A number of us have heard P. Sainath’s analogy relating to the Roman emperor Nero’s guests who continued enjoying the festivities, even as Nero used human prisoners as fuel for the flames that illuminated the party. The analogy applies equally well to Mamata Banerjee (as Nero) and some of her admirers in the mainstream media (her ‘guests’) who otherwise claim to ‘speak truth to power‘, but find it inconvenient to do so to the powers that be in West Bengal.
There is value in outrage – it highlights the red line beyond which the masses will move to action. Our media has remained deafeningly silent as Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party tested the limits of electoral violence, upping the ante in a phased manner. Panchayat polls in West Bengal had three distinct phases. In each phase, as the Media stayed silent, as no red lines were drawn, the violence escalated.
Nominations. Nominations for the Panchayat were initially slated to end on 9th April. The opposition parties had to move the Supreme Court to make the nomination process safer. The Supreme court directed the parties to move Calcutta HC, which first stayed the entire election process and later extended the nominations to 23rd April. Effectively, the highest court of the land had to step in to make the simple process of nominations safer for 48650 Gram Panchayat seats, 9217 Panchayat Samiti seats and 825 Zilla Parishad seats.
The Media barely created a ripple apart from factually reporting the extensions ordered by the court. No prime-time debates. No outrage. No red lines are drawn. Contrast this with the minute by minute coverage of the midnight supreme court hearings on the matter of Yeddyurappa’s swearing-in on May 17th (Rajdeep was up past midnight giving sound bites on AajTak on the Mukul Rohatgi vs. Abhishek Manu Singhvi battle in court). Democracy was not dying in Karnataka but was indeed being murdered in West Bengal.
The result – On 30th April, West Bengal achieved the dubious record of the highest ever uncontested Panchayat seats – 34%. On 30th April, media mogul Rajdeep Sardesai was busy questioning the Central government’s 100% electrification claim, instead of putting the West Bengal government on the mat.
Elections. With a lack of any red lines drawn up during the nominations phase, Mamata Banerjee’s electoral machine seemed to be encouraged to take it a notch higher on polling day on 14th May 2018. In what can be described as a complete breakdown of the law and order machinery, 13 people died on election day in West Bengal, amid rampant election violence. Nothing, it seemed was off-limits – Bombs, ballot box burning and the murder of voters out to exercise their franchise. While West Bengal burned, Ravish Kumar, who has in the past blacked out his screen to educate viewers about the deficiencies of journalism of other TV channels, on 14th May, chose ‘Delayed Trains‘ as the subject for his prime-time debate. Because train delays killed 13 people during election day in West Bengal?
Results. Predictably, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress swept the Panchayat Polls, with BJP coming in a distant second place. However, winning wasn’t enough. Retribution was on its way. Abhishek Banerjee, the Chief Minister’s nephew thundered that Purulia would be made ‘opposition free’, and that he would personally make a visit to Purulia on the 1st of June, 2018. Purulia Gram Panchayat was one of the few where the BJP had trumped the Trinamool. In any respectable state with a semblance of law and order, the state security forces would have detained Abhishek Banerjee and put him under preventive arrest. The Media completely ignored the threat. Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt, Rana Ayyub, Sagarika Ghose, Nidhi Razdan & Sonia Singh cumulatively tweeted ZERO outrage about Abhishek Banerjee’s public threat.
On 30th May 2018, one day before the declared visit of Abhishek Banerjee, Trilochan Mahato a 20-year-old Dalit BJP worker was murdered, his lifeless body left hanging on a tree.
On 30th May, Nidhi Razdan of NDTV was busy debating the Karnataka Cabinet formation, Ravish Kumar was waxing eloquent on Banking strike and Rajdeep Sardesai was outraging over the tax on fuel. Dalit BJP worker Mahato’s death wasn’t prime time news.
On 30th May, Rana Ayyub was at the GENSummit in Lisbon where she received a standing ovation for ‘detailing the awful, persistent online harassment and abuse she’s received for her reporting in Modi’s India’. Trilochan Mahato was murdered and his body hanged by a tree for exercising his democratic right of participating in an election in Mamata’s Bengal. Rana Ayyub has not tweeted a word about Mahato. Mahato’s body was hung by a tree with a note scribbled on his T-shirt that said ‘For Doing BJP Politics’. The threat to Mahato wasn’t issued online. It was scribbled on his dead body. Mahato didn’t get a standing ovation.
The story of the decade has unfolded before the Media’s very eyes between April 9th and May 30th, and the Media chose to look away, giving the story, at best a cursory coverage. Nero’s guests.
Rajdeep Sardesai, who has in the past exhorted all of us to speak truth to power, has not yet anchored a prime-time debate inviting Mamata’s minters and questioning them on the killing of Trilochan Mahato. He has, however, questioned the opposition BJP for citing the caste of Trilochan Mahato and questioned the outrage on Twitter after Mamata’s dispensation whitewashed Trilochan’s murder as suicide. Nero’s guests.
There is a tangible price to inaction and a lack of outrage. Zero – That’s the number of arrests that have been made nearly a week after the brutal murder & public hanging of Trilochan Mahato. On 2nd June, Dulal Kumar, another BJP worker was found hanging by a pole in Purulia. On June 5th, Suvendu Adhikari, a minister in Mamata Banerjee’s government has vowed to make Malda opposition free.
In West Bengal, Bodies pile as Nero’s guests feast.