October 28th, 2013
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The Hindu taking a ‘right’ turn?

The recent changes at the helm of The Hindu newspaper which saw the stepping down of Siddharth Varadarajan from the position of editor seems to have more to it than meets the eye. It has been presented to the outside world as the owning family, Kasturi and sons, regaining control of an organization which was fast getting corporatized through the changes set in motion by the new CEO.

True, the employees were left unsatisfied with many of the moves of the CEO Arun Anant which went against the ‘welfare state’ model practiced by the family before that acrimonious fight between its members which led to the push towards professionalism in 2011.

But the changes in the editorial side led by Varadarajan and his handpicked team were largely welcomed by the readers as well as employees. Right from the thrust towards investigative stories to the change in design and layouts (which despite the cry of horror from long time readers was accepted over the course of time) gave the newspaper a competitive edge. It evolved from gazette like stories to readable stories in this period.

Coming to the investigative stories, the relentless reporting on 2G which pointed fingers more than once at the PM Manmohan, gas prices and the largesse given to corporates like reliance and a string of stories against Robert Vadhra, all created quite an impact. On the other side of the political spectrum, the paper took a strong stand against communalism and its current head honcho in the country, Narendra Modi. A number of opinion pieces analysed threadbare Modi’s evil agenda at a time when most of the mainstream media was slowly shifting from blaming him to blowing his trumpet.

This ruffled quite a few readers, who had started believing in the idea of their country being led to prosperity by a ‘strong leader’ who has the courage to crush any opposition. It also baffled quite a few Hindutva fans who are not known to be voracious newspaper readers. These varieties of fans are now seen commonly in social media, always scanning for news or views against their supreme leader and spews vitriol at the writers of these. So, for them, the natural question was, ‘How could a paper named ‘Hindu’ take a stand against Hindutva? Let’s forgive them, for they are known to go by the cover of a book or the bearded face of a leader.

This coverage targeting communalism and its corporate sponsored leader is perhaps where we should start looking for, when analyzing the reasons for this sudden change at the top of the newspaper. There has been a relentless campaign against Siddharth in the social media by right wingers who labeled him a naxalite (for his leftist leanings) and an NRI (he has US citizenship due to the many years spent there as a professor in various Universities).

The right wing was quick to credit Subramaniam Swamy for the resignation as he had filed a PIL against Siddharth citing some obscure law that a foreign citizen cannot be the editor of a newspaper in India. In fact, Swamy had tweeted an hour before Siddharth’s dramatic announcement of his resignation in twitter that the days of the editor may be numbered. But the resignation does not have anything to do with the case which seems more like publicity hungry Swamy acting out of vengeance for the (deserved) lack of coverage in the newspaper. This fact was confirmed by Siddharth himself in a recent interview.

The ball goes back to the coverage of Modi, the subdued coverage of his speeches and the opinion pieces which rightfully targets him. The public comments of the family members including N. Ram make it amply clear that they were not happy with the coverage given to Modi. Now, this surprised quite a few readers and media pundits as the last person they expected to wave a flag for Modi was a certain card carrying member of the Communist Party.

As if to control the damage, Ram came back on Twitter the next day and loudly proclaimed how the newspaper was always against communalism and Modi’s brand of politics and that he was only concerned about the lack of objectivity in covering him. This evoked some taunts from several quarters; including photos of old ‘objective’ front page news items which loudly proclaimed him winning yet another award or his daughter securing first rank in college.

So, there is little doubt to the fact that there are some Modi believers within the family or in a group which can exert considerable pressure on the family. This group can be the newspaper’s core reader community, the Tam Bhrams, a majority of whom have warmed up to ‘their’ leader who will put the ‘other’ into their place. It is to the credit of the newspaper and its journalists that the presence of these elements in no way affected its objective coverage of Hindutva.

As if to confirm these fears of the right gaining a hold over what is the only mainstream left leaning newspaper, Praveen Swami, who quit the paper a few months back over various issues is also rumoured to stage a comeback soon. Now, Praveen Swami is someone who has gained notoriety for his IB planted stories even while working in The Hindu. Post his quitting, he joined First Post and has been spewing venom ever since, with all out efforts to brand Ishrat Jahan a traitor and thus indirectly carrying out Modi-seva.

For a clear picture of whether the paper will actually make that unthinkable tilt to the right, the coming days will provide the answer. Until then, we can just hope that we don’t wake up one fine day to a pro-Modi article in The Hindu, for it will be a dark portent to what is in store for us when Moditwa is spreading at a scary pace and trapping even otherwise liberal and rational minds. It will then confirm that Siddharth Varadarajan was the first editorial casualty of Modi politics.

PS – In an interview given to Tehelka, Siddharth said that ‘On the day I quit, I was editing a blockbuster of a story involving Reliance, Mukesh Ambani  and a private media company. I am not sure that story and other hard hitting investigative pieces, especially on corporate issues, will ever make it to print’.

Now, this may not be the reason he was sidelined, but there have been a history of journalists losing their jobs while pursuing stories against Reliance. And Mukesh being one of the several corporates backing Modi might not be a coincidence after all.



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