For Lucknow scribes happy days are here again
BY shivam vij| IN Regional Media | 19/10/2003
Sachin Agarwal and Shivam Vij in Lucknow

As the summer went by and took Mayawati’s government in Uttar Pradesh along with it, journalists in Lucknow heaved a sigh of relief.

 In this stint as chief minister, she had been harsher to the press than ever before. For her every journalist was a ‘manuwaadi’ (casteist), she would pretend that she didn’t need the press, and thus would have nothing to do with journalists, not even foreign correspondents from Delhi. She made herself completely inaccessible to the media, closing down all channels of communication. For all her disdain for the profession, however, she couldn’t do without it either. To get a message across, she had to inevitably call press conferences (which were substituted with huge state-organised rallies when the message was a political stunt).

 After some bitter experiences at press conferences, her information department drew up a list of journalists who were pro-Mayawati, thus assuming the rest to be anti-Mayawati. Gradually her press conferences became a well-orchestrated drama where the audience would be of her choosing: invitations to journalists would go not by their designation but by name. If such-and-such reporter from your paper cannot attend the conference, please lay off. Even the paper’s resident editor cannot replace the information department’s chosen reporter! So the press conference would be attended by a regular group of about a dozen correspondents, who would ask Mayawati’s favourite questions. According to Ratan Mani Lal, a former resident editor of the Hindustan Times and now director of the Mass Communications Department at the Jaipuria Institute of Management, Mayawati would often not even take questions; she would come, deliver a monologue and walk away, ignoring scribes screaming, "Ek sawal madam, bus ek sawal. (One question ma’am, just one question.)" Because she dd not want any journalist to feel important, she never gave anyone any importance. Her behaviour at press conferences was even commented upon in the papers.

 The sense of mistrust in her relations with the press increased by the day. She checked facilities like accreditation, allotment of houses to journalists, travel coupons, providing rooms in guesthouses in Delhi, helping the press club and other media organisations, and so on and so forth. This was done as an over-all measure of keeping the press in control, and also as a measure of punishment for those who refused to toe the line. No matter how ethical or unethical you may think it is for journalists to get such freebies, they certainly consider it their right.

 Scribes in Lucknow allege that she cancelled the accreditations of forty senior journalists, registered as freelance. However, The Hindu’s Lucknow correspondent, JP Shukla says that Mayawati had nothing to do with this event, it was a result of in-fighting amongst journalists. But a senior freelance journalist in Lucknow, K. Vikram Rao, who was one of those whose accreditations were cancelled, says that the Mayawati government was indeed responsible for it. He and some others went to court and got their accreditations restored. Rao says that Mayawati’s Information Secretary and Director of the Information Department, Rohit Nandan, would "issue fatwas to the press on what to publish and what to suppress, and the government would use such tactics as stopping advertisements against those who refused to toe the line."

 Indeed, the information department had of late become very interfering in the activities of the press, calling up editors and proprietors and insisting on suppressing and planting its own ‘news’. While the newspapers often had to toe the line, says Ratan Mani Lal, TV channels usually refused to pay heed to such phone calls. The information department has had a history of press manipulation, but this time these became the rule rather than the exception.

 The UP establishment has also had a long history of cultivating the media, of which Mulayam Singh Yadav has been a past master. No wonder then that mediapersons in Lucknow were almost jubilant when Mulayam Singh Yadav replaced Mayawati as the chief minister of the country’s politically most important state. The same press which had become very hostile towards the government because of Mayawati’s attitude towards them, has changed colours overnight — and this is only partly because Mulayam Singh’s government is in its initial days. In fact journalists who have been close to Mulayam and others in the Samajwadi Party are in an expectant mood, waiting to be rewarded in one way or another. Even in the case of others, the feeling is one of relief if not jubilation. At his first press conference after becoming chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav is said to have promised transparency towards the media, improvement of the information directorate and most of all, accessibility.

