The reporting in the media following the arrest of four youths in Rajasthan, alleged to be Indian Mujahideen operatives, by the Delhi Police Special Cell fell even below the low standards the media has set for itself on terror reporting. Forget about the use of the mandatory ‘alleged’ before calling those arrested as terrorists – one would think it is no longer even on the curricula of media ethics. A large section of the media seemed convinced that it was Modi who was the target of these alleged terrorists. Indeed, there seemed to be an almost pathological desire to link these arrests to Modi. It is another matter that these claims were based on nothing.
Here are some samples:
- Nishane pe Modi?” asked a news channel. Yes, but of course, it answers.
- One newspaper wrote confidently that the terror module “had plans to carry out terror attacks during the election rally of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi” This claim is not attributed to any source, named or unnamed.
- Another newspaper quoted ‘sources’ to likewise declare that “that the terrorists had BJP’s PM nominee Narendra Modi on their radar.” It got a little carried away and told us that the Delhi Police would “submit its report to MHA, requesting to beef up the security apparatus of Narendra Modi during campaigning”.
This must have been a secret that the Delhi police shared with this reporter alone, for in the press conference held by the Special CP (), and in their press release, the Delhi Police indicated that the investigation was at a preliminary stage and still “in progress”, and in fact made no reference to Modi or any such recommendation.
- Regardless of the fact that Modi was not as much as mentioned, the Modi angle was attributed to the Delhi police in a daily’s headline: “Indian Mujahideen terrorists could attack Modi: Delhi Police” The story inside however has no such quote from the Delhi Police.
- Similarly, a news portal reported, “The police claim that their main target was Modi who has several rallies lined up in Rajasthan”despite the fact thatpolice clearly had made no such claim.
But it gets even better.
- “Modi par Hamle ki saajish Nakaam” (Conspiracy to attack Modi foiled) is the headline of a Hindi daily. This newspaper drops even the pretense of being informed by undisclosed and ‘highly placed’ sources to spin a story full of vivid details: according to this news item, the attack was to take place during the filing of nominations in Benaras and that the terrorists had even conducted a ‘reccee’ (reconnaissance) of the district headquarters.
- A Hindi daily’s bold headline was “Engineering students nikle aatankvadi; makaan malik ke saamne padte the Quran” (Engineering students turned out to be terrorists; used to read Quran in front of the landlord). Following online outrage against this blatantly communal headline, it was changed to a more sober: “Pradesh mai Indian Mujahideen se jude 6 aatankvadi giraftaar” (Six terrorists affiliated to IM arrested from the state). It is a measure of our times that we have come to see this headline, which already declares the arrested men as terrorists to be sober.
Yesterday’s reporting was thus more pernicious and dangerous than what reporting on terror cases is usually – a deliberate attempt at polarizing along communal lines.
The Special Cell must also answer why it felt the need to hold this press conference in the middle of election season. And why it didn’t deem necessary to hold a similar press conference or even issue a press release when it released three people it had detained in the same case.
The last time Modi was said to be under direct threat from terrorists was between 2002 and 2007, when his super cop D.G. Vanzara eliminated a series of ‘terrorists’ on mission to Gujarat to assassinate Modi. Sadiq Jamal (2003), Ishrat Jahan (2004), Sohrabuddin Shaikh (2005), Tulsiram Prajapati (2006). Years later it has emerged that these were cold-blooded executions following illegal detention and possibly torture in private farmhouses. Vanzara and his gang of men are since then in jail (and Gujarat didn’t see any more attempts on the life of its Chief Minister). These fake encounters however helped Modi build his image as the Hindu Hriday samrat – forever in the firing line of ‘Islamic terrorists’. Who can forget his chilling call to an exultant crowd: “what should have been done to Sohrabuddin?” with the crowd screaming back: He should have been killed.”
It’s hardly a surprise that the BJP is keen to make terror threat to Modi a poll issue. Just last week, on 20th March, the BJP citing media reports of IB alerts regarding the threat to senior leaders (a euphemism for Modi now) held a press conference. Its spokesperson, Ms. Niramala Sitharaman asked if “the Home Ministry has taken cognizance of these reports and if they are taking any measures to ensure safety of our leaders.”
The following day, a delegation of BJP leaders met with the Home Minister to submit a memorandum, which read: “It has come to our notice that several sections of the media have reported, based on IB sources, that there is a threat to our leaders and this threat could even lead to kidnapping. It was suggested in these media reports that the motive behind such a heinous act could be to obtain the release of the terrorist Yasin Bhatkal.”
Interestingly though, the news reports which had triggered the news conference on 20th March and this urgent memorandum to the Home Ministry on 21st March are nowhere to be found. The only report in fact appears on Niticentral, a BJP mouthpiece. The Home Ministry also denied the generation of any such intelligence alert. Nirmala Sitharaman’s press conference and Ravi Shankar Prasad’s interview to the press after submitting the memorandum were carried prominently but no channel or newspaper bothered to dig up the media reports which had indicated the existence of any new IB alerts and threats.
(There were indeed some media reports in late February and early March, after the NIA filed its supplementary chargesheet against Yaseen ‘Bhatkal’. These reproduced the bizarre claims made therein, including the IM’s purported ambition of ‘nuking’ Surat. The only story that called the bluff of this bombastic chargesheet, based on little evidence except unsubstantiated chat mails, was this. But this still doesn’t explain the sudden volubility of the BJP over these threats on 22nd March.)
The BJP may have thought that it could dust and polish its old strategy that had reaped political dividends in Gujarat. However, the media should have learnt from the mistakes it committed in the past. On 22nd March, an English daily reporting the alleged increased threat to Modi cited an unnamed source saying: “IM wants to expand terrorist activities in north and some communally sensitive parts of India. But if Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister, its activities will not run for long. So, they don’t want Modi as prime minister.”
The constant appearance of ‘IB alerts’ in the media thus serves as excellent device to pump the image of the man who simply can’t wait to be PM.
So here it is again, the project of crafting the tough, muscular, macho Hindutva icon who will reign in ‘Islamic terrorism’. Every potential and foiled attack burnishes his image. Very useful in election season. And very reminiscent of the encounter years of Gujarat. Let us be vigilant against this propaganda to stoke communal tensions in the name of terrorism and national security.