Hardly ten days after appearing over the moon by President Obama’s visit, the Indian media took a volte-face.
In the wake of US President’s recent visit to India, the Obama-Modi ‘bromance’ hogged the headlines of Indian media. The relentless coverage of the visit was euphoric with banners like, “A Parade of deep friendship” (Economic Times, Jan 25- 2015).
The Hindustan Times fronted “Obamas turn on charm at Rashtrapati Bhavan”. The national news magazine India Today carried a cover story titled “Reunited States”. The prominent television news channels of India hyped every moment of US President during his 52-hour stay in India.
One of the Indian English news channels did a special broadcast “Obama’s India visit” on the eve of republic day, repeatedly scrolling-“Republic Day Pageantry awaits Obama”. All the news channels glorified Obama-Modi friendship, reporting even the small details like chat over a cup of tea and talking of leaders on first name terms.
Hardly ten days after appearing over the moon by President Obama’s visit, the Indian media took a volte-face. One of the familiar presenters of the English news channel that had a special broadcast on Obama, ridiculed US President by fuming on air, “Stop giving lectures to us, mind your own business”.
Many other television news channels and national newspapers castigated Obama for his address at the high-profile National Prayer Breakfast wherein he had remarked that the “acts of intolerance” experienced by religious faiths of all types in the past few years in India would have shocked Mahatama Gandhi.
The harsh response from Indian media was triggered because of this comment.
Incidentally, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian nation, also happens to be the victim of religious intolerance. In 1948, a Hindu radical Nathuram Godse killed Gandhi on the pretext of Gandhi’s obliging approach towards Muslims of India.
Since the rise of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in India, Gandhi’s assassin is being portrayed as a ‘hero’.
Sakshi Mahraj, an Indian Parliamentarian from BJP, hailed Nathuram Godse as a “patriot”. Even a fundamental Hindu nationalist political organization Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha (All India Hindu Assembly) has identified places in Indian cites of Meerut, Sitapur and Lucknow to construct a temple dedicated to murderer of Gandhi (The Hindu- Dec 30, 2014).
In addition, the party has decided to celebrate 30th January, the day of killing of Gandhi, as Shaurya Divas (Bravery day) in respect and honor to ‘martyr’ Godse.
The party has also installed Godse’s bust at its central office in New Delhi (The Hindu- Jan 30, 2015). Moreover, the party has made a documentary named Desh Bhakt Nathuram Godse (Patriot Nathuram Godse) that projects Godse as a patriot and Gandhi as anti-Hindu (The Hindu- Jan 21, 2015).
From anti-Sikh riots in 1984 to Muslim carnage in Gujarat 2002 to Christian killings in Kandamal in 2008, India has a history of horrific instances of religious intolerance.
However, ever since the formation of new government in India, religious tolerance is declining. Issues like “homecoming”, religious conversions and continuous attacks on religious places of minorities is causing discord among the people and is flaring up communal tension.
Obviously, the lesson of religious and racial intolerance stands true for scores of other nations including United States. President Barak Obama is on board saying “Racism, Bias in US Will Take Time to Tackle” (The New York Times- Dec 7, 2014).
In a recent incident, a 57-year-old Indian Sureshbhai Patel got partially paralyzed in the US when a police officer forced him on ground after receiving report of a “suspicious person” looking into the garages of several homes (Hindustan Times- 12 Feb, 2015).
Just a few days after this incident, three persons were gunned down in North Carolina— a newlywed couple and the bride’s sister. They were young university students, Muslims of Arab descent, and high achievers who regularly volunteered in the area.
The victims’ families described it as a hate crime (New York Times-11 Feb, 2015,). However, the reporting pattern of these two events by Indian media was different.
Many of the news channels reported the incident of Indian elderly as an example of racism in US and covered the news exhaustively by attacking Obama, whilst the killing of three Muslim students in US was reported as simple news of killing out of “dispute over parking”.
Of course, advice by Obama is equally relevant for a nation like US.
However, keeping in view the recent Obama-Modi bonhomie, coupled with the escalating communal violence and hate speeches in India, the comment on religious intolerance in India by President Obama ought to be taken positively by Indian media as well as its politicians.
They say a friend indeed is the one who has a right to observation for your good. It needs not to be taken as an ‘intrusion in internal matters’.
India and its swarming media should rather respect the opinion of a friend gracefully and convince the world community for their efforts in maintaining the democratic and secular nature of the nation.
The intolerance displayed by Indian media towards the discourse of tolerance sounds unnatural. All the more so, when the discourse is set off by an ‘adored’ friend.
One cannot renounce friends overnight! It seems Indian media has to re-learn lessons of both friendship and journalism.