Q: THIS IS THE MEDIA WE EXPECT WILL ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS OF THIS GOVERNMENT?
— Omar Abdullah, former CM, Jammu & Kashmir
– A: TWO PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Our Special Correspondent
Journalists mob Prime Minister Narendra Modi for clicking selfies with him during the Diwali Mangal Milan at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah later tweeted: “This is the media we expect will ask tough questions of this government? Great visuals of an undignified selfie circus!!!” (PTI pictures)
New Delhi, Nov. 28: One journalist rested part of a cheek against Narendra Modi’s, aimed his cellphone with a sharpshooter’s concentration and clicked away.
The occasion was a Diwali bash Modi and BJP president Amit Shah hosted at the party headquarters today for journalists.
An indulgent security apparatus made a token show of warding the admirers off now and then as the Prime Minister was pursued by a gaggle of wide-eyed, selfie-seeking journalists for 45 minutes around the circumference of the huge lawn on 9 Ashoka Road.
Modi and Shah spoke briefly from a specially mounted dais that seated ministers Arun Jaitley, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari and Ramlal, the BJP general secretary (organisation).
The unstated rule was the audience would not ask questions because it was not intended to be a “media conference”.
Presumably because there was little else to do, some – not all – among the milling crowd of journalists steeled themselves to shoot photographs with the Prime Minister.
Once Modi dismounted and “mingled” with the gathering, out came the mobiles and click went the camera buttons.
Just as one Modi fan, “lucky” enough to thread his way through the crowd and reach close to his object of admiration, readied to click, another would sneak his palm in, put his phone over that of the first one and shoot, leaving his rival fuming. The nifty sleight of hand was pulled off in two or three seconds.
Every five steps the Prime Minister took – with the BJP’s young MP Anurag Thakur and media cell chief Shrikant Sharma in tow – was milestoned by a selfie stopover.
When the selfie perambulation concluded, Modi stopped by for a few seconds to wish journalists he recognised from the years he had spent at the party office as a general secretary.
Many of the selfie-seekers posted their visual trophies on their Twitter and Facebook walls.
For much of the day, the media scramble trended on Twitter in a handle, #ModiMediaGate, that panned journalists for the open adulation.
A Twitterer, Aditi, announced that Modi had launched the “Pradhan Mantri Journalist Selfie Yojana” although the Prime Minister is not known to have played any role in triggering the photo-op rush.
Omar Abdullah, National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, was unsparing on the journalists who fell over each other to click the selfies. “This is the media we expect will ask tough questions of this government? Great visuals of an undignified selfie circus!!!”
L.K. Advani, who had famously voiced the opinion that when journalists were asked to “bend” during the Emergency, they “crawled”, was not at the venue to say what he thought of present-day journalists doing the opposite – straining and stretching on their toes – but with the same overawed mindset.
Veteran editor Kuldip Nayar, who was jailed during the Emergency, lamented the fawning on display.
“Modi’s public relationship is better than the others. Otherwise, he does not deserve all this adulation because he has not delivered anything on the ground. Journalists today lack the guts. The establishment does not have to do anything because journalists willingly offer their necks,” Nayar told The Telegraph.
Last year, too, the BJP had hosted a post-Diwali bash at the same place. Modi wore the aura of a victor then and posed for selfies although the shoots were fewer.
Modi said the Diwali do had to be deferred this time because of his packed schedule, adding that if it was not done today, he might have had to wait for Christmas, a festival that never figured on the BJP’s calendar of events. BJP chief Shah wished a great year for the country’s democratic traditions.
The wall between the ruling estates and the fourth estate (journalism) is invisible but a well-established convention in the free world.
When Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003 and Paul Bremer, the then US administrator in Iraq, made the triumphal “We-got-him” announcement, several journalists had risen to their feet and applauded.
Opinion eventually emerged that there was no room for such applause in journalism.
Ishraqat al Sadr, an editor who was among those who cheered, told his side of the story later: “I was remembering all of my friends that he (Saddam) killed, and I was thinking of the nightmares I had for three years that he had me tortured.” After applauding and jeering, al Sadr had wept.
Until George W. Bush came to power, American reporters had taken care not to say “we” for the US while asking questions and preferred a dispassionate “the US” or “the United States”.
Even in media boxes at sporting events – where writers unabashedly support home teams – a cardinal rule is never to applaud or cheer any feat on the ground. Some media organisations are so particular that jobs can be lost for transgressions. Sports Illustrated , the US media franchise , had fired motorsports reporter Tom Bowles in 2011 for cheering the winner of a race.
As Abdullah pointed out today, the scenes of journalists – supposed to be poker-faced professionals not given to displays of emotion while on assignment – competing with one another are certain to make readers and viewers wonder whether the same group can ask the ruling establishment uncomfortable questions.
Already, one of the biting criticisms against the Modi government has been that instead of managing the economy, it is trying to “manage the headlines”.
It was not always so. There was a time in India when stiletto thrusts marked the craft, however high, mighty and noble the target was.
An anecdote about Pothan Joseph, the editor who poked fun at everything under the sun through his column Over a Cup of Tea during the Nehru era, tells a vivid tale.
When Rajendra Prasad, one of the most respected public figures in Independent India, was re-elected as President amid suggestions of manoeuvring, Joseph wrote in his daily column: “Rajen Babu was sitting in his presidential suite, eagerly waiting to give his reluctant consent to continue as President.”
Readers had a good laugh but a badly hurt Rajen Babu wrote a nasty letter to the editor, according to an article in The Hindu newspaper.
Redemption awaits the bearers of selfie sticks if they can wield the professional stiletto with the same finesse and ruthlessness.
The BJP event on Saturday was covered by a reporter who watched the spectacle playing out on an LED TV screen and periodically ducked for cover from the thrusting cameras and selfie sticks.
वरिष्ठ पत्रकार संजय कुमार सिंह के फेसबुक वॉल से.