There is a spike in the mails since the re-election of Narendra Modi and his supporters pitching him for the primeministership. At some level, all these letters share the opinion that one who has got the electoral approval is beyond criticism, and that this newspaper is not accepting the electoral verdict as the ultimate truth. They do not want to raise anything about the 2002 carnage, they do not like to hear anything that challenges the ‘Gujarat growth story’, and they feel that there is a design in the criticism against Narendra Modi. These letter writers are of the opinion that The Hindu had been unfair to Mr. Modi.
I am disturbed by the tone, tenor and the general thrust of these letters as they try to reconstruct India as a homogenous entity obliterating its multiplicities, its natural treasure called its diversities and heterogeneities. At one level, these voices say that they are not bothered about what the world thinks of them and cloak a form of xenophobia. On the other hand, they yearn for global acceptance. Let’s not forget that it was Mr. Modi who accepted the invitation from Wharton, an indication of the desire for global acceptance.
Let’s look at one of these letters closely. One of the writers Mr. K.H. Krishnan from Shenkottai contended, “every Indian did regret for Gujarat riots. But The Hindu still gives better preference to the Gujarat riots by publishing news or articles on this every now and then. And I am disappointed in your paper’s way of criticism against Mr. Modi even after his victory in the recent Assembly elections in Gujarat. I thought Hindu reporting will be impartial but now I am changing my stance.” He further takes exception to a report titled “Adani Group cancels Wharton sponsorship,” saying that the reporter had given details of criticism against Mr. Modi by a section of students and professors but did not elaborate on writer Chetan Bhagat’s twitter slamming of Wharton. He asks: “Is this not partiality?”
Where is partiality?
First, the decision to withdraw the invitation to Mr. Modi was taken by Wharton and not The Hindu. The decision deserves to be known to the people of India, and hence, the newspaper had to report on it. Second, the cancellation of sponsorship by Adani group raises an interesting question about the relationship between the political leadership of the state and the business even in a liberalised economy. Third, the paper’s reporter has faithfully reproduced Chetan Bhagat’s twitter criticism of Wharton. Where is the question of partiality? Further, Bhagat’s tweet was: “Dear Wharton, the country you belong to routinely makes friends with dictators and military governments who used guns to be in power. Remember that.” On the other hand, the academic team of Wharton had issued a formal statement that was reported. As long as people are going to raise questions about justice for the 2002 carnage, the paper has no other alternative but to report on it.
Electoral victory alone can never be construed as a closure for any wrong doings in our constitutional framework. Nor is it acceptable in our own ethical framework. Let’s take the case of UPA. This paper has been critical of its various failures since it came to power in 2004. The UPA won the people’s mandate once again in 2009. Does it mean that the paper should not raise the shortcomings and the failures and dereliction of duties in its first term? Then how does one cover the issues relating to the 2G controversy, CWG scam, Adarsh Housing scandal and other issues?
Let’s look at two specific cases where the people’s verdict has not stopped either the legal procedures or the public criticism. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa is facing legal proceedings in the disproportionate wealth case in a court in Karnataka. The period covered by this case pertains to her tenure between 1991 and 1996. Since then, she has won two more general elections. She is not invoking the people’s verdict but facing the case legally. Former Union Minister for Communications A. Raja has been winning elections without a break since 1996. This is his fifth successive term in the Lok Sabha. This paper did not confound or conflate issues but consciously disaggregated them.
In my opinion, as long as this newspaper manages to offer a balanced criticism of every political party across the political spectrum — be it Left, Right or Centre — then it is doing a good job. It cannot make an exception for Mr. Modi.