One of the famous mythological stories is of Yudhisthir’s half-truth that got his teacher Dronacharaya killed and made him go to hell to atone for deception.
“Ashvatthama is dead, not man but elephant,” the eldest Pandava said in the middle of the battle. Since the second part of his statement was drowned out by the noise from the Pandava camp, convinced that Dharmaraj Yudhisthir doesn’t lie, Dronacharaya gave up his weapons in grief. The unarmed teacher was immediately decapitated by the Pandavas.
Since Monday morning, poet-turned-politician Kumar Vishwas is being tried publicly for an ‘illicit relationship’ in studios and on social media. Unfortunately, the media, who like Yudhisthir, is expected to tell the truth, is drowning it under its own shrill voice. The fiasco is a reminder that mythology can never be history; it is repeated as a farce in Indian politics.
Vishwas has been summoned by the Delhi women’s commission for not ‘denying rumours’ of an extra-marital affair. Prima-facie there is something really comical about being served a notice for not ‘denying’ a rumour. How is Vishwas supposed to do that, especially when he is himself a victim of the campaign? Is he expected to shout from rooftops, run from one channel to another, twitter handle to handle, share his mann ki baat on radio, carry out a padyatra or forcefully zip up every mouth? Only in a dark comedy can a person be grilled for not doing enough to stop his own face from being blackened.
“I want Vishwas to come out and deny rumours of an extra-marital affair. His words can save my marriage,” the purported victim of the smear campaign is telling TV channels. But, in the Mahabharata of politics, the two crucial words--deny and rumours—have been stifled by the chatter in studios and on social media. What has emerged in the end is the misleading headline: ‘Vishwas in trouble for illicit relations.’
When lies are spun off as half-truths, they give credence to Arvind Kejriwal’s allegation that the media is after him, that there is a conspiracy to finish off his party; and that there should be a public trial of the media.
“A very large section of the media has accepted 'supari' for finishing off AAP. There can be a public trial. There can be 8-10 spots in Delhi where we can collect a group of people and show the erroneous clip. That way we can start a 'janta ka trial. If you see a channel shows a factually wrong report, take the channel's name and bring it forward,” Kejriwal said on Sunday.
Kejriwal should be the last person complaining against the media. His formative years in politics were spent in TV studios, holding press conferences in which he demolished the reputations of the likes of Robert Vadra, Nitin Gadkari and Salman Khurshid, sometimes without a lot of convincing evidence. As a combative tyro in politics, Kejriwal perfected the art of lobbing allegations live on TV channels, staying in the news cycle and benefitted immensely from it.
Mango man in a banana republic, India’s premier jamai raja had cried after being targeted by the jugalbandi of Kejriwal’s voice and media’s chorus. It is ironic that the aam aadmi chief has a similar grouse against the media and calls it bikau (just like the abusive, cantankerous followers of the BJP), recipients of contracts (supari) for killing his party. Kejriwal rode the media tiger when he needed it most to race past his opponents; now he is afraid it is trying to devour him.
Kejriwal’s diatribe against the media, though slammed by both the Congress and the BJP, is almost similar to General (retd) VK Singh’s unflattering neologism and the ongoing campaign against Indian media in Nepal. In a strange coincidence, the rightwingers and their leaders, AAP followers and their CM and people of a neighbouring country all share the same opinion of the media.
Much as the critics of media houses and journalists would like to us believe, it is difficult to believe that they can collectively act as ‘supari takers’ or can be bought off. In India, there are so many competing news channels, newspapers and websites—some are fiercely opposed to each other--that it is difficult to believe they can all come together as co-conspirators for a hatchet job.
So, what exactly is the problem? Dr Prannoy Roy, co-founder of NDTV, has an answer: “Indian media today lives and thrives in what I call a "punishment-free" environment. We can say what we like, defame whoever we like, make false accusations against whoever we like - and nothing happens to us. Our defamation cases take 20 years to settle - and even then, the verdict has rarely punished any media house.
The result is we are getting slack - forget research, we don't even need to check our facts, we don't care if we wrongly defame anyone - the bottom line is we are dropping our standards. If this decline in quality continues, three years from now, Indian media will have no credibility left,” he argued at a recent function to felicitate him.
Vishwas will agree.