In a democracy, the media is supposed to act as a check on the government. But what happens when a wave of majoritarianism sweeps through, carrying with it not just the administration but the media too?
Night after night, TV debates focus not on holding the government to account but communal rifts – real or perceived – between Hindus and Muslims.
This kind of programming saw a spike on Wednesday night as the final day of arguments in the Ayodhya case concluded in the Supreme Court. The extremely controversial case involves a dispute over 2.77 acres of land in the Uttar Pradesh town. In 1992, a mob of Hindutva supporters demolished a 16th century mosque on the site, after a political campaign had sought to portray the shrine as having been built by the Mughal emperor Babur on the very spot on which the god Ram had been born.
While the Sunni Waqf Board wants the demolished mosque can be reconstructed, other parties in the case want control of it so they can build a temple there.
Leading the majoritarian charge on television on Wednesday night was Aaj Tak, owned by the Indian Today group. “If his birthplace and Ram is ours, where did these masjidwalahs come from?” the channel bluntly asked. The use of the possessive pronoun made it clear that Aaj Tak considered this broadcast only for one community.
Expectedly, this led to some strong criticism on social media.
Aaj Tak wasn’t the only one to take this line. On ABP News, the anchor for a special Ayodhya broadcast spoke against the backdrop of “Jai Shree Ram”, a common slogan used both in worship as well as during Hindutva rallies (including the Ramjanmabhoomi movement).
On Zee News, the header was similar: “Analysis of the issue related to the faith of the country’s largest population”.
English news was little better. Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV ran hashtags such as #ExposeDelayBrigade and #AcceptAyodhyaVerdict. One question it asked during its debate was “Lutyens’ losing its Ayodhya card now?”
Times Now would not even wait for the court verdict, assuming that a mandir would obviously be built on the site of Babri Masjid. The only question for the channel was when. As a result, it ran a debate with the hashtag: #RamMandirCountdown