Breaking down news: Through a lens, darkly

Those who were in Delhi in 1984 see striking similarities — allegations that the first attackers were not locals, that the police were missing in action or that the government was completely mute (Express photo: Praveen Khanna)

The only laugh to be had in this grim week is that pursuant to Arnab Goswami sounding off about troublemakers in Delhi trying to detract from the magnificence of the Trump visit, Republic TV sought cannon fodder for a debate on “Western media peddling fake news about India”. The channel, which is frequently called out for disseminating fake news, must be run by a different species altogether — Homo audax, Audacious Man.

Since sapient humans prefer not to watch Republic debates, we missed the show. However, we do know that recently rejected writer Aatish Taseer was invited and declined, since he shared the email correspondence. He dismissed the subject as “ridiculous” and urged Goswami to “try and be a better man”. We also know that Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center in Washington DC rashly appeared on a “far right” channel, perhaps emboldened by the fact that Republic had done a decent interview of him earlier. He found it was “like speaking to a loud, huge, and angry wall”. Republic was also running this internet poll: “Is there a conspiracy to spread violence using CAA as an excuse? Yes/No.” Note that the conspirators are unspecified. Even if you fantasise that pink toads or little green men are behind it, you would click ‘yes’. The false positives would add up and signal public support for a conspiracy theory.

But in principle, Republic is right: there is no such thing as spontaneous public action. Someone primes the pump. Someone else strikes a match. Who are they? Some, like the BJP’s inflammatory Kapil Mishra, are in plain sight. But Kapil Mishras operate in an environment of impunity, which is created by someone else. The pogrom against Sikhs in 1984, the last incident of lethal sectarian violence in Delhi, happened before there were camera phones, the internet and privately owned TV channels. The names of the Congressmen who enabled it were commonly known, but they suffered no consequences until the Vajpayee government instituted the Nanavati Commission. In 2020, we have 20/20 vision everywhere, and it only remains to sift out fakes.

Those who were in Delhi in 1984 are seeing striking similarities — allegations that the first attackers were not locals, that the police, who have been energetic bounders on campuses, were missing in action or failing to intervene. The government which they report to was completely mute until the violence had taken hold. The number of guns which appeared on the streets of the capital both times is simply extraordinary. And state Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (who does not control the police) was most visible at a prayer meet in Rajghat, on the wrong side of the Yamuna. Strikingly, retired police officers seen in various TV debates, irrespective of their political persuasions, insisted that all people offering violence should have been immediately arrested, irrespective of party affiliation. The reluctance to speak and act is significant.

G Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Home — which the Delhi Police reports to — spoke against anti-CAA protesters who were out to diminish the nation precisely when the world’s eyes were on it. “Will Rahul Gandhi take responsibility?” he asked. A perplexing question. Why would Rahul Gandhi who, to the dismay of the Congress, has demitted all responsibility, take any responsibility for anything? Reddy is not alone in discovering a conspiracy to diminish India. On social media, there have even been references to the Chittisinghpura massacre, in which 36 Sikhs were massacred in Anantnag to cloud the visit of Bill Clinton. But that was a terrorist attack, and one fails to detect a correspondence.

Besides, there is no need to call international attention to the anti-CAA protests which have been in progress throughout India. Every media organisation which matters has covered the riots, and this week, it even made the satirical news. On Last Week Tonight (which had premiered with Narendra Modi’s 2014 victory), John Oliver reminded viewers of a strange speech that Donald Trump had made about the Indian Prime Minister last September, when he said that he had brought the nation together like a father, and can be called the “father of India”. Which must be problematic for the estate of another man who “already holds the title”, and at whose ashram Trump stopped off on Monday.