Bias in media coverage
In December 2012, a young woman was raped in a moving bus in Delhi, severely injured and ultimately died despite the best medical care possible. The media, especially the electronic media, went berserk. Street protests took place all over India and, in Delhi, a grave law and order situation developed. In all the media coverage I did not find a single person who supported rape as being legitimate.
Let us track forward to May 25, 2013. A convoy of senior Congress leaders of Chhattisgarh who had gone to Sukma in the Bastar division for a legitimate political rally was attacked on the way back by a large group of heavily armed Naxalites. The 30 policemen escorting the convoy fought back, but ran out of ammunition and were overwhelmed. Veteran Congress leader Vidya Charan Shukla was hit by three bullets and thrown by the Naxalites on the road as dead. His security officer fought to the last bullet, which he used to commit suicide out of shame that he was now not in a position to protect Shukla. The Naxalites killed a total of 28 people, including policemen, but their main target was the Congress leaders. Nandkumar Patel, the state Congress chief, and his son were led into the forest and shot dead; a former MLA, Uday Mudaliar, and sitting MLA Laxman Karma were both killed and Mahendra Karma, the former home minister of Chhattisgarh, was pulled out, identified and virtually stabbed to death with his face and upper torso mutilated severely.
The only person to escape was Ajit Jogi, who had travelled to and from Sukma by helicopter. At some appropriate time a question should be asked why the same helicopter could not ferry the other top Congress leaders. At one fell blow virtually the entire senior leadership of the Congress has been wiped out in Chhattisgarh. The Naxalites have now threatened to kill chief minister Raman Singh’s associates for participating in his Vikas Yatra. How much the Naxalites represent tribal interest is proved by the fact that they feel threatened by a Vikas Yatra and Parivartan Yatra, both politically aimed at the betterment of the tribals.
The Naxalites are not fighting for the tribals. They are trying to annihilate the Indian state and are in a state of war with the Indian union. They are murderers and one sees no reason why they should be treated as anything else. Any sympathy for them is totally misplaced because how can one sympathise with people who kill 76 policemen in one ambush, the top leaders of a political party in another and, as has happened in one case in Dantewada, a contractor who had already paid them Rs 20 lakh as protection money.
I started this article with a reference to the role of the media in the Delhi rape case. In exposing various financial and other crimes committed by government and by organisations such as the cricketing establishment the media has played a commendable role. Then, why is it that when it comes to terrorism and Naxalite terrorism in particular the media is playing a role which gives the supporters of the rebels a platform to air not only their political views but also their justification for murder and worse? The supporters are people such as Agnivesh, the Sen couple, Nandini Sundar, Prof. Hargopal. I know Bastar because it was a part of my beat and because my brother has been both DC and commissioner in the good old days. This is not an article on Bastar and tribal grievances, if any, but in all my extensive tours of the district I have never come across more lovable or peaceable tribals than the various shades of Gonds residing in that region. This includes the Maryas, Mudiyas, Dandami Maryas and hill Maryas of the Abujmarh.
In a follow-up article I will comment on the people of Bastar and its problems, but land is certainly not one of them. The Naxalite leadership in Bastar consists of non-tribals from elsewhere, especially Telangana where the Andhra Pradesh police brought them under immense pressure so that they have moved into Bastar and into Chandrapur and Gadhchiroli districts of Maharashtra. Vidya Charan Shukla’s driver pleaded with the Naxalite leaders in Telugu and more or less convinced them that he was Telugu-speaking and that Shukla was actually a businessman. That is why both the driver and the master suffered bullet injuries but were not killed on the spot. The Gonds of Bastar speak Gondi and, therefore, the fact that the driver spoke to the Naxalites in Telugu more or less proves that the leaders at least were not from Bastar.
One thing we were taught in the IAS when I joined in 1957 was never to lose one’s presence of mind, never to succumb to anger, never to react to situations with emotion. But when I heard Nandini Sundar and Prof. Hargopal defend these murderers after the Darbha Ghati killings I almost felt like taking a gun and shooting these people, as also the television anchors who gave them time and space. If these killers were justified in what they did, why did we hang Kasab and Afzal Guru? My plea is that while this country can never accept censorship the media has to be selective in giving space and time to persons who are advocating the overthrow of the Indian State and actively justifying murder. How would the media react if people who favour rape were to ask for equal time?
The only member of the police force in India whom certain TV channels seem to favour is Kiran Bedi who, even in the case of Bastar, was spouting away like a geyser overflowing. The only time that she ever served in an afforested state where at one time there was an insurgency is when she was posted as DIG in Mizoram. She ran away from that state post-haste. She knows nothing whatsoever about jungle warfare or operating in a hilly and densely afforested region such as Bastar. If the media wants expert police opinion I would suggest that they call A N Pathak, IPS, who retired as DGP, Madhya Pradesh, and who ran a very successful anti-Naxalite operation in Bastar as zonal IGP. The media should also invite Narendra Prasad, IPS, who, as additional DGP intelligence, ran a very successful operation against the Naxalites. He also has hands-on experience of commanding a battalion of the Madhya Pradesh Special Armed Force in Nagaland when insurgency was at its height. The Thirteenth Battalion, SAF, was not ambushed successfully even once by the Nagas because it developed a high skill in dealing with guerilla warfare. These are officers who can comment on anti-Naxalite operations with a high degree of knowledge and experience. Let Kiran Bedi confine herself to traffic management in Delhi.
M N Buch, a former civil servant, is chairman, National Centre for Human Settlements and Environment, Bhopal;