8 june, 2018 / By Cherry Agarwal, newslaundry.com
For a week now, former President Pranab Mukherjee’s tentative visit to the Nagpur headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been making news. Mukherjee, formerly a Congress leader, had accepted the Sangh’s invite to be the chief guest at the passing out parade of Sangh trainees, much to the dismay of the Congress party.
And yesterday, when Pranab da finally delivered his speech, the mainstream media could not resist.
From a live broadcast of the speech to prime-time debates, from front-page coverage and lead stories to political analyses of intention behind the speech and the visit, the mainstream media had it all covered. A viewer cruising through the channels at that point in time could even be led to believe that nothing else was happening; India had come to a standstill. Unless of course, they were watching Mirror Now.
Among the Mumbai editions of at least five leading English dailies, Mukherjee’s speech-cum-visit made the front page. The lead story of The Times of India was headlined: “At RSS headquarters, Pranab preaches pluralism, tolerance and secularism”. While it stated that “Mukherjee did not utter a single word on RSS”, it also said his “endorsement of the Sangh founder KB Hedgewar as a ‘great son of Mother India’ could not be so easily explained”.
In contrast to Republic TV which flashed “Pranab’s cry: One India, one identity”, The Times of India’s strap states“India is one, but not one identity or religion”. These comments are in reference to Mukherjee’s speech, where he said, “Secularism and inclusion are matters of faith for us. Our composite culture makes us one nation. India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy.” In his nearly 35-minute speech, Mukherjee emphasised that “pluralism” was the “soul of India” and “any attempt at defining our nationhood in terms of dogmas and identities of religion, region, hatred and intolerance will only lead to dilution of our national identity”.
Developments in Karnataka, which until a few days back was all that the media could talk about, got a one-column space on the front page. Mumbai rains, which claimed a two-year-old’s life, also got eclipsed on the front page.
The Times of India also had a full-page coverage of Mukherjee’s visit on page 9. The banner headline stated: “First they hammered him, then they hailed him”. Similarly, the front-page story on The Indian Express was headlined: “Soul of India lives in pluralism, tolerance: Pranab at RSS home”. Express also had a nearly full-page coverage on page 7.
The lead story on Hindustan Times’ front page was headlined: “Pluralism soul of India: Citizen Pranab to RSS”, while The Hindu ran with, “We derive our strength from tolerance: Pranab”. However, none of the four papers—The Times of India, the Hindustan Times, The Indian Express or The Hindu—had an editorial on Pranab’s RSS visit.
Over at the Calcutta edition of The Telegraph, the headline was: “Et tu, Pranabbabu?” Could Mukherjee’s note that the RSS founder was a great son of Mother India have something to do with the headline? Never-minding that this is something The Telegraph placed in a neat little box right under its headline?
The Telegraph’s page 7 also was a full page on “Pranab pluralism message”, “Congress trains guns on Sangh”, “Sangh projects benign face”, and “A hit with a bit for all sides”. While editorial pages at the other dailies gave it a miss, et tu, Telegraph.
As for TV news, the entire 8-10 pm slot was all about Pranab, RSS, Pranab, RSS and some more Pranab and RSS. For over an hour and a half, anchors and panellists could find little common ground as they remained busy arguing over similarities and differences between Mukherjee’s and Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s speech. On a side note, this posed little challenge for Nagpur’s local English daily, The Hitavada, which stated: “Pranab-da, Mohan-ji strike common ground on nationalism.”
While discussions offered little variety, channels also seemed to be struggling with the diversification of hashtags. From last night, “#PranabAtRSS”, “#PranabRSSMeet”, “#PranabAtRSSEvent” and “#PranabHailsHedgewar” were the chosen ones.
However, it wasn’t just the lack of diversity in dialogue that TV news exemplified, it was also the gender of the panels—most of which were dominated by men. From Times Now to India Today, from Republic TV to CNN-News18, none seemed to be able to find more than one woman political analyst.