After a good response to Bhak Stops Here: The news that made news – January 2016, here is the Bhak Stops Here for February. Some news stories of February are analyzed under “Criticality of News” and its “Amplification on Media and the Social Media”.
1. Ishrat Jahan Exposure:
After David Headley revealed that Ishrat Jahan was a member of LeT, the story caught the attention of many. After that, a former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director, Rajinder Kumar revealed that some greedy officials in the CBI tried to frame Modi for the murder of Ishrat Jahan. He also said that he was offered allurements by a very senior Congress leader to produce false evidence for implicating Narendra Modi in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. Later, another explosive revelation by RVS Mani, who was under-secretary in the Chidambaram-led Home Ministry, stunned people. He revealed that he was tortured by CBI officer Satish Verma. He claims that he was not only harassed, hounded, chased and stalked by some CBI officers, but burnt by cigarette butts too. Apart from that, GK Pillai, Home Secretary at the time, has also alleged that Chidambaram bypassed him and “totally rewrote” the Ishrat affidavit.
Ishrat Jahan encounter case is one of the biggest political stories of the decade. It was massively pursued by politicians, journalists, bureaucrats and common people. The multiple layers of religion, terrorism, BJP, women, encounter, etc gave importance to the case. Interestingly, even after series of exposures done by Times Now, many news channels have downplayed the story. The reactions on social media have also been very mixed. Many Ishrat activists have stayed away from the recent exposures.
2. Jat Agitation:
Between 12th to 24th February 2016, Haryana experienced one of the most disgraceful social agitations of the year. In less than 15 days, the state suffered losses of crores. The Jat community of Haryana, who were violently protesting for reservation, damaged railway stations, roads, police stations and many public and private properties. The collateral damage incurred by trade and other economic activities amplified to an estimated worth of Rs 18,000-Rs 20,000 crore. As reported by DNA, the mayhem also ended up taking 12 lives.
The Jat agitation news caught eyes of media and social media. The story, however, attenuated due to the JNU and Kanhaiya story. Many obfuscated political theories behind the agitation further digressed political supporters and media houses from the happenings.
An incident which should have been dealt and discussed very seriously was soon forgotten.
3. Slogans at JNU:
On 9th Feb 2016, a group of people organized an event in JNU to, which was supposed to be a “cultural” event, but culminated in slogans for Afzal Guru and destruction of India. Someone captured the videos and the posted it on social media. No one would have imagined the repercussions. That one video led to many videos — some real, some doctored and some yet to be validated. These videos resulted into series of political controversies. The versions of narratives behind JNU slogans have changed from debates on Freedom of Expression to Modi using police and IB to terrorize students, from innocent JNSU President Kanhaiya, a victim of politics to a brave and bold Kanhaiya who is the new face of politics, from Laal Salaam to Jai Kanhiaya Laal ki.
JNU is one of the best universities in India. It has produced numerous administrators, bureaucrats, economists, leaders and philosophers. JNU plays a pivotal role in shaping the politics of India. Many students and professors have admitted that some students of JNU do get involved in objectionable and antisocial events. JNU, which boasts about Freedom of Expression and scope of alternative studies, has suppressed students who pursue contrary viewpoints.
While some sections of the media went berserk against JNU as a whole, some other sections went to the other extreme, with senior journalists calling themselves “anti-nationals”. The need of the hour was a balanced, nuanced debate, which was sadly missing.
On 12 February 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested by the Delhi police under the charges of Indian Penal Code Sections 124-A (sedition) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy). Since that day, he has grabbed top slots of media and social media. Kanhiaya was charged for helping some students who organized pro-Afzal Guru sloganeering at the JNU campus. Within a few hours of his arrest, Kanhiaya Kumar became the most loved and hated student of India. Regional, national and international media houses covered his each and every movements. Social media ran several anti-Kanhaiya and several pro-Kanhaiya campaigns after his arrest.
The JNU episode has opened Pandora’s box of politics practiced in Indian universities and colleges. Behind anti-establishment slogans, doctored videos, glorification, and mudslinging, there are questions which need to be discussed, argued, debated and solved.
February 2016 was not a month which P. Chidambaram will like to remember. If Ishrat Jahan exposure was not enough, IT raids on his son added more problems to his life. Sometime during the last days of February, the Enforcement Directorate of India and the investigation wing of the Income Tax Department exposed huge wealth acquired by P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram.
As reported by The Pioneer, investigation agencies found that Karti made investments in real estate assets and other businesses in many countries, including England, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, British Virgin Island, France, USA, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. The report also claims that recent raids exposed massive wealth acquired by Karti during 2006 to 2014 when his father was Finance Minister and Home Minister at the Centre.
The news, even when important, was completely neglected by most of the media houses. The news didn’t gather much attention of the media of the social media. In fact, some big media houses covered it as a political vendetta. The silence of some politicians whose USP has been their “anti-corruption” stance, was also baffling.
Corruption is a big challenge in India. Any news of such magnitude should have been covered more aggressively than how it was done.
6. Union Budget:
Our journalists, politicians and thinkers keep talking about poverty and plight of farmers. We have heard them discussing how Government has neglected farmers and focused on businessmen. The Union Budget is a decent snapshot of the government’s financial vision for a year and more. With respect to the latest budget, I have hardly heard any intense TV/ Social Media discussion on possible budget impacts on farmers. Everyone, who was talking about the rights and plights of farmers, has shifted to Kanhaiya. My friends who shared articles on drought in Maharashtra and Karnataka and questioned “what is the government doing” are busy analyzing Kanhaiya’s speech.
For a democratic setup, both the discussions (Kanhaiya and Farmers) are important, but then there is another reality which we tend to ignore — we are not living in a Utopian resourceful nation in which all the demands can be instantly served. For a nation — as big as India — future of people is decided by policies and not by romantic dialogues of equality. Policies determine the path of growth. We can’t create a welfare system with paralyzed policies. If we really wanted to know what government is doing about farmers, if we really wanted to know how things could have improved, if we really cared about the rural India, we would have read budget policies and debated on it. Did we do it?
Many of my friends who are projecting Kanhaiya as the Che Guevara of Indian social revolution will not be able to tell even 2 steps taken by the government for farmers/peasants this time. TV reporters, who should have called economists and policy makers to discuss what else could be done, are busy in the glorification of Kanhaiya. They will return with anger and questions; not now, but at the time when media will report suicide of farmers.
7. Government fixes ceiling of essential medicines:
Drug regulator National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) fixed ceiling price of 530 essential medicines. This move by the government translated into price reduction of over 40% in case of 126 drugs. This is expected to provide substantial savings in treatment costs.
After a huge outrage on the removal of subsidies from drugs, this news should have gathered more eyeballs. Surprisingly, this could neither get an attention on media, nor on the social media.
8. Case against Lord Ram:
An advocate in Bihar filed a case against Lord Ram and his brother Laxman for exiling his wife Sita in Ramayana. The absurd news which should have been neglected as a futile story was discussed in media and social media with high attention.