Creating hype over trivial stories and obscuring the problematic ones has become a standard practice for large sections of India's news media industry
Just two days after India was made hysterical when five most-sophisticated fighter jets arrived, the same media, as usual, went mute, when in a most inhuman act in the close vicinity of the national capital, cow-vigilantes hammered a man carrying meat for Bakrid to a pulp. Their preference is thus for melodrama in their rush to better their performance as the propaganda machinery of the government, like that of the authoritarian regimes of the past, and to earn more TRPs.
As in Bofors and such defence deals in the past, Rafale purchase too is clouded in allegations of corruption and nepotism which are yet to be resolved. The PM announced the purchase even before the formal clearance from the Defence Acquisition Committee, and Inter-governmental Agreement for protection from France in case of failure of contract, etc. was also dispensed with. Furthermore, the price was USD 9.13 billion for 36 aircraft as against the original tender of USD 10.5 billion for 126 of them, without significant changes in specifications. On the other hand, there is a loss of enhancing indigenous expertise. On top of everything, the 'Prevention of Corruption Act' was amended to disable the CBI to take up even preliminary enquiries in the matter without the Government's approval. However, in the final order on the review petition in the SC, with the tacit support of other judges, Justice KM Joseph observed, 'The judgement seeking to be reviewed would not stand in the way of the CBI taking action on the complaint in accordance with the law and subject to CBI obtaining previous approval under Sec 17A of the PC Act.' No one knows about the facts of the matter, whether CBI moved for approval, or whether the Government denied it, and for what reasons when the corruption charges are so glaring. Now, as the media has put the corruption issue on the backburner, five Rafale fighters arrived, and hysteria created, 'We can teach a lesson to China.' Can we?
No doubt, smaller than China's J20, all-weather Rafale, with its greater manoeuvrability and firepower, is more efficacious, as proved in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, etc. But, as per experts, it would need at least two years for it to integrate in terms of training, adaptation to local conditions, use of weapons, etc. Even if all the 36 of them arrive by the end of 2022, we would be able to add only two squadrons of them to the present 28 of Sukois, Mirages, Tejases, Jaguars, and MIGs, as against the two-decades-old assessment of 42 squadrons required.
Although China always hides the real facts, available data shows that with 3,210 crafts in its air fleet, including 1,200 combat aircraft and 900 helicopters against 2,123 fleet of India, that includes 538 combat aircraft and 700 helicopters, China is more equipped. Further, with 33,000 armoured vehicles, 3,500 tanks, and 3,800 self-propelled artillery, against India's 8,686, 4,292, and 235 of them respectively, they are better placed. They also have 777 vessels in their naval fleet, including 72 submarines, as against India's 285, and 16. They have almost 22 lakh defence personnel, and we have 14.5 lakh. More importantly, while 68 per cent of our defence equipment is outdated as per the 'Parliamentary Committee Report' of 2018, defence allocation has been only dwindling each year. China's defence budget is 261 billion dollars, while 71 billion is India's. Can we be euphoric, as the media is trying to make the country believe?
Their failure to apprise the country about the real facts is only leading to the common refrain that the media has been sold out. It is a double whammy for honest journalists, since they are not only anguished at the decay, but are also made to face the wrath of the Government for being truthful.
FIRs are being faced by prominent journalists for taking on the leaders, and also by those who reported about substandard mid-day meals and low-quality PPE kits supplied in UP, about the pathetic plight of people from the village near Varanasi adopted by the PM, etc. In the context of the Corona pandemic, 22 FIRs were registered against 55 journalists in Delhi in three months. As a result, the number of journalists who surrendered their freedom to become 'His Master's Voice' has surged exponentially.
It does not pinch their conscience when people are killed in encounters; when lakhs of migrant workers trek home against many odds of hunger, fatigue and death; when SC does not hear 'Habeas Corpus' petitions of incarcerated people; when a controversial law of CAA leads to killing of protesters by police; when the economy is in dumps; when the ruling party indulges in overthrowing elected governments by engineering political defections, They are also not bothered when the autonomy of institutions is snatched; when nothing is being done to improve law and order by reforming police and judiciary to ensure speedy and impartial justice to people; when the Government utterly failed to fulfil almost every promise made to people. Instead of taking the Government to task, they try to paint every dissenting voice as anti-national and indulge in a smear campaign against opposition leaders.
Further, they have now set in a new culture of spreading Islamophobia. When two sadhus were killed at Palghar by a mob, it was hastily linked to Muslims initially, and then to Christians and Sonia Gandhi was targeted as well. When migrant workers thronged in large numbers at Bandra railway station to board a train, they were stated to be Muslims, while similar assemblies in Surat in the BJP-ruled state were not questioned. Tablighi Jamaat was accused of conspiring to spread Coronavirus to defame all Muslims. Muslims were accused of protests against CAA, and engineering Delhi riots that were instigated by Hindu bigot leaders. Incidents are too many and too frequent. However, they remain silent when Muslims are victims. It does not matter to them that as a consequence of this Islamophobia and HR violations, our relations with the otherwise India-friendly Arab countries are getting strained; UNHRC and USCRFs have castigated India.
US Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar snubbed a prominent journalist representing India, saying, 'The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government. If the Indian Government's crackdown in Kashmir was good for human rights, it wouldn't be happening in secret.'
The truth is that when we do not have much to celebrate any achievements, we create hype over trivials, like clapping and clanging; and super-hype and melodrama over the arrival of five jet fighters.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal