The dumbing down of the edit page, which began with the interventions of Samir Jain in The Times of India in the mid-1990s, in the name of making the page “reader-friendly”, is now complete, with its transmogrification into a dumping ground for pap, propaganda and drivel, especially since the dawn of civilisation in 2014.
In the 31 days of August 2019—the month the Narendra Modi government embarked on ‘Mission Kashmir’—seven leading English newspapers carried 42 pieces by political partisans on their editorial and op-ed pages—63 if you include other “embedded” economists, bureaucrats, columnists, journalists and actors, who wear their political persuasion like Army epaulettes, troll army that is.
49 of the 63 pieces had a BJP byline or an almost-BJP byline.
Only 10 of the 63 pieces had a Congress or Congress-sounding byline.
There was one AAP byline, one JDU byline, one YSRCP byline, and the byline of former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who is currently unattached.
The most prolific BJP writer was its general secretary Ram Madhav, a putative mover-shaker in many newsrooms and boardrooms, whose byline adorned four pieces in two publications in August.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (3 pieces in 2 publications), BJP MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe (2 in 2), and former Congress minister Kapil Sibal (2 in 2) were close behind.
Home minister Amit Shah, who has never been accused of stringing a sentence in English, had two pieces in the space of 22 days in the world’s most widely circulated English daily, The Times of India.
The newspapers surveyed are The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Telegraph, Deccan Herald and The New Indian Express.
Express led the race with 32 pieces, 17 of which were by clearly identifiable BJP-RSS men. Only P. Chidambaram‘s weekly column on Sundays, till his custodial detention, rescued the Express‘s preeminent position somewhat.
All the six pieces on ToI’s edit page, grandly titled “An Epiphany of Ideas” were BJP voices, including, a posthumous piece in memory of Arun Jaitley.
Hindustan Times with five pieces had the most variety, with three pieces by BJP men and the other two by representatives of AAP and JDU.
The Hindu had the least number of “request” pieces: one, by vice president Venkaiah Naidu, who also managed to sneak in a piece in the Express.
The more distant English dailies in the South and East had to content themselves with lesser lights of the tongue parivar: Seshadri Chari (2) in Deccan Herald, Swapan Dasgupta (2) in The Telegraph, and A. Surya Prakash (1) in The New Indian Express.
NIE had a piece by Lavusri Krishna Devarayalu of the YSR Congress.
These are the 23 political and shadow political pieces that appeared on the op-ed pages of The Indian Express in August.
August 2: Bhupendra Yadav (BJP)
August 4: P. Chidambaram (Congress)
August 6: Ram Madhav (BJP)
August 7: Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP)
August 9: Yashwant Sinha (former BJP)
August 10: Venkaiah Naidu (BJP, now VP)
August 11: P. Chidambaram (Congress)
August 12: Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress)
August 14: Anil Baluni (BJP)
August 15: Amitabh Kant (bureaucrat, almost BJP)
August 17: Parameswaran Iyer (bureaucrat, almost BJP)
August 18: P. Chidambaram (Congress)
August 19: Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP)
August 20: Arjun Ram Meghwal (BJP)
August 22: Ram Madhav (BJP)
August 24: Vinay Sahasrabuddhe (BJP)
August 25: Nirmala Sitharaman (BJP)
August 25: Nitin Gadkari (BJP)
August 25: Kapil Sibal (Congress)
August 27: Ram Madhav (BJP)
August 28: Sushil Kumar Modi (BJP)
August 30: Hitesh Jain (BJP)
August 31: Gaurav Bhatia (BJP)
The other 15 shadow BJP voices in the Express in August included Tavleen Singh (5), Meghnad Desai (4), Surjit Bhalla (3), Sanjaya Baru (2), and Bibek Debroy (1).
The Times of India in August 2019
August 3: Amit Shah (BJP)
August 10: Vinay Sahasrabuddhe (BJP)
August 23: Amit Shah (BJP)
August 25: Arun Jaitley (BJP)
August 27: Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP)
August 30: P.K. Mishra (bureaucrat, almost BJP)
Hindustan Times in August 2019
August 7: Ram Madhav (BJP)
August 15: Arvind Kejriwal (AAP)
August 16: Rakesh Sinha (BJP)
August 26: Jay Panda (BJP)
August 31: Sanjay Jha, (JDU)
Shadow BJP voices in HT: August 5, 19: Ashok Malik; August 22: Akshay Kumar
One explanation for the profusion of political, largely BJP-RSS bylines, in The Indian Express can be the paper’s history. Its founder Ramnath Goenka identified himself closely with the Sangh, as does his adopted grandson Viveck Goenka (above).
The other explanation is that for all the size and reach of its competitors, The Indian Express is the more potent voice among the chatterati, and politicians are eager to see their wisdom on its pages.
Moreover, it has two op-ed pages, unlike ToI and HT. But then, The Hindu and Deccan Herald too have two op-ed pages, but they appear not to have fallen into the same trap, or are not as sought after by Delhi gasbags given that they are based in the South.
It is also possible that August 2019 was a special month because the BJP lost two leaders, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley in the space of 20 days, so maybe the flurry of tearful tributes from the saffron brotherhood was very much in order.
But what the editorial pages of the seven newspapers demonstrate is the near-complete disappearance of in-house talent from the op-ed pages. Gone, it seems, are the days of lofty assistant editors who could write a thousand words or more.
All through August, the only
three four six staffers whose bylines adorned the Express pages, for instance, were Coomi Kapoor (4), Nirupama Subramanian (1), Seema Chishti (1), Aakash Joshi (1), Sofi Ahsan (1) and Adil Akhzer (1). All the surveyed newspapers seem over-eager to outsource the edit page to “domain experts”.
Just what is achieved by the publication of these ego-massaging op-ed pieces by political partisans is open to speculation since not one of them seems to evoke any kind of reader response, as seen from the Letters to the Editor columns of the newspapers.