The Secular Reportage They Inflicted: Tracking the English Media Narrative of the 1990s on the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement: An Introduction

The Secular Reportage They Inflicted: Tracking the English Media Narrative of the 1990s on the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement: An Introduction

Outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s remarkable and just judgment on the Sri Ram Mandir episode has finally brought closure to a long and avoidable controversy and has inaugurated a new epoch in the history of Santana civilization. Yet, a section of the Muslim community are stubbornly irrefragable, claiming that “mosque land cannot be given up as per the Sharia” and that the “land of the mosque belongs to Allah and…it cannot be given to anybody.” Barely three decades ago, this section used to be known as the mainstream and their writ had bent the 413 MP-strong Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi down to his knees. Today, their true character as the fringe of a fanatic fringe stands exposed. On the whole, the response of the Muslim community falls in three broad categories: (i) Acceptance or deference to the verdict of the highest court of India (ii) Disappointed resignation (iii) Indifference.

This backdrop is relevant to what follows. The moment the main points of the Ayodhya Judgement of 2019 hit the newswires, it was the entire secular brigade and not the Muslim fanatic fringe that erupted in collective hysteria marked by a mixture of incoherence, insanity and mania. Although this brigade doesn’t deserve it, a compassionate view reveals that their mass derangement is completely understandable: with a single stroke, their cause célèbre had spectacularly exploded before their own eyes; in some cases, this was the work of an entire life dedicated to and built upon an edifice of scurrilous abuse, distortion and deception. The Supreme Court judgement was also that ultimate death blow coming as it did at a time when the fortunes of this soul-deprived brigade have reached an all-time nadir and is only poised to sink further down. The most representative and exhaustive, ongoing record of this schizoid meltdown is available on the website of the Maoist propaganda mouthpiece, The Wire, which boasts of such headlines as:

  1. Ayodhya Judgment and the Legalisation of Hindutva Sovereignty
  2. Five Acres in Lieu of Citizenship
  3. We Now Have to Search for Ram
  4. Ayodhya Verdict: India’s Muslims Sought Dignity, Not Land
  5. This Is Not Closure – It’s a New Beginning for the Forces of Hindutva
  6. How the Babri Masjid Demolition Upended Tenuous Inter-Religious Ties in Pakistan
  7. What Karunanidhi Wrote About Babri Masjid and Ram Temple
  8. The Ayodhya Judgment in India’s Enveloping Darkness
  9. L.K. Advani, the Provocateur in Chief
  10. Every Political Party in India Was Complicit in the Babri Masjid Demolition…                

The pile of this torrid insanity is only mounting even as we write this. However, this verbiage is actually mild only because The Wire is akin to the aforementioned fanatical fringe of a fringe. There used to be a time in the really recent past when the ilk of the writers and speakers at The Wire were actually portrayed as real thinkers, honest writers, and informed opinion-makers.

By opening the gates in 1986 to what was known as the disputed structure in Ayodhya, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi lit the fuse for the encyclopedic bombing of his own party. Of course, the political infant Rajiv Gandhi hadn’t realized the far-reaching, consequential enormity of what he considered was a balancing act: he was only trying to douse the flames he had himself stoked by overturning the Shah Bano judgement. What is more significant in this context is the kind of advisors he had surrounded himself with. They not only led to his calamitous downfall but many of them even subtly orchestrated it because the shrewd ones had understood two key facets of the Prime Minister: he was a thorough political novice and he was incapable of independent thinking. Two powerful factions of his advisors included: (i) the powerful and fundamentalist Muslim clergy (ii) Marxists-Communists-Leftists of various hues who had suffered a temporary setback at the hands of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. For details of how this political theatre played itself out in those days, see Arun Shourie’s These Lethal, Inexorable Laws: Rajiv, His Men and His Regime, and Mrs Gandhi’s Second Reign. It was precisely these two factions that fed off each other and inflicted nearly all-encompassing destruction on the social, spiritual, ethical, and national life of India with the Ayodhya episode as the cynosure of their sick religio-politicking.

The Leftist sewage of India-wreckers and Hindu-haters primarily enacted two roles: one, as the enablers of the intransigent fundamentalism of the Islamic clergy, and two, as their apologists when said fundamentalism expressed itself, often violently, on the ground.

Nowhere was this role more pronounced and visible than in their chokehold over the English media as we shall see in the subsequent episodes.

However, the Left (or its contemporary avatar, “Left-Liberal”) is really good at covering up its countless past crimes even though these crimes have all been well-documented and widely available in the public domain. The Left is good at this because its primary business is that of erasing memories. And this business objective essentially involves control over politics which in turn enables institutional capture. Thus, the unfortunate reality is that, measured in terms of effectiveness and far-reaching impact, all the factual volumes of Voice of India pale in comparison with the continuing Leftist hold over the urban Hindu psyche, which for generations, has been programmed to destroy and devour fellow Hindus.   

Therefore, the role of the Left in sabotaging the Indian freedom struggle, the recurring spates of its organized mass violence, its support for the Razakar massacre of Hindus, its ongoing murders of Hindus in West Bengal and Kerala are all but forgotten in the active public memory of Indians. The same phenomenon is at work in their subversive antics in the media reportage and narrative about the Ayodhya episode.

Three decades is a long time measured by the yardstick of public memory, more so in the byte sized era of the Internet and social media where the longevity of a news report is measured in minutes.  

In this backdrop and given the historical and long-term significance of the Supreme Court’s recent judgement on Ayodhya, The Dharma Dispatch has commissioned a (ongoing) media study project and unearthed some of the most representative evidences of media reportage and behaviour in the run up to the Babri Masjid demolition and for a few months after the mosque was demolished. This media study covers actual ground reportage, op-eds, columns, editorials and some scholarly articles. The scope of our study is restricted to roughly one year or so: the summer of 1992 up to the winter of 1993. That is, roughly around the time the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement began to peak and led to the Babri Masjid’s fall and the narrative thereafter. The aim of the study is to offer a tiny sample of the climate of public discourse of the period. An interested scholar may pursue the entire subject in an unbiased and exhaustive manner.       

However, what is common to and glaringly obvious about the aforementioned media reportage and narrative over the Ayodhya episode is the casual and generous use of loaded, disparaging, and abusive terminology when referring only to the Hindu side. Terms such as “Hindu fundamentalists,” “Hindu militants,” “violent Hindu saints,” “bloodthirsty Sadhus,” “BJP Hindutva brigade,” “rabid Hindu fundamentalists,” “more Nazi than Hitler,” “Bharat? My foot!”, “wrath yatra,”…ooze out of the pores of supposedly objective news reports. This among others is why I remarked that The Wire’s language is comparatively mild. At any rate, we are also greatly aided by a very useful tool to examine and expose the slanted media reportage and narrative of the 1990s over the Ayodhya episode: the verbiage is its own evidence.

For our study, we have chosen illustrative samples from about five or six prominent English media outlets selected at random based on their reach, popularity, influence, and reputation in the public eye of that period.

In the next part, we begin the series with some columns, editorials and op-eds from the (now defunct) Illustrated Weekly of India. In the period under consideration, it was edited by Anil Dharker.

Note: This study has been made possible by the generous contributions of a few well-wishers of The Dharma Dispatch who wish to remain anonymous. We wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to them.

To be continued

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