Janmabhumi takes on Mathrubhumi: BJP mouthpiece in Kerala tries to cash in on 'Meesha' row, campaigns against daily
Groups had protested against 'Meesha' for portraying Hindu women as 'sex objects', and the Mathrubhumi magazine had published excerpts from the novel.
Since a moderate leader with a secular image was appointed the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Kerala unit, the hardliners in the outfit have been finding it difficult to pursue their aggressive Hindutva agenda. But the Hindutva lobby received a "manna from heaven" after Malayalam magazine Mathrubhumi published an excerpt from Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award-winner S Harish's novel Meesha, meaning moustache.
The campaign, first against the novel and now against Mathrubhumi, has sowed the seeds of a fierce Hindu consolidation that the BJP hopes will give it rich dividends in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, in which it aims to win 12 of the 20 seats in the state.
Interestingly, neither the BJP nor other Sangh Parivar outfits are anywhere in the picture in this case. A few units of the Nair Service Society (NSS) — a socio-cultural organisation of the upper-caste Nair community — is spearheading the campaign outside Kerala.
Curiously, a few state units of the NSS have distanced themselves from the campaign. Some have even expressed solidarity with Mathrubhumi.
The Delhi unit of the NSS is at the forefront of the campaign against the Mathrubhumi group of publications. They entered the scene after the magazine discontinued the serialised novel after right-wing outfits threatened the author and his family and protested against Meesha.
In such cases, protestors usually vent out their ire by burning the publication or attacking the publisher's offices. Mathruhubmi had faced such protests in September 2015, after it had published a series of columns by well-known writer MM Basheer on the Ramayana, as well as in March 2016, when it had reproduced an "offensive" comment on Prophet Muhammad in the AppsTalk section of the newspaper.
While the protests against Basheer's column died down after the daily stopped the series, it had to tender an open apology to quell the controversy triggered by radical Muslim outfits, such as the Popular Front of India and the Social Democratic Party of India, against the comment on the Prophet.
NSS Delhi kicked off the campaign by calling for a boycott of all of Mathrubhumi's publications. Its president MKG Pillai claimed that the decision to boycott the publication was made unanimously at a meeting in Delhi of various Hindu organisations.
"The novel has brought disrepute to all Hindu women who go to temples to pray to the almighty for the betterment of their family and society. The participants at the meeting expressed anguish over the refusal by the Mathrubhumi editor to tender an apology for insulting Hindu women," Pillai said in a statement.
Janmabhumi, the BJP's Malayalam mouthpiece that has been struggling to survive in the highly-competitive Kerala market, has grabbed the opportunity by launching a separate campaign titled "From Mathrubhumi to Janmabhumi". With this campaign launched on the Facebook, it has appealed to the Hindu readers of Mathrubhumi to switch to the BJP publication.
Taking the campaign to the streets, the daily's circulation department has fielded right-wing activists for door-to-door canvassing to boost Janmabhumi's readership. Messages shared through social media said their aim was to bring about a two-lakh drop in the circulation of Mathrubhumi. They claimed that the newspaper's circulation had already reduced by 50,000 since the controversy erupted.
The BJP daily has appealed to its supporters to ensure that Mathrubhumi's loss is Janmabhumi's gain. It has listed the telephone numbers of its agents in all districts on social media to enable Mathrubhumi readers to subscribe to the mouthpiece.
Janmabhumi's circulation manager has claimed that the newspaper's circulation had increased in all regions, and that they were finding it difficult to meet the additional demand in the absence of agents in several places.
KR Pramod, a spokesperson for the Mathrubhumi group of publications, admitted that the count of the copies sold had dropped since the campaign was launched, but Mathrubhumi has no immediate plans to launch a counter campaign.
"We are waiting and watching," Pramod said. "We are confident that those who have cancelled the subscription to our daily will realise the motive of the forces behind the campaign and return to the paper they have been reading for generations. Many have come forward to support us."
Mathrubhumi Managing Director MP Veerendrakumar said the campaign against the daily was because of the strong stand it has taken on various subjects. He asserted that the newspaper, which is going to celebrate its centenary in five years, will not be cowed down by threats and intimidation, and that Mathrubhumi had survived all the attacks it had faced in its 95-year existence.
"The people who ran the newspaper were not merely journalists," he had said. "They had fought for the freedom of the country and renaissance of the society. Many of them had gone to jail in the battle for freedom. Mathrubhumi will continue to fight for the country and its people," Veerendrakumar said.
The BJP has denied any involvement in the campaign, though it is its direct beneficiary. Party spokesperson MS Kumar said that neither the party nor the Sangh Parivar could be blamed for the social media campaign against the daily.
“The portrayal of Hindu women as an object of sex has pained the entire community," the BJP leader said. "We too share their concerns. They have vented their anger on social media. They have their right to protest. We cannot prevent them."
Writers and social critics have called the campaign a direct attack on the freedom of the press. Noted poet Sachidanandan said it was also an attack on the rights of the people to read what they want to, and that the move against the Mathrubhumi was part of the countrywide hate campaign unleashed by the Sangh Parivar.
"The current rulers are afraid of the freedom of press, which brings the truth to the people. They are trying to 'buy' publications that criticise them and silence the others through threats and intimidation. It's part of the Sangh Parivar's attempts to 'saffronise' all institutions of the country," the poet said.
Sachidanandan added that he was surprised to see this kind of intolerance gaining ground in Kerala, as the state had made great social advancements with various renaissance movements led by reformers such as Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali.
Writer and social critic Professor MN Karassery is amazed by the entry of business interests in the campaign, referring to the Janmabhumi campaign. "One can understand people protesting against works of art. Such protests are democratic, and no one will object to them. But some trying to cash in on such protests is beyond my comprehension," he said.
Karassery said it was disturbing to see the strange cocktail of religion, politics and business developing in Kerala, warning of the dangerous ramifications this trend could have in future.
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