Mayawati and the Media

BY devsagar singh| IN Regional Media | 25/02/2003
The genesis of Mayawati-media tussle lies in the caste and class ridden psyche of journalists in Uttar Pradesh.


Devsagar Singh



Ever since the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) supremo Kanshi  Ram slapped  a  newsperson at a press conference at his house in  Delhi  some years ago, there has been  no let  up  in the love-hate relationship  between  the party  leadership  and the media.  Indeed, it has  assumed new heights during the Mayawati  regime in

In the past  few months  that Mayawati  has been in  office  as Chief Minister  of the largest  state, the media  has been circumspect , not sure of what  is in store for it.  Instead  of  a healthy relationship  between  the  government  and the fourth estate,  what is emerging  is  an atmosphere of mistrust  and suspicion. This  seems to be leading to some kind  of  a tension between the two.  Seemingly  small incidents  get blown out of proportion, and  that only exacerbates tension.

Take, for example,a press conference held  at her  residence  about a month and half  ago  at
Lucknow. The occasion  was the fund  collection  for the BSP  during  Mayawati`s  birthday  celebrations. A  Reuters correspondent,  Sarat Pradhan,  reportedly  asked  Mayawati  in  the course of  the press conference: " Aapne  kitna paisa  botore  liya  ab  tak?"  (So , how much  money  have you amassed  by now?).  A not-so-innocuous  question, but still not something to flare  up at, considering  the  occasion. Mayawati  blew up at the correspondent  in  no  uncertain terms. The incident  caused  a minor furore  there and then.  Within no time at all,  the  media persons  were divided into  two  camps---one supporting Mayawati  and  the other opposing  her style of functioning.

Pradhan  was  not invited to  her press briefings  for  several  occasions subsequently. But more than  that,  according to  journalists  present during that  infamous  briefing,  some kind of media hunt  was  started  by  the  government. The Information Directorate began trying to identify who the  "pro"  and  "anti" Mayawati  correspondents in the  state  headquarters were. Indeed,  it  is learnt,   a  full list was  prepared of correspondents  who enjoyed  government accommodation  in
Lucknow.  Notices  were issued  to  some 70 of them  for vacating houses  for  non-payment  of rent  on time  etc.

When probed  deeper, it transpired  that  the  official  media  (Information Directorate)  itself  played  a role  in  dividing  correspondents into anti and pro  Mayawati camps allegedly  to  pursue  the divide and rule  policy.

The Sarat Pradhan  case  has  now been dwarfed  by  the raging  Raja  Bhaiyya  episode in the state. It was as though  the media
(or a large  section of it)  in UP  was  waiting  to strike  at Mayawati  and  the arrest of Raghuraj Pratap Singh (alias Raja Bhaiyya)  gave  them  a chance.  Uniformly  , the  media  bannered the  arrest  of  Raja Bhaiyya  and  sought  to portray  that Mayawati`s  days were numbered.  Even  editorials suggested  that  the  Mayawati government  was in serious trouble  and  the  change  may not be far away.

The mood in the media  soon after the  arrest  of Raja Bhaiyya  about a month and a half  ago  and  now  is markedly different. Journalists  were  ready  to  bet  that  the Mayawati  regime  is as good as gone  immediately after the arrest. So, they  left  no stone unturned  in attacking  her. Now that she seems to have stood  her ground, the press  is  turning too.  "It seems  to be taking a turn in favour  of Mayawati.  Media,  like politicians,  first  felt  that  the days  of Mayawati are numbered.  They  first tried  to report in favour  of Raja Bhaiyya. But  when it became clear  that  the  rebellion  (of Raja Bhaiyya)  had almost  fizzled out,  there  appears to be a clear signal in  favour  of Mayawati  with  the approval  of the  editors", says J P Shukla, correspondent of the Hindu in Lucknow.

There  are  innumerable number of examples  of  how  the media  and the government  led by Mayawati  have played  truant  with  the  profession for  their  own  immediate gains.  So, you  see  a  scribe  or  a  publication  throwing  venom  at  Mayawati  some time  and  singing paens to her later. Similarly,  if the Mayawati  establishment wants  to  tame  a media house,  it will go to any length  to do it .


"All kinds  of  cock and bull stories  were printed  by a section of the media  to defame   Raja Bhaiyya`s  father, Udai Pratap Singh,  after  the latter`s arrest  under Pota.  This  was only  to appease  Mayawati.  Earlier,  the same  publication  was  attacking  Mayawati  for  going ahead  with the arrest  of his son",  commented  R.B.Singh,  Bureau Chief  of Indian Express,  Lucknow.


It seems  the  genesis  of the  Mayawati-media  tussle  lies  in  the  caste and  class ridden psyche  of  journalists  of UP  in general.  Coming  from  the upper  castes,  most  journalists  seem  to feel that  it  is not for  Mayawati to reign them in. It  hurts  their ego just as  it hurts  the upper caste politicians across the state.


The higher caste journalists  generally opposed to Mayawati  have had been hopeful  over  the Congress breakaway group  joining hands  with Mulayam Singh Yadav`s  Samajwadi Party.  But that option  too  seemed to be  fizzling out. Most  of  the  breakaway Congress legislators  have  aready joined the Mayawati bandwagon,  further  strengthening here  government. In other words, it  has  further  disappointed  a  section of the media.


Yet again, within the media, there  is  certain  caste  divide.  Though  they would not like to admit  in public,  in private  they  have no qualms  in accepting the fact  that  Thakur  journalists  have one group  and the Brahmin journalists  have another. At times,they  get together  to fight  on a common platform. But  for most of the time,  just scratch  the surface  and you would  find  the  caste bias  even  among  this  so called higher caste professionals.


There is little wonder then  that  an astute politician like Mayawati  choses  to  cash in  on  this caste  divide  and  tries to perpetrate  the  time tested  divide and rule policy.


Devsagar Singh was formerly bureau chief of Financial Express and Lucknow correspondent of the Indian Express.

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More