Monday, December 4, 2017

Nissim Mannathukkaren: Modi government and the muzzling of the Indian media

The more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of the government attempts to muzzle it.

Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded — M. K. Gandhi

Generally, the death of a judge, in what seem to be mysterious circumstances, while presiding over a case against the second most powerful person in the country, and the closest associate of the head of the government, would be make prime-time television in a democracy. Similarly, the allegations of corruption against the family of the same person would have garnered media attention. But recent events in India prove otherwise.

On November 20, and 21, the Indian publication The Caravan broke a story of the death of 48-year old Justice B. H. Loya, involved in the case (of alleged extra-judicial killing) against the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling party. This was after a purported attempt to bribe him by the Chief Justice of a High Court, for a favorable verdict in the case, with an amount of Rs. 100 crore ($ 15.3 million). The report contained testimonies of the family of the judge.

Despite the explosive nature of the story and its potentially unprecedented implications for Indian democracy (in independent India’s history, to my knowledge, there is no instance of a judge being assassinated) there was a stunned silence in the mainstream and big media, especially, the English-language television channels that have a disproportionate influence in the setting of the political agenda. As one media commentator put it, “it seems that two deaths need to be investigated: that of Judge Loya, and that of the Indian media.”     

After a week, while a couple of big media outlets reported on the story (and which contradicted the Caravan report), they seemed to throw up more questions than answers. Any conclusion about the death of the judge, especially when the family has raised serious questions, cannot be derived from media investigations and reports. It can only be settled by a high-level judicial probe which should also consider the bribery allegation. Not only is that not forthcoming, there is no demand for it from the media or the political firmament which is also curiously silent.

Almost as a trailer for the judge story, in October, the Indian news website, The Wirebroke the story of how the business turnover of a company owned by Jay Amit Shah increased by 16, 000 times in the year following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jay Amit Shah is the son of Amit Shah. The story began trending on twitter and social media. It naturally raised question marks about the fairytale surge in Mr. Shah’s business revenues as well as loans (seemingly, without adequate collateral), the abrupt shutting down of the business (that too just before the controversial 
demonetization of high-valued Indian currency notes) due to losses in the same year as the galloping revenues, another of Mr. Shah’s businesses involved in stock trading getting a loan from a public-sector undertaking to set up a wind energy plant, etc… read more: