A critical comparative study of the publicity given to the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Zakia Jafri case and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s “sadbhavna mission” in three major newspapers and a web portal reveals the media’s overwhelming tilt towards the Modi fast, creating a strong public opinion in favour of the BJP leader, almost making him acceptable as the next Prime Ministerial candidate.
The Supreme Court delivered its judgement in the Zakia Jafri case on September 11, 2011, where in it refused to pass any order against the 62 accused including the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The mainstream media started speculating it as a “clean chit” to Mr. Modi and his entry into the national political arena. The verdict was followed by the much-hyped three-day “sadbhavna” fast by Mr. Modi which was extensively covered by the national media.
Stories regularly appeared in the newspapers with regard to the prospects of the Gujarat Chief Minister as the BJP’s next Prime Ministerial candidate. Newspapers filled their space with news and comments on whether the past role of Mr. Modi in the Gujarat riots was significant to his political future anymore given the fact that the Supreme Court refused to hear the case against him. At a point, it felt like much of the confusion was deliberately created by some sections of the media and that the misconceived proclamation of a clean chit to Mr. Modi was timed with the release of Wikileaks cable exalting his credentials for becoming the next Prime Minister.
On the other hand, during the course of ‘sadbhavna’ fast, stories related to the supposed redemption of the Gujarat Chief Minister and his renewed attempt to woo the minorities found its place in most of the newspapers. The media also tried to sense the reaction of the minorities after the Supreme Court verdict that reflected in the news of disappointments as well as in the news of hopes. But overall the confusion on the future of Narendra Modi and justice for the minorities of Gujarat lingered on in most of the news pieces.
A comparative study has been done on three mainline dailies and one website with regard to the coverage of the Zakia Jafri case and Mr. Modi’s sadbhavna fast.While some newspaper emphasised the sense of disappointment just after the court verdict, some had emphasised more on the change-of-heart in the Gujarat Chief Minister. It was found that the confusion around the SC verdict and Mr. Modi’s future could have been avoided if newspapers had emphasised more on the legal aspects of the news rather than its political implications.
I have taken three mainline dailies: The Hindu, Hindustan Times
(HT), Economic Times
(ET), and one community news website, www.twocircles.net
, and analysed all the stories published in them concerning the Zakia Jafri case and Mr. Modi’s sadbhavna fast between September 11 and September 30, 2011. The purpose for choosing the Economic Times
lies in the fact that it is known as “India’s largest financial daily”.www.twocircles.net
is a community web portal which usually focuses on the issues concerning the Muslims of India.
Coverage of the two cases
n the quantitative analysis of the news stories, op-eds and editorials published on the Zakia Jafri case and the sadbhavna mission, a clear trend emerged. The Hindu
carried 18 stories on the SC verdict on Zakia Jafri case, Economic Times
11, Hindustan Times
19 and www.twocircles.net
13 stories. As for the sadbhavna mission, 56 stories appeared in The Hindu
, 65 in
Newspapers & Website
Coverage of Zakia Jafri Case(Number of stories, articles, editorials etc)
Coverage of Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavna mission(Number of stories, articles, editorials etc.)
, 97 in Hindustan Times
and a total of 40 stories on www.twocircles.net.
In the case of The Hindu
the coverage given to Mr. Modi’s Sadbhavna mission was three times more than for the Zakia Jafri case. In the Hindustan Times
and the Economic Times
it was five and six times higher respectively.
The findings are:
Supreme Court verdict in Zakia Jafri case
The verdict was reported in a way that it created confusion in the minds of the people. In these three mainline dailies and the website, we can find substantial differences in the headlines and in the content of the reports.
1. The Hindu- Trial Court must hear riot charges against Modi: Supreme Court
2. Economic Times- Narendra Modi: SC ask SIT to place final report before trial court on 2002 post Godhra riots
3. Hindustan Times-SC order brings Gujarat riots back to political centre stage
The Hindu, by using the word ‘must’ in the headline emphasised on the alleged involvement of Narendra Modi in the riots, whereas Hindustan Times has greatly focussed on the political repercussions of the verdict.
The analysis of the content in the reports mentioned above showed that among the three mainline dailies and the community web portal, ET has highlighted the verdict supposedly in favour of Narendra Modi. Unlike others, ET while reporting that Supreme Court discontinued monitoring the case, in the first paragraph of its news said, “...in a development widely seen as a victory for chief minister Narendra Modi, who has battled charges of complicity in the riots even as he swept successive elections to stay at the helm of the state since 2001.”
The news published by The Hindu concentrated on the legal aspects of the caseand, unlike other newspapers, quoted section 173(2) of the Cr.PC thrice and section 173(8) of the Cr.PC twice to stress that the matter is yet to be over.
Hindustan Times stated that the SC verdict “gave Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi some relief, but no clean chit yet,” and further said the matter was far from over by saying, “This direction is likely to lead to another round of litigation, providing Zakia another opportunity to make Modi a party in the case - though this could take years. The CM would then have to personally defend himself against the allegations.”
The first news story published in www.twocircles.net
relating to the SC verdict is a balanced one and has stressed both the legal and political implications of the ruling. However www.twocircles.net
published another story with the headline “Will a trial court in Gujarat ever prosecute Modi”? on the same day when it expressed serious hopelessness with the legal system of Gujarat. It took the SC verdict in a clearly pessimistic manner which is evident in the first sentence of this news which says, “Given the way the judiciary in Gujarat has handled the riot cases in last nine years, one can hardly believe that a trial court in the state will be able to prosecute BJP chief minister Narendra Modi.”
Modi’s three-day sadbhavna mission fast
In the presence of top BJP leaders and other NDA partners, Narendra Modi started his three-day fast to launch “sadbhavna mission” from September 17, 2011 which he declared would end the “destructive politics of vote bank” and bring peace, unity, and harmony in Gujarat.
Bolstered by the U.S Congressional Report which praised the administration of Narendra Modi and touted him as future Prime Ministerial candidate, this particular decision by him of launching the “sadbhavna mission” by holding a three-day fast had been termed by most of the media as image-makeover exercise. The number of news items that appeared in the three dailies and the web portal have showed that regardless of whatever impact the “sadbhavna mission” had on the national psyche, Mr. Modi was anyway successful in hogging the limelight through constant media coverage of the event.
Economic Times gave an extensive coverage to this event. A total of 65 news items were published in it which were directly or indirectly related to the “sadbhavna mission” fast. Most of the reports that appeared in it during the fast also greatly focussed on the U.S Congressional Report praising Mr. Modi’s administration and the future battle between him and Rahul Gandhi for the role of Prime Minister.
ET, throughout its coverage of the “sadbhavna mission”, was less critical of Mr. Modi and mostly stayed away from focusing on his role and legal culpability in the Gujarat riot cases.
On September 17, an article written by Harish Mehta and Yogesh Pareek appeared in ET, which completely focussed on the growing acceptance of Narendra Modi among the Muslims of Gujarat. Nowhere in it were the views from the other Muslim groups who were opposed to the fast and were criticalof Mr. Modi’s motive. The article ended with the following sentence: “Meanwhile, Muslims of Raikhad and Jamalpur areas will cut a cake to celebrate Modi's birthday on Saturday. They will also donate 61 bottles of blood to mark the CM's 61st birthday.”
Another news story was published in ET on September 18 with the headline, “Narendra Modi: Censure and praise on social networking for Modi”. The entire news piece mostly focussed on the huge public support Mr. Modi garnered on the social media on the first day of his fast.
Though Hindustan Times published the most number of stories on the “sadbhavna mission”, it was highly critical of his role in the Gujarat riots and time and again questioned his motives in its coverage. One of the news stories by Nagender Sharma appeared in the HT on September 20 which covered the negative comments made by Ex-CJIs such as Justice JS Verma and Justice VN Khare on the “sadbhavna mission” of Mr.Modi. This news report quoted the NHRC report slamming the attitude of the Gujarat administration led by Mr. Modi to provide justice to the riot victims in the following words: “The NHRC report presented at the UN meet had slammed the Gujarat government for its failure to curb riots and provide relief. “Almost 90% of those arrested for heinous crimes including murder and arson have managed to get bail…,”.
In another story called “Makeover that wasn’t” by Shekhar Iyer and Mahesh Laga on September 20, it was pointed out repeatedly that unless Mr. Modi accepts his “genuine mistakes” about the 2002 riots, it’s hard for him to push for “his quick transformation as a moderate leader, if he intended to...”
On September 19, HT hosted an article “Going on a farce” by CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechury in which he compared Mr. Modi’s “sadbhavna mission” as “cat after devouring hundreds of rats proceeds on a pilgrimage to seek atonement”. Given the political ideology of Mr. Yechury , he was highly critical of Mr. Modi in this article and pointed out the latter’s failure in the reconciliatory efforts for the riot victims even after so many years. “Apart from the deaths, the ghastly rapes and the maiming of thousands, even after nearly a decade, there are 21,448 internally displaced people in Gujarat living in 45 camps over 11 districts”, Mr. Yechury wrote in his article to highlight his views.
In another article, “Modi Paradox”, published in the comments section of HT, the role of 2002 riots in determining the political future of Mr. Modi was highlighted in the following words: “Without a judicial closure, Mr. Modi’s attempts to keep the ‘good bits’ and exorcise the ‘bad bits’ will be as successful as trying to separate the ‘upstairs’ and the ‘downstairs’ from a flight of stairs.”
The Hindu published a total of 56 news items to cover the “sadbhavna mission” of Mr.Modi.Most of the news focussed on the political nature of the event. The first news item that appeared in this newspaper on September 17 with regard to this much- hyped event was headlined “Modi holds fast with eye on national political stage”.
Another news story was published the next day, which said that Mr. Modi had avoided questions on his moral responsibility for the riots and shot back at the media persons saying that they “are always looking for gossip and if you (media) like a lie, you stretch it to any extent”.
On September 17, the story of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha deputing two nominees- AIADMK’s floor leaders in Parliament M.Thambidurai and V.Maitreyan - to the fast being undertaken by Mr. Modi as part of his “sadbhavna mission” appeared in The Hindu. The story mainly focussed on the AIADMK party’s strong support for the controversial leader.
The community web portal, www.twocircles.net
, in its coverage of the “sadbhavna mission” was highly critical of Mr. Modi and more than often it made reference to his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The web portal also highlighted that the mission had failed to achieve what it aimed at and even at the end of the event nobody seriously considered Mr. Modi as the future Prime Ministerial candidate. In the news story published on September 19 with the headline “Despite grand show, few takers for Modi as future PM”, it wrote: “The BJP is helping build "brand Modi" butconflicts within the party send another message entirely about the leader, held responsible for the 2002 riots that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in his state. The sectarian violence and its aftermath still cast a dark shadow, making Modi unacceptable to many across the political spectrum despite his image as an able administrator.”
The web portal also reported such news pieces in which several Muslim organisations criticised Narendra Modi for launching this mission with the stated aim to promote “communal harmony” and called it “political tamasha”.
The comparative study of these three mainline dailies and this web portal showed how media offers different perspectives of the same thing. It also pointed out how deeply the media is involved in the process of creating public opinion through specific selection of particular contexts and angles of news. It is the duty of the media to not only inform but also educate the public. Except The Hindu
, the dailies under study and the www.twocirles.net
did not attempt to explain the niceties attached to Section 173(2) and 173(8) of the Cr.P.C which was referred to by the Supreme Court in the verdict on Zakia Jafri case. This acts of omission on the part of these media agencies either created a rosy picture for the Modi sympathisers that Supreme Court had cleared him of riot charges, or formed negative opinion in the mind of the minority community that there was no way that Mr. Modi could be implicated for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots of 2002. There are no two legal implications of the SC verdict on Zakia Jafri case but its political impact on the future of Narendra Modi had been debated in many ways by the different sections of the media.
The three dailies and the web portal extensively covered the “sadbhavna mission”, and the coverage was much more than that ofthe Supreme Court verdict on the Zakia Jafri case. Even in this case, whereas the media agencies during the coverage of this mission should have focussed more on the reconciliatory efforts of the Gujarat government towards the riot victims, they got involved more on reporting the change-of-heart in the Muslims of Gujarat or on commenting whether Mr. Modi’s refusal to wear the skull cap during the mission would affect his political ambitions. Regrettably, the dailies and the web portal, by giving more coverage to the “sadbhavna mission” than to the SC verdict, silently injected the myth into the public psyche that the verdict must have given some reasons to Narendra Modi to flaunt himself as someone with a bright political future. The debate and discussion on the chances of Narendra Modi becoming the next Prime Minister continued and somehow the verdict apparently became a matter of the past.