Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
India is perpetually in an election mode. Apart from Parliament, there are in India 29 states and 7 union territories, each having their own legislatures, apart from thousands of municipalities, district boards, and panchayats.
Elections take place somewhere or the other all the time, and the moment one ends, preparations for another begin. Thus, the moment the election, in May, 2021 for the state assemblies of West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Assam, and Kerala, as well as for the union territory of Puducherry, ended, campaign fever for the February 2022 elections for the state assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur has started rising. Each election in India is fought as if it is a life and death struggle, and even the last Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election was contested by the BJP, Congress, TRP, etc as if the destiny of the nation depended on its outcome, with big national political figures thrown into the fray.
In India, an election is like a war, and it is said that in war truth is the first casualty.
In both the World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, wars and hostilities between India and Pakistan, etc the other side was depicted as devils, and truth was at a discount.
Since India is perpetually in election mode, it is like a country perpetually at war. So it is often difficult to ascertain the truth about what is really going on in India.
Take for instance the news which came recently of an elderly Muslim, Abdul Samad, who was allegedly abducted by some bigoted young men, beaten mercilessly with sticks, forced to say “Jai Shri Ram”, and his beard cut off. All this was displayed vividly in videos taken by the assailants themselves.
But soon thereafter a counter version started coming. It was alleged that the old man had given a ‘taaweez’ ( amulet ) to the assailants, saying it will bring them a fortune, but it brought misfortune instead, which enraged them. It was alleged the persons knew each other, and there was nothing communal about the incident, as Congress and other parties are trying to depict it. Abdul Samad has praised the police for helping him
Now, which version is one to believe? Is it not possible that the police told Abdul Samad that he better support the counter version if he knows what is good for his health? The Indian police is well known for its liberal use of the ‘danda’. An old man who has already received the danda is unlikely to want more.
The Indian media is largely biased and Goebbelsian, usually voicing the views of the government. regardless of the truth. As Ravish Kumar, winner of the Magsaysay award said, far from being the fourth estate, the Indian media ( whom he called the ‘godi’ media ) has become part of the first estate. Much of its coverage is of lives of film stars, e.g. death of Sushant Singh Rajput and the second baby of Kareena Kapoor, cricket, politics ( in which most of its news is slanted in favor of the ruling party ), etc. There is little coverage of the horrible conditions of the masses who suffer from poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, lack of healthcare, skyrocketing prices, etc.
We just do not know what is going on in India, particularly in the countryside where 60-65% of our 1350 million people live. We do not have accurate reliable statistics, as are available in Western countries. What has happened to the tens of millions of migrant and daily wage or contract employees who fled the cities when the Prime Minister suddenly imposed the covid lockdown on 24th April 2020? What was the real impact of the second covid wave which hit India? What is the real condition of the Indian economy? What has been the real rise in unemployment in India? What was the real reason for lifting the ‘social harbor’ to Twitter? All this we may never know.
In insurgency areas like Kashmir, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, the North East, etc one gets even less information. In these areas, actual war, not elections, are going on ( though it is intermittent, low intensity, guerilla type, war ). Hence information is even more scanty about the real situation and events there, and journalists are forbidden to go to many such areas.
As the distress of the Indian people grows, we may get less and less accurate information about conditions in India, and the truth will soon be lying dead on the wayside. We shall soon start saying, like Pontus Pilate, ” What is truth ? ” (Bible : New Testament : John : 18, 38 ).