‘Can the media find a middle ground on Modi?’

CNN-IBN editor in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai in his nationally syndicated column, in the Hindustan Times:

“The mainstream media has always had a more uneven relationship with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s acolytes would like to suggest that the mainstream media has always been anti-Modi and has hounded the BJP’s rising star with a ferocity that no other politician in this country has had to confront.

“Modi as victim of an English language media ‘conspiracy’ is a narrative that has been played out for over a decade now by the chief minister and his supporters, a narrative that aims to position Modi as a one-man army standing up to the might of the media.

“The truth, as it often is, happens to be far more complex….

“Journalism cannot be public relations nor can it be character assassination. Now, as Modi is poised for his next big leap, it is time for the media to maybe reset its moral compass: is to possible to analyse the Modi phenomenon by moving beyond the extremes of glorification or vilification?

“Can the media find a middle ground where Modi can be assessed in a neutral, dispassionate manner without facing the charge of bias or being a cheerleader? Or is Modi such a polarising figure that even the media has been divided into camps?

“My own personal experience suggests that it won’t be easy to avoid being bracketed as pro- or anti-Modi. But yet, we must make the effort. Because journalism in its purest form must remain the pursuit of truth shorn of ideological agendas. Modi has become a test case for the media’s ability to rise above the surround sound, unmindful of the rabid fan clubs or the equally shrill activists.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Read the full article: With him or against him

Also read: ‘Network 18 multimedia Modi feast, a promo’

‘For cash-stuck TV, Narendra Modi is cost-effective TRP’

Modi‘s backers and TV owners have converged’

‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’


  1. Having vilified Narendra Modi for over ten years, how had Rajdeep Sardesai suddenly discovered the virtues of objectivity? He fights shy of using the word ‘objectivity’ but calls it ‘middle ground’ as perhaps, in his heart of hearts he knows that the English language media has ganged up against him and been extremely biased. It rejoiced in his discomfiture and tried to downplay his achievements. How often did Rajdeep and his cohorts use ‘Blow to Modi’ not just as a generic headline but to express some kind of ecstatic glee?

    It is as if the entire English language media (both print and electronic) wished to somehow see him at least implicated in a criminal case if not convicted. In which other context would a discredited police officer (against whom there were criminal cases pending) or a head of an NGO (who resorted to confinement of witnesses, intimidation and perjury, all of which are criminal offences) would get such a good press if they were not detractors of Narendra Modi?

    Haven’t newspapers lied, magazines lied, Booker Prize winning novelists lied, NGOs lied and Congress politicians lied (of course Congress politicians lie like they breathe!) to discredit Narendra Modi? Wasn’t reviling Narendra Modi an avocation for many of them? Wasn’t he their meal ticket! A lesser mortal would have caved in long back. Only a man with a strong moral fibre and immense self-confidence could have survived such combined onslaught for such a long time!

  2. “Strong moral fibre!!!” Hard to find a middle ground with regard to Modi. Either you love him , see him as India’s new saviour and wink at all his offences. Or you see his offences for what they are and realise that such a man will be disastrous for multi-cultural India. Modi is a polarising figure and will continue to be so, even after he sits on the throne in Delhi, if he manages to, that is!!

  3. Krishna Kumar

    It is neither a ‘discovery of the virtues of objectivity’, nor ‘finding a middle ground’. Rajdeep is coming to terms with the realisation that Modi could one day bcome the PM of India. No business men, including the media business men could afford to be an enemy of a PM. This is a belated attempt by CNN IBN and Rajdeep to build bridges with Modi.

  4. Sam

    There seems to be an implication being made that the “vilification” don’t have any element of truth in them.

    As the only chief minister accused of being the mastermind of a state sponsored genocide that left more than 2000+ Indians in his state dead, injured and homeless – just so he could polarise people and win another election – it is the duty of the media that this “vilification” continue until the truth is fully revealed.

    Of course, those who glorify him would like it to be conveniently forgotten! Thankfully many in the media do realise that brushing aside the sins of a politician can be very harmful to our democracy.

    If the conviction of many of his personally appointed cabinet colleagues and government officials by the court of this country is a result of this “vilification” for his supporters, it is only a sad reflection on them that they are willing to doubt even the highest judiciary just so that they can be comfortable with their belief of this man’s “greatness”.

