Media, gossip and rumours

Inspector Montalbano has a communist friend, Niccolo Zito, who helps him reveal the levels of determinations behind a death by disrupting its unproblematic nature with his discussions about its circumstances. His interventions are highly intellectual. In the very first novel in this series, The Shape of Water, Zito, who is a critical media man, provides a very pertinent lesson on the function of media, and the disruptive role of rumours. This is particularly crucial for our age when media led by social media has become a technology to morph a news into a gossip. Here, we must underline the hush-hush nature of rumours, which is very different from the chirpiness of gossip, that we find in social media and the internet world.

“The quickest way to make people forget a scandal is to talk about it as much as possible, on television, in the papers, and so on. Over and over you flog the same dead horse, and pretty soon people start getting fed up. “They’re really dragging this out!” they say. “Haven’t we had enough?” After a couple of weeks the saturation effect is such that nobody wants to hear another word about that scandal…. If on the other hand, you hush everything up, the silence itself starts to talk, rumours begin to multiply out of control until you can’t stop them any more.(114-115)


“Admiring a flawed Gandhi”

Salil Tripathi correctly finds irony in the ads in the Danish newspaper, Morgenavisen Jyllands Posten, showing “the Dalai Lama admiring the Himalayas while preparing to ski down a slope; Nelson Mandela relaxing on a beach, carrying a surf board; and Mohandas Gandhi, smiling with a beer bottle in one hand, with the other, he is barbecuing sausages, empty beer bottles at his feet”.

But Tripathi makes a false comparison of these ads with “controversial cartoons of Mohammed” published by the same newspaper. In former cases one can justify them as an attempt to “challenge the self-righteous among us”, as they seem to “challenge” the stereotypes, but in the latter the newspaper was clearly strengthening the rampant orientalist stereotype already present among its readership – biases against Islam in the West. It was this anti-immigrant right-wing conservative Danish newspaper’s contribution to the post-modern “crusades” of the west.

Tripathi himself uses his arguments essentially to preach liberal media consumerism especially to Muslims.

Uganda and global media propaganda

All over the world, the media projected the recent Ugandan agitation against the multinational acquisition of the country’s forest resources as racist. Indian media tout court led the wave by raising the ghost of Idi Amin. It seemed something like the Nazis’ holocaust. This is not for the first time that South Asians have raised similar metaphors. Post-1990 Hindu rightists have time and again used them to stress on the parallels between the Jews and Hindus, the uniqueness of Israel and India. Also, Indian governments have been proactively self-imposing themselves as protectors of People of Indian-origin (PIO) all over the world. World imperialism and its watchdogs which are ever ready to club Anti-globalisation movements, terrorism, fundamentalists – all their ‘evil’ enemies, “bad guys” together have found this Indian expansionism and its rising crossborder interests and concerns handy for their mission. This allows them to corner the ‘third world’ movements and regimes who pose threat to world capitalist interests.

One PIO MP in Uganda, Sanjay Tanna has clearly rebutted such propaganda. He “said it was unfortunate that the media had focused on the death of one Asian and portrayed Uganda as a racist country. He said two Ugandans lost their lives and many others were injured or lost property. He explained that Rawal’s death came from a sequence of events, which included an attempt by some Asians to drive through the demonstrators.” (New Vision, April 17 2007)

Regarding, the global imperialist usage of Indian expansionism, I wrote the following almost a year back during Bush’s India visit in February 2006 (Counterpunch), which might be relevant here too:

On the other hand, India’s mastery of ‘unreliable’, and ‘rogue’ polities, and its ability to forge indigenous clients in those polities make it a worthy partner for other global powers whose recent hyper-interventionism has reduced their own ability in this regard. Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have further attested this inability of the US hegemony, at least–political forces against which wars were waged in these countries were erstwhile US allies. These conflicts are symptomatic of the crisis of the US hegemony more than the unipolarity of the post-Cold War era. Unlike the ideology of the “Soviet threat”, the post-Cold War ideologies of human rights and non-proliferation could not form the legitimate basis for forging international alliances, since the duplicity of the “global powers” on those same accounts are too apparent. In fact, the orientalist bases of these ideologies have further curtailed the First World’s ability to directly manipulate political forces in the “third world”. At this juncture, ‘mediocre’ powers like India could become relevant interfaces between the two worlds, for perpetuating and sustaining global capitalism and its political structure.

