from his party, or has the government spoken on the matter, but the indications are for certain that he is seeing an opportunity in the current turmoil to conclude the “unfinished agenda in Kashmir.”

Now, what is the “unfinished agenda”? Not winning back the Pak-Occupied Kashmir for certain. However isolate, emaciate and strangulate those who seek abrogation of the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and Governor General Luis Mountbatten on October 26, 1947, under provisions of the Indian Independence Act of 1947.

From the way events have unfolded in the Valley in the past three months, few things have become very clear. First, the “turmoil” has been limited to just five of the 22 districts of the state. Second is the fact that the “turmoil’ has strong religious overtones and is part of the upheaval in the Islamic world. The third point is that there is a big role played by Pakistan in fomenting the “turmoil” in these five districts.

The turn of events in the past one week, from the attack on Uri to deliberations at the United Nations General Assembly, has not only firmed up but also added credibility to New Delhi’s stand on the role of Islamabad in promoting terror. While point number one and two would find it difficult to get past the scrutiny of Indian intelligentsia, a euphemism for the left of the centre and extreme left elements amidst us, there are reports that add to their credibility.

A recent news story from the Valley said that defying militant threat and the separatists’ call, nearly 25000 youth from across the turmoil-hit districts have applied for the job of Special Police Officers for a measly salary of Rs 6000. According to the report, the highest number of applications at 8,600 were received from north Kashmir's Kupwara district followed by Budgam (4,000), Baramulla (3,853), Anantnag (2,400), Ganderbal (1,600), Kulgam (1,258), and Bandipora, and Srinagar (1,000). While 800 applications from aspiring candidates were received from Pulwama district, 500 youths applied for the job in the worst-hit Shopian district.

Thus, the move to isolate Pakistan on international forums, getting it tagged as a nation of terror-mongers, and making attempts to wean away Kashmiri youth on its side by making them part of the establishment could certainly spur a new narrative, which would go beyond the strait-jacket of talking endlessly or fighting battles to gain nothing.

(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, 
Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal.)
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