 

Reuters correspondent Sharat Pradhan’s "Watchdog" column in the Hindustan Times on August 30 reflected this new mood. Titled "High expectations from new CM", the column said:

The reign of terror is now over. Everyone appears to be heaving a sigh of relief — be it the man on the street, the all powerful bureaucrats or the mighty people’s representatives.  

(The) Sixteen months that have gone by will be remembered as that dark patch in the history of Uttar Pradesh when fundamental freedom, enshrined in Ambedkar’s Constitution, was eroded by a ham-headed and insolent despot who ironically chose to swear by the name of the architect of that Constitution.

 Undeniably Pradhan’s strong feelings have their roots in his personal experience with Mayawati, when at a press conference on the eve of Mayawati’s birthday celebrations he had asked her some difficult questions. Mayawati had flared up and even publicly threatened him.  

The last paragraph of Pradhan’s column reads:

Those who claim to know Mulayam are of the view that the SP chief is also set to deliver by setting an example of good governance. 

One presumes that the writer is one of those ‘who claim to know’ the new chief minister.

Mulayam Singh Yadav has so far done a lot for the press to be critical of him, but the criticism has been rather understated. He has been transferring bureaucrats just like other chief ministers but this is not even commented upon, except when Express Newsline has to call it a "cleansing touch".

The chief minister has brazenly supported Amarmani Tripathi against whom the CBI is finding more and more convincing evidence for murdering his one-time love interest, the poetess Madhumita Shukla. And the reason why Mr Yadav is supporting Tripathi? "He has saved Uttar Pradesh." What this means is that since Tripathi was instrumental in mustering the requisite numbers in the assembly for Mulayam Singh Yadav to win the confidence of the House, he ought to be rewarded for it. It is not for nothing that Mulayam Singh Yadav is said to have associations with criminals. An unprecedented number of criminals were given ministerial posts and the POTA cases against Thakur politician and the dreaded don of Kunda, Raja Bhaiyya, were withdrawn. But the media’s acceptance of all of this without too much comment is rather disturbing.

 Although Uttar Pradesh has had a long history of jumbo ministries, Mulayam broke the record this time with a 98-member ministry. Criticism of this was moderate in most mainstream papers; it was more in the nature of commentary: ‘Mulayam stops two short of century’.

 For Rashtriya Sahara, even this was too much of a formality. In an editorial on October 4, it actually justified the extravagantly large ministry as a compulsion of coalition politics. The inordinate delay in swearing in ministers, it explained, was because the honourable chief minister was busy co-ordinating between the coalition partners. It praised the chief minister for fairly representing all parties, regions, castes and communities, and giving weightage to such factors as seniority of leaders. It even had a word of consolation and advice, rather condescendingly, for those who did not get to become minister. Above all, it said that criticism was uncalled for as previous chief ministers have also had jumbo ministries (Kalyan Singh had 93, Rajnath Singh 85 and Mayawati 79).

 The Sahara media group’s fawning over the Samajwadi party is neither new nor surprising. It was businessman and SP leader Amar Singh who brought the two together when actor Raj Babbar contested the 1996 Lok Sabha election from Lucknow on a Samajwadi Party ticket against Atal Bihari Vajpayee (now the country’s prime minister). The Sahara supremo, Subrata Roy was amongst the galaxy of stars attending Mulayam Singh’s swearing-in ceremony on 29 August, and later made a member of a new body called the Uttar Pradesh State Development Council.

 It is thus only expected of Rashtriya Sahara to publish huge stories occupying several columns with titles like: "Mukhya mantri ki ghoshnayon ka chau-tarfa swagat (CM’s announcements welcomed by all)," or "Pradesh ki baag-daur sambhalnay par Mulayam ko badhiyon ka tanta laga. (Well-wishers pouring in to congratulate Mulayam on becoming CM)." Reports on the opposition’s reaction to such a large ministry would typically be found tucked away on page 15. The editorials and edit page articles are more than just biased; they are almost activist in their support of the Samajwadi Party. The editorial on August 30, for instance, said, "Ab Mulayam Singh ko vah avsar mil gaya hai jiskey ve adhikari hai. Mulayam Singh Yadav jamin se juday huay neta hai aur ek kushal prashasak hai. (Mulayam Singh has now got the opportunity that he deserves. He is a leader rooted in his soil and an able administrator.)