    The state of the news channels being what it is, I think Mr. Krishna Kumar is right in pointing that the need for this so called “balance” has more to do with the fact that the Gujarat CM will the BJP’s “face” for PM. Naturally, Mr. Sardesai’s channel would be hopefully desperate to get a large part of the prime-minister-in-waiting Narendra Modi’s large campaign funds.

    “… time for the media to maybe reset its moral compass …” Really? Morality? Why isn’t a focus on the TRUTH, without sensation, good enough for the media?

  5. First, for the definition of ‘vilification’: it means, ‘to make vicious and defamatory statements about’. This certainly happened in the case of Narendra Modi. For example, a journalist who parked his journalistic ethics in his bank locker and begged Niira Radia to tell him what he should write in his syndicated column in a national newspaper the next day, called him a “mass murderer”. Did Modi kill anybody? Another ‘secular’ columnist repeatedly referred to him in her articles as the “ugly Indian”. Nobody ever called Rajiv Gandhi a “mass murderer” or “ugly Indian” in spite of his encouragement to genocidal killers by imparting them such pearls of wisdom as the ‘earth trembles when a big tree falls’!

    In view of the relentless campaign of vilification against Narendra Modi, imputing to him motives of acts of omission and commission by various components of the society it would be instructive to recall what the head of a ‘secular’ NGO said about the 59 unfortunate people who were roasted alive in that train inferno: “[w]hile I condemn today’s gruesome attack, you cannot pick up an incident in isolation. Let us not forget the provocation. These people were not going for a benign assembly. They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.” It would be very difficult to comprehend Teesta Setalvad’s inhuman, brazen callousness in uttering those words but she probably put into words what many worthies of the ‘secular’ polity privately felt about the unfortunate tragedy. Teesta’s statement was reported by the ‘Washington Post’, whereas most if not all of the Indian media had airbrushed it!

    Remember the death toll in the 1984 Sikh genocide was at least seven to ten times that of Gujarat 2002. (About 3000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone and between 5000 and 7000 in the rest of the country.) It was genocidal because the killing was one sided; none other than Sikhs were killed. If the killing of one woman leads to the genocide of 10000 people in retaliation, could anyone expect there would be no reaction when 59 people, more than half of whom were women and children were barbarically burnt alive?

    Second for some facts: In the Gujarat riots of 2002, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed and not 2000+ as mentioned by @Sam. Thank God he did not repeat the ‘thousands and thousands’ lie of the media of the earlier years. It seems, as time passes by we are inching towards the truth. These were the official figures provided by a ‘secular’ MoS Home of the ‘secular’ Congress party in the Rajya Sabha.

    It is precisely for the reason that the death toll of Hindus was 32% of the number of Muslims killed that it was not as one-sided as it was made out to be. Also for the same reason it cannot be called genocide but a riot.

    Thirdly, here are some more statistics which hopefully help view Modi’s conduct in the proper perspective: 10,000 rounds of bullets were fired by the police to quell the mobs killing 77 Hindus and 93 Muslims. 27,901 Hindus were arrested as against 7,651 Muslims. We were only told of Muslims sheltering in the relief camps but how many knew that 40,000 Hindus also were sheltered in relief camps. The army was called in within 48 hours of the eruption of the riots. There were no four days between February 27 and March 1 as many in the media portrayed, either willingly or inadvertently.

    Finally, more than 200 people including high profile politicians were convicted, with many receiving (full) life sentences in the Gujarat riots cases. How many were convicted in the 1984 Sikh riot cases? What of the conduct of the Congress party which scuttled probe after probe and the CBI which conspired to help high profile politicians evade the long arm of the law?

    1. Sam

      @VOXINDICA – so to sum up your reply –

      * A “sensationalist” media calling Narendra Modi a “mass murderer” (referring to the deaths while he was CM) and an “ugly indian” (referring to his character) is “vilification” of Modi.

      Does removing these “sensational” terms in anyway change the facts about the deaths and his duty as CM or Narendra Modi’s character (either he was weak CM who didn’t know how to respond and thus took delayed / no action or he masterminded the whole incident)?

