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But for social media, ‘The Hindu’ would have whitewashed the Bengal Panchayat poll violence

Thank God for Social media! Otherwise, this is what I would have read in the Kolkata section of The Hindu and believed it:

This news item was updated on the morning of May 14th. Curiously, there is an update in the “other states” section of the paper, in the afternoon of May 14th.

 

The morning update mentions only sporadic violence and doesn’t tell us about any deaths that have happened before May 14th. If there were no social media, I would just think that there were some clashes in which few got injured.

The afternoon update, however, tells us this:

Entire election process marked by violence: more than 20 persons were killed and with Monday’s killings, the death toll has crossed 30

Whoa! More than 20 persons were killed *before* May 14th, and The Hindu found it fit to classify it as merely “Sporadic”. With 12 more people dead, the situation has merely graduated to “grim”. 32 deaths till the afternoon of May 14th, and the situation is just “grim”. Well, this language is perhaps in line with what Derek O’Brien has already professed in his now infamous tweet:

The benchmark is 40 deaths in 2003 when the Left Front is ruling. And because that benchmark hasn’t been breached yet, perhaps The Hindu was ok to classify the deaths of 32 people as “grim”. But come results day, the situation was no longer “grim”. A report was published on May 17th, and guess what – there is NO mention of any “grim” violence. In fact, there is NO mention of even “sporadic violence”.

The table also tells us that nearly 18,000 seats went uncontested. But the report doesn’t tell us anything about those seats. Now I am confused thoroughly. Did 32 people really die? Are those deaths so insignificant for this newspaper that they don’t even find a passing mention?

The next news on Mamata Banerjee is her comments on the Karnataka politics, and I had to wait for 4 more days to read an editorial that screamed:

“Grim” situation has now become “high cost”. Trinamool’s sweep has come at a high cost it seems. After 235 words in a 502-word editorial, we are slowly told this:

Around 50 people were killed; the security provided for the election was clearly insufficient, and lumpen elements had a free run.

Whoa! We started the week with “sporadic violence”. We went to 32 deaths in no time. And then after a week, we are told that “around 50 people were killed”? Does this mean people were killed *after* the elections were over too? Or does this mean The Hindu is just recalibrating its numbers? 50 deaths are also greater than the 40 deaths that occurred in the 2003 polls, that Derek O’Brien called as “normal”. But then The Hindu has a different story to tell us:

But the kind of ferocity of the violence before and during last week’s poll has not been seen since the Left Front was ousted after 34 years in power in 2011. 

Now, this made me even more curious. Because this line meant that the violence before 2011 was much higher, when the harbinger of peace, the Left parties were ruling the state! In the previous elections of 2008, 2003 etc, there was actually no social media (or it was in its budding stages). A quick google search yielded this article of The Hindu that said 14 people were killed in the 2003 violence in West Bengal. Not 40 as Derek O’Brien claimed. About 3 weeks after this article, we are told in an Op-Ed in the same newspaper, The Hindu that according to another newspaper (phew!) Anand Bazaar, 47 people were killed! Why is it so difficult to get an official version of the numbers? A 2008 report in Times of India tells us that 30 people were killed in Panchayat violence in 2008, “making it the bloodiest in Bengal’s history, surpassing even the 2003 death count.

Here is the summary:

1. A 2003 Op-Ed in The Hindu claims, with 47 deaths that “The recent elections surpassed all State records in violence, killings, coercion, intimidation and terror tactics.”

2. A 2008 news report in The Times of India states that the 2008 elections, with 30 deaths are the “bloodiest in Bengal’s history, surpassing even the 2003 death count.”

We have all seen how the English media brigade has hyped up cases of “intolerance”, exaggerated instances of “attacks”, and has been subdued when actual violence and murders have taken place in states ruled by parties other than the BJP. Even the latest editorial in The Hindu seeks to do an equal-equal argument by saying that “The TMC and the BJP accuse each other of fomenting the violence.”

This is the same media that loses no time in seeking explanations from the Prime Minister himself, for every small statement made by ward members of BJP also. This is the same media that is now calling the violence in West Bengal as a “no holds barred tactics” by Mamata Banerjee. This is the same media that chooses what numbers to publish when it comes to deaths.

Like I said at the beginning – Thank God for Social Media!

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S. Sudhir Kumar
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