The role of media
The papers that incited Hindus during the riots were the ones praised by Modi.
Editor’s Guild and PUCL investigated the role of media during the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom. They found that two Gujarati newspapers – in particular Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh – ran false stories, fabricated sensational headlines with the intention to “provoke, communalise and terrorise people”, which incited and encouraged Hindus to kill Muslims.
For example, On 28th Feb, the day after Godhra, Sandesh’s 1st page headline was “KHOON KA BADLAA KHOON SE” (Avenge Blood with Blood). This is what a VHP leader, Rajendra Shah, had asked for in an incendiary statement. According to a series of eyewitness accounts from Naroda Patia, the worst affected area in Ahmedabad, the mobs who attacked Muslim shops, homes, and brutalized Muslim women and children, were brandishing in their hands not only swords and stones, but copies of the Sandesh with the Godhra attack as the banner headline, shouting “khoon ka badla khoon” (blood for blood).
On page 3, the headline said “ABOUT 10 YOUNG GIRLS WERE PULLED OUT FROM THE RAILWAY CARRIAGE BY A GROUP OF RELIGIOUS FANATICS”. The news item goes on to refute the headline, it was merely an unsubstantiated accusation made by Kaushik Patel of VHP. What is the intention in having such headlines if not to provoke?
Bhavnagar had remained peaceful, and Sandesh’s Bhavnagar edition, reported in its March 1, 2002 edition:
Hindus were burnt alive in Godhra and leaders in Bhavnagar did not even throw a stone in the name of bandh (on February 28). Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot partly avenged the killing of Hindus in Godhra. In the case of Bhavnagar, the gutless leaders are hiding their faces under the guise of non-violence.
It had impact1
In a letter dated Mar 18 to owner and CEO of Sandesh, CM Modi, expressed his
“High Appreciation for the newspaper’s restrained coverage of the recent events in the Best traditions of journalism“.
He also remarked,
You have served the humanity in a big way.
This letter of appreciation was sent to 14 other Gujarati papers, including Gujarat Samachar.
A few days later, on Apr 7th 2002, Medha Patkar had organized a peace meeting in Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. It was ambushed by BJP supporters, and the police lathi-charged the journalists.
Editor’s Guild also praised several papers – Sambhav, Prabhat and Gujarat Today. All three were seen to have been moderate and balanced in approach.
Sambhav avoided publishing pictures of corpses.
Gujarat Today consciously sought to project the more humane side of inter-community relationships to its Muslim readers through these reports. For example, there was a report on how the lives and properties of 175 Muslims of Naroda in Ahmedabad were protected by the local shepherds; how Hindu doctors of Bhavnagar saved properties from burning and made efforts to treat the injured; relief of foodgrain and clothes provided by Hindus to victims in Jhagadia
However, these papers did not receive Mr Narendra Modi’s letter of commendation.
Gujarat Model – Jingoism hi Satya hai
Modi told NY Times in June 2002 that
In an interview in June, the state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, offered no consolation to the state’s Muslims and expressed satisfaction with his government’s performance.
His only regret, he said, was that he did not handle the news media better. 2
So, did he regret supporting these papers that had actively contributed to the riots? Had he, after having seen the effect of the jingoistic reporting and rumour mongering in inflaming passions, now started regretting his support to such papers?
Sadly, No, Far from it. Instead he regretted not “managing” (?) the media houses that exposed his government’s ineptness. For example, NDTV that had reported how riots were still continuing, even after the premature declaration of restoration of peace, after its own crew was stopped at several point by rioters, and police was nowhere to be seen.
On 15 December 2002, Narendra Modi gave an interview barely a few hours after he had recorded a massive two-thirds victory in the Gujarat elections. Rajdeep Sardesai asked him about the feeling of insecurity and anxiety that still prevailed among Gujarat’s minorities. Basking in the afterglow of the triumph, a stern chief minister remarked:
“What insecurity are you talking about? People like you should apologize to the five crore Gujaratis for asking such questions. Have you not learnt your lesson?
If you continue like this, you will have to pay the price.”
Even more recently, in his interview to Madhu Kishtwar in March 2014, Modi repeated this, and singled out Star TV, NDTV for irresponsible reporting on the riots. He still did not name Sandesh or Gujarat Samachar, or mention any measures he had taken against them.
Modi claimed he had called Barkha Dutt after one such piece was aired. Barkha Dutt has claimed having never ever spoken to Modi on the phone. If there is any truth in Modi’s claims, why doesn’t his team release the evidence of this call, and expose their nemesis?
- Editors Guild Report on role of media in Gujarat
- PUCL report on the role of media
- GUJARAT : 2002 and After, Marie-Lou Feranades, Syracuse University
- Drawing the Ram-rekha, Rajdeep Sardesai
†The very next day, (2 March), a mob of about 10,000 people tried to set fire to a school on the outskirts of Bhavnagar, sheltering 400 students. IPS Officer Rahul Sharma issued orders to open fire on the mob, causing injuries and some fatalities, thereby dispersing the mob and averting a disaster.