Unhelpful Media Outrage
Image Credit: McKay Savage

Unhelpful Media Outrage

 
 

‘You’re either with us or against us’ in the fight against terror, President George W. Bush said immediately after 9/11. The response of the Indian government has been along much the same lines since the brutal killing of more than 70 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) earlier this week at the hands of Maoists in the Dantewada district of Chhatisgarh.

The intensity and justified outrage over the incident makes it feel like India’s version of 9/11, a feeling reinforced by the reactions of the corporate media here. One newspaper said ‘It’s a War’, while another described it as ‘India under Attack.’ The Congress Party has called for the Naxals to be wiped out, while the BJP promises to give a helping hand to the government. The majority of editorials in the leading mainstream newspapers, as well as the debates on the TV channels, have called on the government to get tough against this ‘enemy of the country’ and to ‘root out this menace’ with the army’s help if necessary.

No doubt a strong reaction against such a brutal attack is justified. But why do we need to be so hysterical? And this is a war against whom exactly? Is India under attack by foreign forces? In the war against terror, the US media lost its sense of independence and in effect became a tool of the government. And in India now, the majority of Indian media houses representing the interests of big business–and detached from the reality of the rest of the country–are themselves becoming conformist.

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In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, the spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) Azad calls for ‘a cessation of hostilities’ by both sides (Maoist and the Government), saying such a mutual ceasefire would be ‘an expression of the willingness on the part of both sides engaged in war to create a conducive atmosphere for going to the next step of talks.’

But the government wants a unilateral ceasefire, something which the Maoists are not willing to do as the government’s record in dealing with insurgent groups under ceasefire agreement has not exactly been exemplary. The North East insurgent group, the National Socialist Council of India (NSCN-IM), has had a ceasefire agreement with the government since 1997, but 13 years on, the state has failed to show any imagination in solving their problems.

The government has been using state power and machinery to deal with the Maoists for more than three decades, but the Maoists have grown in leaps and bound and now have infiltrated by some counts 18 out of the country’s 29 states. We have been spending millions of dollars in fighting a movement that claims to represent those sections of the society who even after more than 60 years of independence are deprived of the basic necessities of life.

The mainstream media’s reaction, including to the way they respond to the Maoist struggle, reinforces the sense of disconnect between urban and rural India. We are more concerned about the India that enjoys the benefit of 9 percent growth, but hardly seem to bother about the people who are still living without growth.

Do we want to fight a war against such people? Why does the Indian government force us to face a choice of ‘either with us or against us’?

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