King Kong Kobad

BY Jyoti Punwani| IN Media Practice | 27/09/2009
Naxalites are terrorists for the media, not just for young reporters who don't know anything, but also for some TV anchors who should be more knowledgeable.
JYOTI PUNWANI describes the feature story hunt triggered by the arrest of Kobad Ghandy. Pix: Kobad Gandhy

``How did he dress?'' ``How did he talk to all of you?'' ``When you met, what did you talk about?'' These were some of the questions asked of me by journalists assigned to write on Kobad Ghandy, the Maoist arrested in Delhi last week, following the piece I wrote on him that appeared on Sept 23.  Since these interviews were conducted over the phone, I could only guess that the interviewers were very young. One of them herself told me she was just 22, and couldn't understand what had made me, Kobad and others, who were then the same age as she was now, sit on the lawns of Bombay University every week and discuss human rights and politics.


One can understand that today's young reporters know nothing about the atmosphere in Mumbai 30 years ago. But when they are sent to gather information about a ``prize Naxalite catch'', surely their chief reporters should brief them a bit about the Naxalite movement?  Had they been told that Kobad Ghandy was just one of hundreds of well-off, educated youth who gave up everything to plunge into the radical Left movement that started in 1967, they may not have regarded him as a freak.


How did they expect this Maoist leader to have dressed? In khadi? Or like the other Gandhi (there've been so many, here I'm referring to the Mahatma)? Or maybe because he was from Doon School, in designer clothes? And how did he talk to us? Probably they thought he preached from a pulpit like Maulana Azhar Mahmood. Can hardly blame them, given Arnab Goswami's Newshour debate that read out a litany of crimes, calling Kobad a terrorist, a murderer responsible for the killing of 6000 innocents, including women and children, one shot at point-blankrange; a man part of the collective leadership of an extortionist organization...


A Google search of the words ``Naxalite movement'' has a sentence deep into the text, in the section entitled `Bengal insurgency', which talks of ``students giving up their education to join revolutionary activities''. But why would reporters hard-pressed for time google for something they think they already know? Their own papers have for long been reporting on Page One the Naxal ``threat'', and the manner in which the government is gearing up to fight the ``menace''.


They also know that Naxalites are responsible for the killing of policemen en masse by laying mines and bombs on their route. These same newspapers do not report the continuing, systemic, violence which makes up the lives of tribals in the ``Naxalite-infested'' areas, which the Naxalites are fighting. Sometimes, a long feature is carried on life with the Naxalites, which show them dressed in fatigues and talk about their spartan military lives.


SO when a Kobad Ghandy comes along, what does the media make of him? What can someone like him talk about to an old friend he meets in Mumbai when he surfaces (from the jungles?) occasionally? Did he tell you what he had been doing, where he had gone, I was asked. No. Did you ask him? How do you know his mother-in-law liked him? We were friends, was the answer I kept giving. Give us anecdotes, was the repeated request. How did Kobad and Anuradha meet? Did you know they were to get married? Where did they marry? Did you go for it?


This was the personality profile of Kobad reporters were searching for. There were also the details of his family's wealth that appeared in the newspapers; all wildly exaggerated. Those of us know him wonder when Kobad's family was into selling antique furniture; we remember the flat on Worli Sea Face being absolutely devoid of furniture; we all sat on the damp floor. And when did his father become an ``ice-cream magnate''?  Kentucky Ice-Cream, which later became Friendly Ice Cream, was a small company which refused to expand because mass production would have made it lose its speciality • its fresh fruit flavours. Half the product was given away free by Kobad to friends. No wonder, it folded up very soon. The sprawling flat was decrepit, one couldn't even go into the balcony to enjoy the sea view, because it was crumbling. But all this doesn't match up with the Doon's School image, one presumes. Naxalites are terrorists for the media, not just for young reporters who don't know anything, but also for some TV anchors who should be  more knowledgeable. For them, the Naxalites' acts of violence are committed in a vacuum; the State's violence •well-documented for decades now - just doesn't feature in their questions.


When Vernon Gonsalves and Sridhar were arrested in Mumbai two years back, Mumbai's media believed what the police told them - that they were going to blow up important areas of Mumbai, an act totally uncharacteristic of  Naxalites today, whose violence is concentrated in the interiors where they are fighting a real war against the State. The two were students in Mumbai; newspapers did speak to their teachers. But overall, the police version prevailed.


Why did it not in the case of Kobad Ghandy? Is it the Page 3 syndrome? Or simply the fact that the police have nothing against him except that he wrote documents for the party? He has no criminal record either in Delhi, where the Special Cell abducted him (as he alleges), nor in Andhra, nor in Jharkhand, certainly not in Mumbai. According to his lawyer, Kobad was picked up on September 17, three days before his arrest was announced. He was interrogated continuously. Had the police got anything out of  him,  they'd have fed it to the media.


Incidentally, it¿s interesting that except The Telegraph, no other paper decided to carry details of Kobad¿s illegal abduction and his ill-treatment and denial of medical treatment thereafter, though it was handed out as a detailed press release at a press conference.Wasn¿t it sensational that a Doon School son of a Parsi MNC executive was also ill-treated by the police? But then this wasn¿t a poilce handout, so why carry it?


So is Kobad Ghandy in Tihar Jail only because he writes documents for a banned organization? Doesn't that make him a political prisoner? And shouldn't the media be pointing that out?




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