Ambush Journalism

Pratyush Chandra & Bela Malik
International Nepal Solidarity Network

A spate of print media reports, mainly in the Times of India, but also elsewhere (, point to tendencies in the media that have their provenance in geopolitical games. All the reports taken up here have the Maoists as their point of reference. Many of the articles are just sniper-style attacks, absolutely lacking in substance or authenticity. They are remarkable also for the uniformity of screaming sensationalist headlines.

The Wadhwa affair

On 1 August 2006, Times of India (ToI) carried a series of reports about the plight of Indians in Nepal. The shocking headlines are modified for the Delhi, Mumbai and online editions of the newspaper:

1. Mumbai Edition (page 1) “Maoists force Indians to leave Nepal” (print edition)
2. Delhi Edition (page 1) “Maoists are hounding out Indians: A New Threat emerges in Nepal”
3. Maoists: “We shoot those who don’t listen to us” (print edition)
4. “We were very scared
5. “Trouble for Nepalis here?”

All these reports have been authored or co-authored by Indrani Bagchi, a reporter who talked about India’s “nasty neighbourhood” not very long ago (ToI, August 21, 2005). These reports all bear the stamp of a new breed of journalists who are trying hard to graduate into the growing ranks of jingoist security intellectuals in India, tawdry imitations of the American breed of all-purpose experts, whose essential job is to compete with one another for the patronising approval of the imperialist mafia.

Bagchi has a short “page-13” eyewash about the possible backlash on the Nepalis toiling in India, if the Maoists target Indians (“Trouble for Nepalis here?”). The report is supposed to be based on unnamed sources, who only the writer, from all the journalists in India, has access to. But the tenor of the “report” betrays rabid jingoism, warning the Nepalis in Nepal to “behave” themselves.

It pointedly draws the readers’ attention to the Indian government’s patient tolerance. “Thus far, the Indian government has been remarkably lenient, confining themselves to talking to the Nepalese government quietly on these thorny issues. But if things take an ugly turn, the government in Delhi will have to react, particularly as it affects Indian interests.” So, the interests of sleazy businessmen in the gambling trade are to be identified as “Indian interests”. Bagchi also introduces the Chinese factor, obviously, to exploit the Indian elite’s perpetual fear of China: “If Indian trade and business is threatened, said some business interests in Nepal, it is not inconceivable that Chinese could be used to fill the gap”.

As if this weren’t enough, in “Nepal Maoists are hounding out Indians”, Bagchi writes:

“Indians are being hounded out of Nepal by the Maoists. Death threats, 24-hour deadlines for leaving with bag and baggage have been received by Indian hospitality sector employees and businessmen, creating a sense of deep fear in the community.

“The frightened community leaders have gone to the Indian embassy in Kathmandu for protection. Although the foreign office here confirmed that chauvinistic Maoists are driving out Indians, it has surprisingly not taken a public position on the issue — apparently, it will when the threat triggers a deluge.”

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA, India)’s spokesperson clarified on the same day (August 1),
“I have seen the press report in question. I can only confirm to you that we have received a specific complaint in our Embassy by Mr. Rakesh Wadhwa who is the Executive Director of Nepal Recreation Centre Pvt. Limited about the threat received from the Maoist affiliated, All Nepal Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. On receipt of this complaint, we have taken up the matter strongly with the Government of Nepal through our Embassy.”

The MEA official statement went to add, “It is not correct to say, as I have heard, that community leaders are rushing to the Embassy etc. That is factually incorrect.” Aside from the obvious fact that Wadhwa is clearly seeking to utilise diplomatic pressure to resolve labour dispute, possibly in his recreation centre (casino?), is the question of reporting.

The “reporters” did not check with the Indian Embassy, an obvious port of call. Neither did they check the facts with the concerned trade union and workers involved in the dispute to get a balanced report.

