Dainik Jagran- the steady voice of the Ram temple movement

The newspapers has been consistent in its call for the construction of the temple, making it the centre of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

ByAnand Vardhan
Dainik Jagran- the steady voice of  the Ram temple movement
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The last few days have been interesting for assessing the editorial consistency of  India’s most widely read newspaper on Ram Janmabhoomi or the Babri Masjid dispute. To its credit, Dainik Jagran has been remarkably consistent over three decades in how it has reported and commented on the issue. With renewed interest in the case, the daily stuck to its editorial position in reacting to two recent observations made by the Supreme Court. As within a span of ten days, the Apex Court was offering idea of an out–of-court settlement of the issue through talks and then turning down the plea for an early hearing of the case, the newspaper swung from expectant enthusiasm of prospects to disappointment of longer wait and dealing with the status quo. In doing so, through its opinion pages as well as editorialising news reports, the Dainik Jagran  has retained its core editorial  outlook that construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya is a test case of identity politics in India and a bellwether of how the sentiments and cultural heritage of majority of Indians would be accommodated by the Indian state.

Even in its coverage of the run up to the recently concluded assembly elections in India, the daily published a report which gave an account of how the issue of construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya had been either hogging centre stage or somehow creeping into the electoral campaigns for decades now but fades into oblivion once the elections are over. However, what set the ball rolling was something more immediate and a post-election development. Buoyed by SC’s March 21 suggestion that parties should try out-of-court settlement and the offer made by Chief Justice to mediate between both parties, Dainik Jagran recognised it as an opportunity to move towards resolution of the dispute.

What the paper has persisted with is its editorial conviction about the terms of any future resolution and those terms clearly state the validity of the demand for the construction of a Ram temple. As the paper observed it an editorial, “Ek aur avsar, (Another Opportunity) on March 22, “When historical and archaeological evidence point towards existence of a temple at the disputed site and that has been authenticated by Allahabad High Court too, it’s meaningless to expect Vishwa Hindu Parishad  and Nirmohi Akhara to give up their claims on the temple in the name of  communal harmony. These expectations are also meaningless because beliefs about Ayodhya being Lord Ram’s birthplace are centuries old. Though Babar and his lieutenant had nothing to do with Ayodhya, a masjid could be built on an alternative site in the ancient city of Ayodhya.”

Its sister publication Nai Duniya also carried a piece by UP legislative assembly speaker Hriday Narayan Dixit advocating the resolution of the Ayodhya dispute and reasoning of why construction of the Ram temple at the controversial site is the logical conclusion.

Such fond hopes of a speedy road to resolution obviously hit a roadblock with the Supreme Court refusing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Subramanian Swamy’s plea for an early hearing of the Ayodhya case. The disappointment was evident in how Dainik Jagran began its report on SC’s refusal. The report prefaced the information with the line: “The hope raised ten days ago, of finding a way to resolve Ayodhya dispute, seems to be fading away again.”

In its editorial “Thande baste mein Ayodhya masla (Ayodhya issue is in cold storage again) on, April l1, the daily was critical of what it though was indifference shown by SC to a matter asking for early settlement. The paper commented: “On a matter that has been attracting national attention and even a single statement related to it creates ripples across the country, it’s wrong for SC to say that the case doesn’t need early hearing. Such lukewarm attitude of the Apex Court has also disappointed people who were creating the right atmosphere for discussing the issue. Maintaining status quo on any controversy is neither just nor logical.”

The clearest articulation of Dainik Jagran’s editorial position on the issue, however, was left for last. In his weekly column, the daily’s editor-in-chief Sanjay Gupt argued (“Prateeksha Ram mandir nirmaan ki Waiting for construction of Ram Temple”),  the case for constructing the temple. Cautioning against the strategies of Muslim-appeasement and stoking misgivings among minorities about the issue of secularism, Gupt identifies the symbolic centrality of the Ram temple’s construction to India’s cultural identity and the need for respecting the faith of millions of Indians.

The unambiguous nature of such editorial commentary shouldn’t be surprising for people who have followed Dainik Jagran’s coverage over last three decades, intensifying particularly in early 1990s. Observers of Hindi heartland media are aware of its advocacy of the cause of Hindu identity assertion through the cultural symbolism of a Ram temple at the site of Lord Ram’s birth. In her book Headlines from the Heartland media commentator Sevanti Ninan has talked about how Dainik Jagran’s  reports and editorials shaped support for kar seva during run up phase to the demolition of Babri Masjid.

In fact, such exhortation was sometimes seen as provocative. The Press Council of India had censured Dainik Jagran, along with  Aaj and Swatantra Chetna, for provocative coverage of the kar-seva mobilisation in Thiruvananthpuram on January 21 and 22, 1991.

Taking a look at the coverage of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in both the Hindi and English press in his work Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India, Arvind Rajagopal argued that during the phase of mobilisation of kar sevaks, English dailies were more inclined to report and view it as a law and order problem while Hindi newspapers in general (spearheaded by Dainik Jagran with its wide readership) showed more cultural affinity and society-centric news value.

Coming to the current interest in the issue, most of the papers in the Hindi press chose not to share Dainik Jagran’s editorial alacrity on the issue. They chose not to comment on it, except Dainik Bhaskar which, with its trimmed opinion content, had a sole editorial—“Supreme Court ke sujhau ke baad garmayega mandir mudda (Mandir issue will hot up in the aftermath of Supreme Court’s suggestion),” March 22). The paper was of the opinion that the judicial solution may not satisfy Hindu religious sentiments while an out-of-court settlement may leave Muslims unsatisfied. So it’s highly probable that even a political solution might be explored or is already being worked out.

In pitching for the construction of the temple and by being editorially alert to any judicial or non-judicial prospects for it, Dainik Jagran has been consistently sticking to its guns for thirty years. That’s an element of historical continuity which makes the paper a reference point for the political right in the Hindi heartland. In the process, it has challenged the worn out grammar of political correctness with its own native syntax of identity politics.

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