Reporting Yogi’s Breakfast

It looks like half the reporters in Lucknow have descended on the state secretariat, willing to print whatever nice, feel-good story is handed out to them.

WrittenBy:Mihir S Sharma
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Does the Indian media have only one way of treating anyone who ascends to power? Regardless, even, of who this new potentate might be? So it appears, at least given its craven, almost laughable response to the elevation of “Yogi” Adityanath to the post once occupied by Govind Ballabh Pant, Sucheta Kriplani and VP Singh.

The papers seem to have responded to Adityanath’s arrival in two ways, both breathlessly reverential. The first was to treat him as if he was some sort of celebrity, Kareena Kapoor, perhaps, and so to provide us with intimate details of his daily life. We were told, for example, by The Economic Times that he sleeps for just four hours. We further learned that he wakes up at 3 am though I assume the reporter didn’t turn up at Gorakhpur’s giant temple to fact-check this little nugget. We learned what he has for breakfast: “papaya, whey, and boiled grams”, according to Hindustan Times, though I understand that diet circles in Delhi are brimming with fury that “chhaach” has been translated as “whey”. Sometimes, in addition, he skips dinner and has only an apple. This is no doubt important information to someone.

HT even told us that he drinks lots of water during poll rallies, which presumably sets him apart from everybody else who has to deliver campaign speeches in the sun. Also, of course, he makes sure that his favourite cow, Nandini, has breakfast before him; HT, in a separate story, solemnly informed us that the volunteer who looks after Nandini is a Muslim. And in yet another story, HT informed us that Adityanath’s fondness for animals extended beyond cows, and helpfully provided us with a picture of Yogi standing at what appeared to me to be an eminently sensible distance from an enormous mastiff, who we were told was his dog Kallu.

But, frankly, that’s the less troubling part of the media’s coverage of Uttar Pradesh’s new chief minister. More worrying is the manner in which they have breathlessly reported his plans and his “dynamism”. In a manner reminiscent of their early coverage of Narendra Modi, most outlets informed their readers and viewers that Adityanath had discovered paan stains and banned gutkha chewing in government offices. His announcement that “laal-battis” would be discontinued – that VIPs would no longer be allowed to roam around with sirens and flashing lights – was similarly retold to us without the slightest scepticism. (Although it appears the order actually applies mainly to ex-bureaucrats and politicians appointed to various quasi-government posts.) And that he demanded his ministers hand over details of their income, as if they didn’t already have to do that under Election Commission rules. And also that his “first directive” was that celebrations of his elevation not be a “ruckus”.

In other words, it looks like half the reporters in Lucknow have descended on the state secretariat, willing to print whatever nice, feel-good story that Adityanath’s minders are feeling like handing out to them.

Now, it can be nobody’s case that reporting must go and relentlessly seek out negative stories. But there’s a big difference between that and stenography, and a big difference even between stenography and the kind of vile boosterism that too many in the media have been selling us over Adityanath.

What could, and should, they be doing instead? Well, a realistic look at what Adityanath believes, and where he comes from, might be more useful. At least, The Economic Times went out and read his actual opinions on his web site, and discovered that he thought that women’s “energy” should be “controlled” and other such gems. And sure, a collation of the high – or rather, low – points of Adityanath’s career would be useful to readers seeking to evaluate what kind of chief minister he’s likely to be.

But it doesn’t need to stop at that, either. If you’re an editor sending someone to Gorakhpur, and all you print of what is being discovered there is that everyone is wildly excited, you should perhaps ask whether you’re doing all you should. Adityanath has been MP five times from there, now. He runs the city. Is really the only story about his past that we need to discover those from partisans who are enthusiastic about his new job? Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini should be good for a few stories at least. Who composes it? What is its power? Is it loved or feared? What work does it do? Has it changed in character over the years? How did Adityanath tame the notorious criminal-politicians of UP’s northeast? What does that tell us about his methods? The stories that address this are few and far between. The best read on these issues is not even from this year, but journalist Aman Sethi’s story from 2014 for Business Standard.

The media is not an opposition party. It is not its job to try and delegitimise an elected leader. But it is its job to try and tell its readers what that leader is actually like. It is not Filmfare for Khan Market, and it is not a typing pool, and it is not an extension of your family WhatsApp group. But, at least judging by its reaction to Adityanath, it would prefer to be a combination of all three.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @mihirssharma


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