      * “Only” 790 + 294 indians were killed, so lets not make a big deal about it as if 2000 were killed.

      My conservative figure of 2000+ included the injured and homeless, but, yeah, why care about them?

      If you do want to care about them – As @VOXINDICA’s himself points out, apart from the most vulnerable targets of the genocide more than 40,000 other indians were also deeply affected by this pogrom and thus had to take refuge in relief camps. So let’s correct my figure to 40000+.

      * Congress has got “away” with their genocide, so Narendra Modi should also be allowed to use his get-out-of-jail-card.

      I love how every Modi admirer ultimately brings this up – “Ok, so Modi is responsible but so what? Isn’t the Congress / Rajiv Gandhi culpable too in the hindu-sikh riots of ’84?”.

      So what?
      I ask again, so what?

      Yes it is a travesty of justice, and a heavy guilt on our country’s psyche that the Sikhs haven’t got their share of justice.

      Does that mean that the victims of the NaMo genocide too should be denied justice? That because the journalists don’t have a time machine to travel back and investigate the violent insanity of ’84, media pressure on Narendra Modi should be eased “to provide a balanced view”?

      Both were in the same scale in terms of the pogrom unleashed.

      The difference is that the ’80s didn’t have a strong and independent media, while unfortunately for the Sangh / BJP and Narendra Modi, the indian media of the last two decades are no longer afraid of taking on a powerful politician.

      (Remember, the BJP was in power at both the centre and the state when the media credibly took on them warily but boldly.)

      It is because of the media that the Gujarat government’s use and abuse of the government machinery and the police came into the public glare forcing the judiciary to

      * reprimand the Narendra Modi government.
      * step in directly to supervise the investigation.
      * hand over the case from Gujarat police to a SIT.
      * hold the trial(s) in a different state.

      By the way, try to spin the truth as much as you want – all the statistics about the bullets fired and the “action” Modi took happened only because of the media’s so called “vilification” of Narendra Modi and the Sangh / BJP.

      Today’s breaking news: The BJP doesn’t like the ‘monster’ – the sensationalist media – it helped spawn when in power.

  6. In @Sam’s replies as in much of what the media fondly call the Gujarat 2002 ‘narrative’, the 59 unfortunate people who were brutally torched to death do not feature; do not feature at all! They ceased to exist not after the horrendous death; they never were!

    ‘Indian secularism’ has certain defining features. The first is to blame the Hindu if he were a victim; and search for victimhood in other communities. See how in the fifth paragraph of his reply @Sam says, ‘more than 40,000 other Indians were also deeply affected’! Who were the 40,000 other Indians? Naming them as Hindus mars or distorts the secular ‘narrative’. Hence they are ‘other Indians’; not Hindus! The 59 unfortunate people, who were barbarically burnt to death, were themselves responsible for their death!

    Secondly in the case of Narendra Modi, the dictum ‘the law takes its own course’ should not apply. He should be tried by the media based on gossip, suspicion, inference and innuendo; sentenced instantly and hanged from the nearest lamp post! Indian media has spawned a whole breed of Sherlock Holmes clones to nail Narendra Modi in the last ten years but alas, it could not find a shred of evidence. Which makes the heart-burn all the more excruciating!

    I am amused by this assertion: “The difference is that the ’80s didn’t have a strong and independent media, while unfortunately for the Sangh / BJP and Narendra Modi, the Indian media of the last two decades are no longer afraid of taking on a powerful politician.” I used to wonder why Indian media was soft on Sonia & Co., including son-in-law Robert Vadra. A recent article in the ‘Open Magazine’ confirmed what I always suspected. (See ‘Remote Mindset’ accessible from http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/remote-mindset). A while earlier, Aditya Sinha, former Editor-in-Chief of ‘DNA’ wrote about how the Union Government stopped advertisements to his paper after it published articles critical of the Dynasty and restored them only after his senior staff members met Ambica Soni, I & B Minister at the time. One could only imagine what might have transpired at the meeting. Was it a coincidence that Sinha had to put in his papers a little later? Similarly, Vinod Mehta’s exit from ‘Outlook’ was attributed to his publication of the Radia tapes which chagrined some powerful media personalities among others.

