Inflammatory, and on page one

BY Jyoti Punwani| IN Media Practice | 01/09/2015
Violence is part of Hardik Patel's psyche. The media reports his talk of breaking hands and gouging out eyes but passes little judgement on it.
Why, wonders JYOTI PUNWANI

HERE’S LOOKING AT  US
Jyoti  Punwani

 

Hardik Patel has presented the media with the same dilemma his idol Bal Thackeray had: how do you report a mass leader’s inflammatory utterances?

And the media is responding in the same fashion they had 30 years ago – putting the leader on Page One, inflammatory utterances intact.

Here’s a young firebrand fighting for concessions for his community, who in every conversation, speaks about breaking/cutting the hands of anyone who dares touches ``our daughters and sisters’’.  Yet, no reporter has yet asked himwhy he has to bring in his community’s women while talking about his fight for reservation.

When he explains the reasons for his demand for reservation for Patels, Hardik Patel refers only to men. Hard-working farmers sell their precious land so that their sons can go to college, he says. Then they must pay heavy bribes to get the boysgovernment jobs. He even told Ravish Kumar of NDTV India that often, the new bahu wants to settle in the city, not in the village, then what can the poor Patel boy do? His father must cough up cash for that too.

Women do not feature in Hardik’s traditional patriarchal family narrative except as objects of lust who must be protected from predators by male Patels. So why talk of them at all? Yet, Hardik asked one journalist,``Kitne haath todey hain, maloom?”–as if that was a criterion to judge him. ``We have to be a front so tight that nobody dares look at our mothers and sisters. Koi aankh uthata hai toh saalon ki aankh nikal do (If anyone dares look, gouge out that b……’s eye),  he advised his Delhi audience.

Not that they needed his advice. Most of them were Gujjars, well-versed in ``protecting’’ their womenfolk in much the same way that Hardik Patel has. Hardik knows that,hence his repeated praise of them as having ``muscle power’’. ``Yeh koi aisey waisey log nahin hai (``They aren’t just anybody’’), he told Ravish Kumar, referring to the 27 crore Patels/Gujjars/Jats/Kurmishe claimed were behind him. ``Unke paas muscle power hai.’’ He was confident that when needed, they could block highways for his cause, as they had many times during their own reservation agitations. 

Obviously, violence is part of Hardik’s psyche, and very much a strategy in his agitation.  Objecting to being garlanded by admirers in Delhi, this 22-year-old messiah said: `` Haar chhodo aur talwar nikalo… Yahan pe talwar se baatein chalti hain.(Forget garlands, take out your swords,here the language of swords works.)’’He then brandished a sword, as most of our politicians from Advani to Vajpayee to Modi to Bal Thackeray to Uddhav Thackeray love to do. But mere brandishing wasn’t enough. ``The sword must taste blood,’’ he said.

As for dissenters - `` Even if people are from your own community and not supporting you, throw them out. Out of 27 crore Gujjars, if even one crore are not supportive, pick them and throw them out, even if it’s the prime minister or chief minister… A single fox can disturb a herd of tigers. Even if that is my father, throw him out. Our priority should be unity, unity and unity.”

Bal Thackeray would’ve been proud.

Of course, all this must be reported – this is the new leader’s first exposure to national politics. But how come there has been no editorial on his views? Most newspapers have editorially commented on his demands, but except for one line in the TOI edit of September 1:``Hardik Patel needs to stay away from violent rhetoric’’, no other paper has thought fit to draw attention to his dangerous thinking. 

Sandipan Sharma (Firstpost, August 31)was the only reporter who accompanied his interview with Hardik Patel with comments on Hardik’s fondness for violence.On September 1, the Economic Times had a headline that punctured his rhetoric, as did the text below by Rohini Mohan.Most reporters cannot editorialise, but surely editors can?

Imagine the effect of Hardik Patel’s views on those whom he dislikes – and he makes his dislikes clear. He has no love lost for SCs, who he says, get into college with 45 % while a meritorious Patel can’t get in with 90%. Again, only Rohini Mohan’s excellent report-cum-analysis  in the Economic Times of September 1 points out the falsehood of this claim. And certainly no one has told him (or at least it hasn’t been reported) that this old stereotype isn’t entirely true; there are minimum marks for reserved students which don’t always amount to 40 %. Also, there’s a different kind of reservation  for non-reserved category students. They can get into private institutes(in Gujarat, owned by Patels mostly) with donations, even if they have scored perhaps less than 45 %.

More importantly, no one’s told him ``Hardik, you yourself received help to pass – your teachers gave you grace marks in four subjects in Std XII. How many reserved students would get that?’’

This Sardar Patel devotee (and wannabe Sardar) also dislikes Muslims. He ``has no problem with Muslims if they want to live like the late President Abdul Kalam in India… which is basically only for Hindus,’’ he declared to the online paper `The Citizen’ on August 29.

What would Scheduled Caste and Muslims feel on reading these views?

Older Dalits and Muslims in Gujarat recall Patels as having led anti-reservation agitations in the state which turned into anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim riots, both in 1981 and 1985. Many of those who attended Hardik’s massive Ahmedabad rally on August 25, carried placards which mocked reservation. Whatever Hardik may say, it is clear the policy of reservation on caste grounds is being targeted by his agitation.

Add to that his humiliating remarks against Dalits and Muslims, and his explosive warnings,  and one can imagine the nervousness with which ordinary Dalits and Muslims in Gujarat must be viewing Hardik’s movement. The kid glove treatment meted to him by the government could only add to their dread.

That is again another aspect that has not been commented upon editorially. An open letter to Hardik by dismissed police officer Sanjiv Bhatt(on a website) outlines the easy passage the government gave him for the massive rally, waiving the toll tax for  vehicles and giving Ahmedabad’s massive GMDC ground for free. It was only after he sat on hunger strike that the cops arrested him and unnecessarily lathi charged his followers.

In response, the latter wreaked havoc on the streets of Ahmedabad.  Apart from burning buses, they attacked the police and in Surat, lynched one cop to death. They also  attacked Dalits who refused to observe a bandh they were imposing.  This was entirely in keeping with the conduct of Patel agitators in 1981 and 85.

Yet, despite this hooliganism, CM Anandiben Patel expressed regret over the police action, and stated that she had told them not to use force without provocation. The DGP of Gujarat himself warned the cops against ``harassing’’ civilians.

Such concern has rarely been seen anywhere when the police have used force against peacefully protesting Dalits, Muslims, workers, Adivasis, slum dwellers...But our hero wasn’t satisfied. "The day we find out who is the General Dwyer of the Jallianwallah Bagh of Ahmedabad (the man who ordered police action against Patels after the August 25 rally), we will kill him," he declared. That declaration itself is an actionable offence. Last heard, no case had been filed against Hardik for this.

But it is not the media’s job to ensure that action is taken against him. However, how far is it right to keep on highlighting this irresponsible youngster on Page One day after day?  What is the press’ responsibility to other not-so-vocal sections affected by Hardik’s actions and speech? Can oped analyses  suffice? Shouldn’t the media be asking why he has not yet been arrested, given his explosive utterances? Or have we also internalised the shameful fact that inflammatory speeches are the norm for our leaders?

Of course, it is not as if an edit makes much difference to readers; most may not even read the edit page. But it does mark the newspaper’s stand on the issue. Also, apart from edits, surely, there has to be a way to expose Hardik Patel’s dangerous potential?It definitely cannot be done merely by publishing his views prominently.

 

 

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