The communalisation of the #Coronavirus pandemic in the media, just when the humanitarian crisis sparked by Narendra Modi‘s imposition of the 21-day “lockdown” with a 4-hour notice on March 25 was taking shape, is much too much of a coincidence.
As the sight and plight of thousands of migrants walking back home from the big cities once again showcased the inept planning that preceded such a major announcement a la demonetisation, #CoronaJihad became the “trending” hashtag from around March 28.
# On brain-dead TV “news” channels, “shows” titled Corona Jihad se desh bachao (save India from Corona jihad), and Dharm ke naam per jan leva adharm (threatening life in the name of religion, above), appeared with predictable venom.
# On April 3, Time magazine quoted a report by a digital human rights group that since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad had appeared nearly 300,000 times and had potentially been seen by 165 million people on Twitter.
Overnight, the script for distracting attention from the migration crisis by communalising the pandemic seemed to have been magically readied.
Tablighi Jamaat, a religious missionary group, had held its annual meeting in Nizamuddin in Delhi from March 3-20. It was attended by delegates from across India and South East Asia. Some of them, it turned out, were carrying Coronavirus.
By imputation, many attendees carried the virus back home, spreading it to many more.
By inference, the Islamic event was the principal cause for the disease to spread in India.
“Almost 60 per cent of new Coronavirus cases linked to Tablighi Jamaat event,” was the headline of a sad, revealing graphic in India Today (above), with a tell-tale skull cap around the head of a mask-wearing figure.
Short hand for, Muslims did it.
But as an analysis by Shoaib Daniyal on the website Scroll showed, the higher discovery of Tabhlighi-related cases was only because of greater testing of Tabhlighi meeting attendees.
Then, again, the Jamaat meet was from March 3-20. Who can forget that historic PTI tweet of March 13, quoting an unnamed official, that there was no threat to India from #Coronavirus?
Whilst the role of television media and social media in mainstreaming such Islamophobia in the time of a pandemic is painfully obvious, how did newspapers fare in perpetuating it?
The Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, once the world’s largest read daily, with close ties to the sangh parivar, ran an incredible 171 stories and pieces with the words “Tabhlighi Jamaat’, ‘Jamaat’, ‘Jamaati’, ‘Markaz’, and ‘Nizamuddin’ in its headline over a 15-day period.
More than 10 reminders a day, on average, of the six key words.
A purely quantitative analysis of the headlines of the 171 stories and pieces in the Delhi edition of the newspaper from March 28 to April 11, shows those six key words appearing and re-appearing with remarkable regularity.
Broadly, this is the break up of the news stories.
49 single-column items
51 double-column stories
19 three-column stories
16 four-column stories
8 five-column stories
8 six-column stories
5 seven-column stories
In addition, in the same 15-day period, Dainik Jagran ran eight editorials on the Tabhlighi Jamaat topic, five editorial cartoons, and two opinion pieces. On one day, a whole page was devoted to the issue (in picture, below) with the headline ‘Virus ki jamaat’.
Many of the Jagran headlines are for, for sure, legitimate news stories which also appear in other newspapers, about the hunt for attendees, the number of patients and such. But some of the paper’s headlines, with the benefit of hindsight, are plain dog-whistling.
# Women who attended the meeting can spread the pandemic
# SIM cards purchased by Jamaat attendees in the name of Hindus
# “Call for Jamaat patients to be housed in jails”
# Jamaatis distributed sweets on bus
# Jamaatis demand medicines, biryani, and fruits
# Tabhligi Jamaat had made Varanasi its “base camp”
# Nine foreigners hiding with 11 Jamaatis in mosques
# R&AW to help in tracing Tabhligis who went to Gujarat
# Pakistan too troubled by Tabhligi Jamaatis
# Support for Tabhligi Jamaat in JNU poster
Not surprisingly, the sangh parivar’s relief efforts get prominent display. There are two stories on one page on a single day (above).
Among other sangh-friendly headlines is of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad demanding restrictions on Jamaat; another is of RSS leader Manmohan Vaidya warning of a high death toll and contamination by Tabhligi Jamaat attendees.
In the welter of words about the Tablighi Jamaat incident, there is nearly no effort made by Dainik Jagran that even remotely suggests that the newspaper knows anything called the other side of the story.
The four Muslim intellectuals it rounds up on the issue are unanimous in their condemnation of the Jamaat, facts notwithstanding.
Obviously, newspapers are enterprises run by human beings. Mistakes are made in the speed of things, especially at times like these, and a post-facto analysis of even the most thoughtful newspapers will reveal gaping holes and errors of judgement.
Equally, Dainik Jagran can make the claim that it was doing only what any good newspaper will do which is to “flood the zone”, as in cover all bases and leave no stone unturned, when an issue like Tabhlighi Jamaat crops up.
It can also say this is what its esteemed readers want.
But is it too much to expect anything that approximates to responsible coverage from an influential newspaper at whose 75th anniversary prime minister Narendra Modi was the chief guest (above)?
Is it too much to expect balanced journalism from a newspaper with wide circulation in the communal tinderbox, Uttar Pradesh? Whose former editor Narendra Mohan Gupta was a BJP MP? Whose current editor and managing director Sanjay Gupta was nominated director of Indian Institute of Management in Amritsar by the Modi regime?
Even if none of Dainik Jagran‘s 171 stories and pieces fail to explain its motivation, just one cartoon published on the paper’s edit page should convey whose cause the newspaper was espousing in l’affaire Tabhlighi.