An edit page article on October 1 by Rajendra Sharma — "Asli ladai to ab ho gi (Now will the real fight take place)" — accuses UP Governor Vishnukant Shastri of trying to bring about President’s rule in UP on the Bhartiya Janata Party’s behest, whereas no such attempt could have been made because the BJP was actually instrumental (for several political reasons) in helping Mulayam becoming chief minister.

 Sahara has become so much of an in-house journal now that it even panders the SP’s alliance partners and makes such statements as "Mulayam’s tenure will have an impact on the country." It even tenders big brotherly advice to Mulayam Singh, warning him about the aspirations of MLA’s and the evil designs of other parties.

 The Dainik Jagran may be openly pro-BJP but its support is more ideological than anything else - it’s more about Hindutva than about the BJP’s fortunes. When Mulayam Singh Yadav was in power earlier, the Jagran was at the receiving end of such politicisation of the press. The government had tried to stop its functioning. But now there seems to be amity between the two, because Mulayam’s opponent Mayawati had been harsh with Dainik Jagran too.

 

Another interesting case of a politically biased newspaper is that of the Indian Express’ Lucknow edition. While the main paper is made in Delhi, the Lucknow Newsline supplement caters to local and Uttar Pradesh news. The paper in Lucknow is run by a franchise, owned by Akhilesh Das, a former Lucknow Mayor and now a Rajya Sabha member from the Congress. So Express Newsline is an in-house journal for the Uttar Pradesh Congress. The party may have a very weak standing in the state, but the paper would have you believe that the Congress leaders are most important people in town. It is not unusual to see lead stories like "Need to spread Congress ideology, says Sharma," (September 29) complete with a three-column photograph of Congress leaders releasing the inaugural issue of a new journal, Naya Bharat.

 And because the Congress is supporting Mulayam Singh’s government, Express Newsline ought to support it too. Mulayam’s "forced exile" is finally over, the paper declared, and now that it is, the CM’s development plans will take centre-stage. The term "forced exile" seems to say that Mulayam deserves to be nowhere other than at the Chief Minister’s official residence at 5 Kalidas Marg.

 A bylined story from Saifai, Etawah district says that the village where Mulayam was born has suffered government apathy and wanton neglect by state authorities. Mulayam "had so lovingly nursed and nurtured (Saifai) and turned it into a model village". "The home village holds a special place in his heart, but for the eight years that he has been out of power... not a single official bothered to visit it." There are thousands of villages in Uttar Pradesh, will the reporter or commissioning editor please tell us how many are visited by officials? And will officials from Mulayam’s government be visiting Mayawati’s village? Why should a chief ministers village receive VVIP treatment? Are villages that don’t produce chief ministers any less worthy of development plans?

 The paper won’t answer these questions, they are too busy writing headlines like: "Cong to fight for Muslims’ rights"; "Secular parties must unite to fight communalism, says Sonia"; "CM urges officers to uphold democracy"; "Judiciary is saviour of democracy: Mulayam".

 Do common enemies make good friends? In UP’s volatile politics they do, and this has an effect on the press which often applies the carrot-and-stick approach in dealing with the government of the day. This is both necessary for survival and essential for sops. So sometimes you have very harsh criticism of Mayawati and at other times you get to read that she is "a forthright Dalit woman with courage to run hard against odds." Censorship attempts do affect the freedom of press; but in the long run it only amounts to poor PR on the government’s part. Mulayam understands this, Mayawati does not.

 

Related archives in The Hoot:

"Pardafash"  and the media

Mayawati and the Media

Dainik Jagran: the pracharak in print?

The Dainik Jagran flip flop on Raja Bhaiya

 

Contact: tellsachin@yahoo.com and shivamvij@hotmail.com

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