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RSS-BJP writers as columnists

Updated on: 03 April,2023 07:09 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

Since the saffron party swept to power in 2014, 640 opinion pieces by its members have appeared in three national newspapers. This is the reason the Opposition carps about the media

RSS-BJP writers as columnists

Ram Nath Kovind, Narendra Modi and Ram Madhav

Ajaz AshrafThe late Vinod Mehta, during his editorship of Outlook, where I worked for 12 years, evolved a strategy following Income Tax raids on the magazine’s proprietor during the A B Vajpayee government. He began commissioning pieces from writers in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party at a greater frequency than previously. This was, as he told us, to ensure he had people in the BJP to intercede on the magazine’s behalf in inevitable conflicts with the government.

Call it the fear factor that every editor must countenance.

In order to read the barometer of fear today, I trawled the archives of three national newspapers—The Times of India, The Indian Express and Hindustan Times—for days, checking on who from the RSS-BJP wrote for them—and how often. The exercise was cumbersome: the index of writers seemed incomplete, prompting me to search the internet for writers who I remembered had written for them. I did not include The Hindu as politician-writers are few and far between in it.

Venkaiah Naidu and R S PrasadVenkaiah Naidu and R S Prasad

I excluded Swapan Dasgupta and M J Akbar from my search. They were journalists for many years before they underwent a metamorphosis. But I did include journalist Balbir Punj, who remained in the Sangh and went on, later, to hold important posts in the BJP, apart from twice representing the party in the Rajya Sabha. This preamble is to underscore that the numbers I compiled on RSS-BJP columnists are lower than what they would be in reality. Yet, this helps to read the barometer of fear operating in Indian media today—or to figure out the degree of imbalance in journalism.

Also Read: Will our democracy survive Modi?

Since May 2014, when the BJP swept into power, its members have altogether written 640 opinion pieces over approximately 3,000 days. This means a piece from the RSS-BJP stable was being published in one of the three newspapers every fifth day. Of the 640 pieces, IE accounted for 337, HT 97 and TOI 206. IE’s figures are high partly because its archive is the best among the three. Its opinion pages are vibrant—proprietors and editors fear a backlash only when they speak out against the government.

I found that 399 of the 640 pieces, or 62.34 per cent, mention Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his government at least once. In one piece, RSS leader Ram Madhav mentions Modi 20 times, in another 18 times. Former President Ram Nath Kovind referred to Modi 22 times in just one piece written, thankfully, after he demitted office. Union Minister Bhupender Yadav did so 21 times in an article. Most BJP spokespersons possess a sycophantic inclination to needlessly repeat Modi’s name in their pieces.

Guess they owe it to Modi for turning them into writers. Since May 2014, Madhav has written 101 pieces for IE, 25 for HT and six for TOI. The IE index of authors shows he began writing only in May 2014. Former Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu has written 68 pieces across the three newspapers, Bhupender Yadav 34, MP Dr Rakesh Sinha 31 for IE, for which former minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has penned 22. Spokesperson Anil Baluni has 26 bylines for IE and his colleague 
Shehzad Poonawalla 20 for TOI.

Modi has written 18 pieces for TOI and nine for HT. Home Minister Amit Shah has written 12 pieces for TOI and two for IE, one an extract from his speech. Shah credits all that is good in India to Modi. Generous and cute, right? Seventeen out of the 30 Cabinet ministers have written for TOI.

It’s hard to figure out whether editors accept articles from RSS-BJP writers out of their fear of offending them, or whether they commission them to send pieces. Journalist Harish Khare, in How Modi Won It: Notes from the 2014 Elections, writes: “It seems the onset of the election schedule has emboldened media professionals to come out of the closet.” Khare is suggesting that journalists are ideologically Sanghis. This is difficult to prove.

But the rush among media outlets to publish RSS-BJP writers certainly creates an uneven playing ground for the Opposition. Sure, P Chidambaram has a column, as does Derek O’Brien. Shashi Tharoor’s byline appears frequently. But balance demands that media outlets should have published 640 pieces of Opposition leaders, or at least 500, during the last eight years. That has not happened.

The unfair advantage accruing to the BJP is the reason the Opposition carps about the media. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was recently criticised for being brusque with a journalist at a press conference. The video recording of the press conference shows Gandhi was first asked what he thought of the BJP’s charge that the remark for which he was convicted for defamation was an insult to the OBCs; he answered it. Next came the question about Congress Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel doing “dhanda”—widely considered a derogatory term—with the Adanis; Gandhi replied. He lost his temper at the question regarding the ‘OBC insult’ being tossed at 
him again. Gandhi, unlike Modi, has never shied away from holding pressers. Yet journos seem disdainful of those who are democratic—or out of power. This partially explains the mushrooming of columnists from the Sangh stable.

The numbers speak for themselves

. RSS-BJP columnists have written 640 pieces since May 2014
. Indian Express accounted for 337, Hindustan Times 97, The Times of India 206
. 62.34% mention PM or his government at least once
. A column of RSS-BJP writers appears every 5th day in 1 of 3 national newspapers
. Ram Nath Kovind mentioned Modi maximum no. of times in a single piece: 22

Leader    No. of pieces written
Narendra Modi    27
Ravi Shankar Prasad    32 
Bhupender Yadav    35
Venkaiah Naidu    66 
Ram Madhav    132 

The writer is a senior journalist

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