BJP in the eye of the storm

Nilofar Suhrawardy

By: Nilofar Suhrawardy

The controversy brewing over the meeting between Indian journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik and Hafiz Saeed (who is wanted in India) in Pakistan has created immense difficulties for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Congress and other parties don’t appear to be in the mood to accept any justification offered by Vaidik. BJP’s attempt to control the storm by describing Vaidik’s meeting as that of an individual’s “misguided diplomatic misadventure” has also failed. Vaidik did not simply meet Saeed on July 2 but also spread “news” about it by circulating photographs of the two holding talks. Certainly, the photographic evidence of their meeting has played the needed role of raising a storm in the Parliament as well as in the media.

Irrespective of who planned the Vaidik-Saeed meeting, there are no doubts about it having earned Vaidik ample publicity in Indian circles and interested sections across the world. And this raises the question as to whether Vaidik wanted this controversy to hit media headlines and dominate political news as this has helped him become virtually overnight a well-known name. From this angle, “news” has deliberately been manufactured and spread to help Vaidik remain in the news even though with a negative impact on his image.

Vaidik is said to be closely associated with saffron brigade and has claimed to have good ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In all probability, had he not been in BJP’s good books, he would not have been part of a delegation that recently visited Pakistan on the invitation of a research institute. Undeniably, such visits are part of diplomatic efforts to increase communication between people of the two countries. Yet, it would be erroneous to assume that the two governments have nothing to do with such exchanges. Such delegations enjoy government support.

Reportedly, Vaidik went to Pakistan with the delegation but did not return with other members. He extended his stay to apparently have a rendezvous with Saeed. It is ironical that the party, which stormed into power by creating a strong media and political hype in its favor is now unable to tackle the issue. Should this case be viewed as an example of the sudden change in BJP’s attitude toward media? Perhaps, now that BJP is in command at the center with Modi at the helm, the party does not want to be under constant scrutiny of the media. This probably could be a reason for the delay in the appointment of a media adviser to Modi. Sources indicate that Modi is more inclined to have a spokesperson from bureaucratic circles instead of someone from the journalist fraternity.

Not too long ago, importance of media dominated strategic planning of BJP’s electoral campaign. Now, the same party is trying to keep a safe distance between itself and the media. During Modi’s recent visit to Brazil, sources indicate, the only media persons accompanying him included those representing agencies and government-controlled media services. This raises the question as to whether BJP and Modi have become wary of interacting too much with all sections of media.

Interestingly, BJP has tried justifying Vaidik-Saeed meeting by labeling it as “freedom” of media. At the same time, the unseen line drawn between Modi and media suggests that the prime minister is in favor of only that news being circulated and spread which suits his interests. The same intention has probably prompted Modi to give undue importance to his tweets on his official website. His tweets, from his angle, are also the “news” that he wants the world to be familiar with.

Manufactured “news,” however, cannot always have the impact that “newsmaker” would want it to have. Vaidik has certainly succeeded in dominating headlines. However, “news” of his controversial meeting has led to its critics filing several cases against him. Similarly, questions are being raised on pressure-tactics being exercised on sections of Indian media, apparent change in Modi’s attitude toward media and its freedom being at stake. However, cautiously and strongly Modi and his party may try influencing the media, they are not likely to always succeed. The degree to which BJP has been cornered over the Vaidik-Saeed meeting is just a minor example of this hard reality.


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