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Hardly flattering

Editorial |

A drop of two places in an international rating would normally be no big deal ~ but when it points to a decline in cherished human values it must become a cause for concern, if not shame. For the world’s largest democracy to be deemed a lowly 138 of 180 countries evaluated for Press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) is a blot on India’s image, and certainly detracts from the effort of Mr Narendra Modi to project himself as playing a leading role on the international stage. While it is true that there is nothing official about RWB ~ its findings are generally endorsed by the Committee to Protect Journalists ~ the same could also be said of international credit rating agencies, over whose kudos Raisina Hill often goes into raptures.

What is particularly embarrassing is a section of the RWB report that says “Ever since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, Hindu fundamentalists have been referring to journalists in extremely violent terms. Any investigative report that annoys the ruling party, or any criticism of Hindutva, elicits a torrent of online insults and calls for the death of the reporter or writer responsible, most of it coming from the Prime Minister’s troll army”. And particular mention has been made of the gunning down of newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh “after being the target of hate speech and death threats for criticising Hindu supremacy, the caste system and discrimination against women”.

Though the report did not refer to it, the journalistic watchdog would not have ignored the recent bid by the government’s media-managers ~ thankfully scuttled by the Prime Minister’s Office ~ to use accreditation as a whip to ensure journalists toe the line, or the skewed manner in which the Press Council of India was sought to be re-fashioned. Not that it required international agencies to point to the threats to Press freedom ~ Indian journalists and news organisations have consistently been highlighting open threats, subtle and not-so-subtle pressures, commercial pressures included, and threats from the economic police to enforce “compliance”. Journalists have been killed in places as far apart as Bihar and Tripura.

The attempts to pressure/manipulate the media (successful in some cases) are in keeping with the overall inability of the political class to accept shortcomings, and recognise the legitimacy of “thinking differently”. Politicians take themselves much too seriously, have fixed magic mirrors in the bungalows of Lutyens’ luxury enclave that project them as the “fairest” of all. If only there was a wee bit more of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to NDA II ~ he could “laugh with”, not “laugh at”, and was abundantly blessed with the capacity to “laugh at himself”. That is what made him so respected, admired and loved.