BJP Cornered!

Howsoever “proud” Indian journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik may claim to feel about his meeting in Pakistan with terrorist Hafiz Saeed, certain aspects cannot be ignored. What if Vaidik were an Indian Muslim? Would BJP’s reaction still have been the same? In recent past, storm raised in the parliament and media over the controversial meeting between Vaidik and Saeed appears to have cornered BJP. Though Vaidik tried to justify his meeting with Saeed as a “journalist,” this explanation has not satisfied Congress party and others. BJP’s attempt to control the storm by describing Vaidik’s meeting as that of an individual’s “misguided diplomatic misadventure” has also failed. Vaidik did not simply meet Saeed on July 2 but also spread “news” about it by circulating photographs of the two holding talks. Certainly, the photographic evidence of their meeting has played the needed role of raising a storm in the parliament as well as media.

Irrespective of who masterminded the Vaidik-Saeed meeting, there are no doubts about it having earned Vaidik ample publicity in Indian circles and interested sections across the world. And this raises the question as to whether Vaidik wanted this controversy to hit media headlines and dominate political news as this has helped him become virtually overnight a well-known name. From this angle, “news” has deliberately been manufactured and spread to help Vaidik remain in news even though with a negative impact on his image.

To date, BJP has failed to offer a convincing explanation of this party not being responsible for the meeting. Vaidik is known as closely associated with the saffron brigade and has claimed to have good ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In all probability, if he was not in good books of BJP, he may not have been part of the delegation that recently visited Pakistan at the invitation of a research institute. Undeniably, delegation visits between the two countries are labelled as a part of diplomatic efforts being made to increase communication between the two nations. Yet, it would be erroneous to assume that the two governments have nothing to do with these delegation-visits. Without silent approval and support from both the governments, the delegation of which Vaidik was a member would not have been able to visit Pakistan. Vaidik did not return with other delegation members. He extended his stay to apparently meet Saeed.

It is indeed a strange irony that the very party which has stormed into power by creating a strong media and political hype in its favour is now suddenly at a loss on tackling the controversy raised over Vaidik-Saeed meeting. Should this case be viewed as an example of the sudden change in BJP’s attitude towards media? Perhaps, now that BJP is in command at the Centre with Modi at the helm, the party does not want to be under constant media scrutiny. This probably could be a reason as why Modi is taking time in appointment of a media advisor.

Not too long ago, role of media dominated strategic planning of BJP’s electoral campaign. Now, the same party is trying to keep a safe distance with the media. The last point is also supported by Modi being accompanied by minimal possible media persons in his recent foreign tours. During his visit to Brazil, sources indicate, the only media persons accompanying him included those representing agencies and government-controlled media services. Only six media persons were, reportedly, with Modi unlike 30+ accompanying his predecessor during similar foreign tours. This raises the question as to whether BJP and Modi have become wary of interacting too much with all sections of media.

Interestingly, BJP has tried justifying Vaidik-Saeed meeting by labelling it as “freedom” of media. At the same time, the unseen line drawn between Modi and media suggests that the prime minister is in favour of only that news being circulated and spread which suits his interests. The same intention has probably prompted Modi to give undue importance to his tweets on his official website. His tweets, from his angle, are also the “news” that he wants the world to be familiar with.

Manufactured “news,” however, cannot always have the impact that “news-maker” would want it to have. Vaidik has certainly succeeded in dominating headlines for some time. However, “news” of his controversial meeting has led to its critics file several cases against him, including two on charges of sedition. Similarly, questions are being raised on pressure-tactics being exercised on sections of the Indian media, showing an apparent change in Modi’s attitude towards media and its freedom. However cautiously and strongly Modi and his party may try influencing the media, they are not likely to always succeed. The degree to which BJP has been cornered over Vaidik-Saeed meeting is just a minor example of this hard reality. Also, it is not without reason that question has been raised on what would have been BJP’s reaction, if an Indian Muslim had met Saeed!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2014 on page no. 11

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