Resorting to two editorials

IN Media Practice | 01/08/2005
Resorting to two editorials 



Begin with an attack on the police, and balance it with an attack on the Left. In Gurgaon last week nobody had the gumption to call a spade a spade.




S R Ramanujan



Distortion and extortion are the two passwords for successful politicians. But they exceeded all limits of distortion when they, especially the Left parties, went back in time by nearly a century and compared the police clashes with the Honda workers in Gurgaon with Jallianwallabagh. Nothing can be more absurd than this.  No doubt, there was police brutality and equally so, militant trade unionism in Gurgaon. Which came first and even if the Honda workers went berserk, whether the police behaviour was justified are all questions for which we have to wait for the findings of the judicial enquiry for answers. But what cannot be denied was that the politicians were intrusive, aggressive, provocative and defied all norms of public behaviour just to gain political mileage.


What comes as a relief is that the same bug did not bite the media and they were more or less balanced in their news coverage and comments. In fact, the media was so cautious as not to offend any section and in the process lost out on the focal point. The blame was uniformly distributed.  Of course, the television channels could not resist the temptation of non-stop coverage for two reasons, one is the proximity to the Capital and the second is the "action" visuals that were available in plenty that no professional cameraman worth his salt could have avoided.


Among the political class, the Communists’ ire was directed against the multinationals for not respecting the law of the land and for ill-treating the Indian workers, while the BJP wanted Hooda’s scalp. That was just a political game. We are all familiar by now as to how the Left falls at the feet of capitalists in W Bengal and frowns at them in Delhi and how the BJP changes its colour depending on which side of the table it is sitting. Since a majority of the English newspapers is pro-reform and Gurgaon episode directly revolves around the reforms policy of the government, let’s try to read the minds of these papers and how forthright were they!


Naturally, we have to begin with the world’s largest daily, Times of India, which carried two editorials. In the first it went hammer and tongs against the police force. "The police has no business to behave like thugs even if people, in this case unarmed strikers, transgress the ‘limits’ of peaceful protest… What Gurgaon witnessed on Monday is symptomatic of a larger malaise threatening our policing mechanism. As an institution, Indian police continues to be ruled by a colonial mindset." Having expressed politically correct views, the paper resorted to a ‘reality check’ in its second editorial lest ‘shrillness drowns out reason’. "It is pointless to blame foreign investment (FDI), multinationals or the Japanese for what happened in Gurgaon. India’s experience with FDI has been overwhelmingly positive…Delhi’s comrades should talk to Nirupam Sen, Industry minister of Bengal, home to one of Japan’s biggest investments in India….They should lean from the Left government in Bengal, once an enemy and now a great pal of capitalism."


Times’ sister publication, The Economic Times, also followed a similar editorial strategy. First, it blasted the Police force. "The government must take stern disciplinary action against rogue policemen immediately. It should also initiate administrative reform. The Indian police force needs to redefine its relationship with civil society. It should understand that its job is no longer to police the ‘dangerous other’ on behalf of an alien and authoritarian state". The second edit was focused on labour reforms. "Companies need more flexibility than they currently enjoy in hiring and retrenching workers. Labour commissioners need autonomy from patronage-peddling politicians."


The New Indian Express, after the perfunctory police bashing, came down to the reality. "A combination of political diffidence and rampaging, out-of-date rhetoric can send all the wrong signals. This is not the 1980s, where India is a bit player in a fragmented world economy; this is a globalised world, where India is on the edge of the big league…The Left obviously sees political potential in bringing militant trade unionism to Delhi’s doorstep. It is a sobering thought that the very phenomenon has reduced the stretch from Kanpur to Kolkata to an industrial wasteland. That is why it is important to recognize the Gurgaon violence as a horrible aberration - not a televised episode of class struggle".


The Mount Road Marx, The Hindu, was as evasive as possible in order not to be seen taking any stand on foreign investments, role of multinationals, or labour reforms - the logical fallout of Gurgaon violence. It only made certain pious statements on police reforms and the need to educate and train police personnel "to behave like custodians of the law, not outlaws somehow empowered by the law…For too long, the law and order machinery has not been accountable to the people."


The dilemma of most of the newspapers was obvious.  The Left was turning the Gurgaon violence into a stick to beat the Union government and to push it into a corner so that it is on the defensive on FDI. There are hints of "outsiders" stoking the violence. Who are those ‘outsiders’? Since the focal point of any discussion after Gurgaon is the flow of FDI, especially after Japan Ambassador’s apprehensions, who will have the last laugh over the development? It need not be a hazardous guess.


Further, somewhere trade unions have to be seen to be active after Bengal turned its back on militant trade unionism so as to keep the state investor-friendly . If any newspaper talks about this and pinpoints to the possible culprit, it will be immediately termed as "insensitive" to the welfare of the working class. Hence, two editorials, one to blast the police and the other to focus on FDI and labour reforms. Or, as some newspapers have done, begin with an attack on police and balance it with an attack on the Left. None could call a spade a spade.

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