Salik Ram Jamarkattel, President of the All Nepal Trade Union Federation (Revolutionary) clarified on a phone interview to Nepal 1 (a TV on Nepal channel run by Nalini Singh) that they have not threatened anybody (Indian business class or otherwise) and that they have no such policy/programme of getting Indian citizens out of Nepal. Further, regarding the threat to the Indian workers about which the reports talk, Jamarkatel said that there was some debate between the management and the workers regarding two Indian employees, and eventually 586 workers voted against them and 27 in favour of them. Then they were removed through a democratic process.

As in May this year, when industrial disputes in Birgunj were projected as extortions, once again the above-mentioned sensational reports about industrial matters dub the Maoist’s labour activism as threats to Indian interests. This time too, the Ministry of External Affairs statement said that there “…have been incidents of extortion against businessmen and industrial units including Indian joint ventures in Hetauda-Birgunj area…” and went on to clarify, “I would not like to characterize these as a pattern and to give (say) anything that leads to an alarmist situation.”

Obviously, first page news items with such titles in a national newspaper proud of its “pulp” status are bound to be sensational, and we all know why and when such news is placed in such manner. These items follow the pattern of analyses that informed the US-Indian diplomatic exercises ever since the Maoists-Seven Party Alliance (SPA) understanding erupted into an unanticipated popular revolution in April this year. The motivation has been to force a convergence in the mentality of the paranoiac “national” middle classes in India and Nepal, reiterating the illegitimacy of the Maoist by tainting them with new “sins” both against Indians and against their property. This move is also designed to give a handle to opportunists in the SPA’s rank-and-file to repudiate the Maoists on the pretext of both Maoism’s incorrigibly violent nature as well as the need to desist from displeasing India. They only served to sensationalise the issue and exploit the rising neo-liberal jingoist paranoia in India and to keep the Maoists on the back foot always having to issue clarifications.

Axis of evil: a case of two news reports

On 26 July 2006, an article “Nepal Maoists aiding the underworld?” filed by Pradeep Thakur in Delhi appeared in the Times of India.

It claimed to be based on information “leaked” from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), India. The said DRI report finds threats from every corner of the “nasty neighbourhood”. Apart from Nepal, the report mentions Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Myanmar borders used for smuggling arms and ammunition into the country. The 1,800-km Indo-Nepal border which touches Uttaranchal, UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim is at present the most active and vulnerable sector from the smuggling point of view, the report adds. The Indo-Bangladesh border, stretching over 2,650 km along Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and West Bengal, is an open border and illegal cross-border movement of people through it is extensive. Another sensitive sector used for smuggling arms and ammunition is India’s 2,896-km-long border with Pakistan across the states of J&K, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. “Smuggling by residents of border villages is suspected despite heavy patrolling by the armed forces,” the report notes.

There is again no corroboration.

Then a news report appeared in Kantipuronline on 2 August (server time 9:12:26) by a “Special Correspondent” that claimed that (Nepali) Maoists have links with (Indian) Naxalites. It said that the Indian Minister of State for Home Prakash Jaiswal gave a written reply to the lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, dated 1 August that Indian Naxals are “reported” to “have ideological and logistic links with Nepalese Maoists. The Naxals, in turn, have links with Islamic organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, he is quoted to have added.” The links between Indian and Nepali Maoists are news, while the Naxals are assumed to have links with Lashkar-e-Taiba. Thus, by transitivity Nepali Maoists are part of the “terrorist network” and ultimately part of the ISI and Al Qaeda operation to destabilise the “civilised” societies. The report concludes with

“Over 200 districts in 14 Indian states are grappling with the menace of Naxal activities such as bombings of railway and other infrastructures and attacks on security patrols. India has adopted a two-pronged approach –counter insurgency and economic development — to deal with the crisis described as number one threat to national security.”

With such predictably Indian intelligence-speak, it appears that indeed one department of the great Indian State went out on a limb and shot off its mouth.

But that was not the case here. The Government of India’s official Press Information Bureau, had put up a press release on 1 August 2006, 4:27 p.m. IST, began clearly:

“Indian naxal outfits are reported to have ideological and logistic links with Nepalese Maoists. There are no reports to suggest links between Indian naxalites and Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

And concluded:

“This information was given by the Minister of State for Home, Shri Sriprakash Jaiswal in written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha today.”

How does one then explain the Kantipuronline report? Is it a simply a grave mistake, or is it mischief, or, worse, malafide?