    Can one ask if the media was so independent and full of concern for human misery why were riots that occurred in non-BJP states like Andhra Pradesh (Adoni and Hyderabad); Bengal (Deganga); Maharastra (Dhule and Pune) and at many places in Uttar Pradesh were never reported as in the case of Gujarat 2002? Ever since the ascension of the ‘secular’ Samajvadi Party’s Prince Akhilesh Yadav as Chief Minister of UP there has been a riot every month in that state. All these riots occurred after the advent of the intrepid electronic media!

    Finally, isn’t there a contradiction in the following two assertions?

    ‘Remember, the BJP was in power at both the centre and the state when the media credibly took on them warily but boldly.’


    ‘The BJP doesn’t like the ‘monster’ – the sensationalist media – it helped spawn when in power.’

    1. Sam

      Gujarat was ravaged by a devastating earthquake that left more than 10,000 people dead. Keshubai Patel’s BJP government was riddled with corruption charges. (Relief materials like tent and food that arrived from other countries where being sold in the open market, contracts for rebuilding the areas were “sold” to the highest bribe payer etc.). All surveys and indications suggested that the BJP was going to lose the upcoming election.

      Godhra (2002): Sangh fundamentalists are attacked and killed by Jihadi fundamentalist.

      All Sangh outfits, including the BJP immediately claim that it was “local muslims” who attacked the “Hindu” community, as they see this as the golden opportunity to really polarise voters.

      The hope is that combined with the “Shining India” campaign, the polarisation would also reap rewards in the central elections.

      Even today, Sangh publications like the RSS’s Organizer go to great lengths to explain how it was the “local muslims” / “ordinary muslims” and not terrorists / fundamentalists, who attacked the “Hindus”.

      (As if ordinary human beings have nothing better to do than go kill people for the fun of it!)

      Riots erupt, fuelled by the fundamentalists of both the organization. The Sangh fundamentalists receive state backing from Narendra Modi (also a Sangh member) and get the upper hand.

      Ultimately, innocent people of both community are the real victims, with those of the minority community facing the brunt of the violence.


      This is why the media focused more on the muslim victims – because the perpetrators of the genocide were Sangh fundamentalists.

      (Whatever VOXINDICA might like to believe, even in cases where the victims are Hindus and the perpetrators Jihadi fundamentalists, the media focuses on the VICTIMS.)

      But Sangh and Jihadi organizations don’t like it when the media portrays the conflict this way.

      … See how in the fifth paragraph of his reply @Sam says, ‘more than 40,000 other Indians were also deeply affected’! … Naming them as Hindus mars or distorts the secular ‘narrative’. Hence they are ‘other Indians’; not Hindus! …

      Notice how even VOXINDICA sees a conspiracy that I am choosing to ignore the “Hindus” by mentioning them as “other indian”? According to him, it is important to establish their religious identity as “Hindus” or “Muslims”. Why?

      Religious fundamentalists want us to look at everything through the prism of religion. Unfortunately for them, ordinary and normal people do not do so. (And thus the label of pseudo-hindus or Kafir).

      When we see a person dying we feel sympathy or pain or anguish. Our first thought is not – is that a Hindu or a Muslim or Christian dying.

      This is not about “damaged” indian secularism as the fundamentalist paint it to be – it is simply about the conflict between spiritual india and religious fundamentalists.

  7. In his replies @Sam always sidestepped issues I have raised and brought in extraneous ones not germane to them.

    Sample these:

    1. “Gujarat was ravaged by a devastating earthquake that left more than 10,000 people dead. Keshubai Patel’s BJP government was riddled with corruption charges. (Relief materials like tents and food that arrived from other countries were being sold in the open market, contracts for rebuilding the areas were “sold” to the highest bribe payer etc.).”

    2. “Sangh publications like the RSS’s Organizer…” I don’t think even the Sangh members believe or claim that “Organizer” is a mainstream medium.

    3. The last two paragraphs. They don’t have any relevance to the issue under discussion, which is vilification of Narendra Modi by the mainstream media and Rajdeep Sardesai’s belated change of heart, calling for “objectivity” in reporting about Narendra Modi, which he calls “middle ground”! But the phrase “middle ground” too, like the phrase “Indian secularism” probably says one thing and means another!

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