The Big Story: Woods & trees

For all their criticism of a Lutyens Delhi-centric approach to news coverage, India’s rightwing channels have spent the last two days obsessed with the contents of an article on a news website. An astonishing amount of airtime has been devoted to criticising the piece on The Wire by scholar Partha Chatterjee, who compared the treatment of the human shield incident in Kashmir to the support for Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer who ordered the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. It can be no one’s case that this comparison, valid or not, is the prime issue demanding national attention at this moment.

While the super primetime discussions were dissecting Chatterjee’s analysis, an enormous farmers’ movement has been stirring itself across several parts of India. In Maharashtra, thousands of farmers have gone on strike demanding a loan waiver. Even as it evolves, the agitation spilled over into Madhya Pradesh, where on Tuesday five farmers were killed by bullets that the state government insists were not fired by the police.

The agitation comes soon after the government’s cattle rules notification, a move that has inspired a great deal of criticism from within the Bharatiya Janata Party. Even the government’s Chief Economic Advisor obliquely pointed out that it will have a serious impact on the agricultural economy. The farmers protests have been building for a while. For several weeks in March and April, Tamil farmers aired their grievances in Delhi, sitting naked and resorting to other outrageous acts to draw attention to their accute distress.

Despite their often screaming tone, the television channels play a crucial role in informing public debate. But by focusing on non-issues, they are offering an escape route to a government that ought to be asked hard questions. Following the unrelenting TV coverage of Chatterjee’s article, a Cabinet minister was forced to respond to the controversy, setting off yet another cycle of pointless discussion. The fracas around the article is reminiscent of the Jawaharlal Nehru University fracas from last year, when much of the government and the ruling party were focused on the actions of a few youngsters on a college campus in Delhi.

This is one of those moments when the “Bharat” that is supposedly invisible to the so-called Lutyens elite is begging to be noticed. Will India’s television channels allow the nation to see them?

The Big Scroll

  • Farmers protest: Madhya Pradesh was supposed to be an agriculture success story. What went wrong, asks Rakesh Dixit.
  • Maharashtra’s leaderless farmers strike is in confusion as many want to step in to take the helm, writes Mridula Chari.
  • Cattle trade rules: In Maharashtra’s milk district, dairy farmers say it’s the end of their business.

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  1. “The rest of the media will be foolish to suppose that this is just about NDTV; NDTV will become the stand-in for media that deviates from the party line,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express. “The government will constantly need to feed this idea, constantly finding new targets. It is the politics, of casting doubt on the media, that shores up its power.”
  2. Praveen Chakravarty argues in Mint that the conflict of interest allegations leveled at selectors of the Indian cricket team are only based on perceptions.
  3. Mukesh Butani in the Economic Times asks why rich farmers should not pay taxes, and offers some ways in which this might be implemented.
  4. Resurrecting an idea that has been struck down judicially, Chandan Mitra in the Hindustan Times says in the long run, “there is no alternative to the Salwa Judum”, a now-disbanded civil militia in Chhattisgarh.
  5. After he was dropped, “it was a vintage Yuvraj innings”, writes Mukul Kesavan in the Telegraph. “Which is not to say that it was perfect because then it wouldn’t be a vintage Yuvraj innings.”


Don’t miss

M Rajshekhar explains what the popularity of South Indian films in Bihar says about how the state is changing.

“According to Mohammad Parvesh, who runs a shop adjacent to Sudhanshu’s, and has taken a break to browse the Internet on Sudhanshu’s computer, ‘the action is better’. ‘People like the style of these movies,’ he said. ‘It is very different from Bollywood.’

Others see their desires and aspirations reflected in these films. As Parvesh spoke, a Class 11 student preparing for the IIT-JEE entrance examination at a coaching centre nearby, walked in. His parents live in the city but he stays in a small rented room near the coaching centre. The centre has helped him get admission to a school in the vicinity. ‘I do not go there at all,’ he said, referring to the school. ‘I will go only for the exam. But my attendance is being marked.’ Apart from attending coaching classes, he studies for about six hours every day. But there are no classes currently, so he spends his time watching movies. He prefers South Indian films, of course.

‘I like these stories,’ he said. ‘There is one with junior NTR, where the son wants to fulfil his father’s dreams,’ he added, referring to the popular Telugu actor NT Rama Rao Jr.”