The appeal by the Archbishop of Gandhinagar to voters in Gujarat to ‘save the country from nationalist forces‘ was the top story on prime time for some television channels. India Today broadcast a debate in its 8 pm slot questioning the locus standi of the archbishop with titles such as ‘Archbishop’s unholy appeal’, ‘Church trying to drum up paranoia’ and ‘Ahead of polls, church vs secular state?’ with a clear insinuation that the appeal by the archbishop was communal in nature and was tantamount to disrupting the clear separation of Government and religion. Republic TV ran the hashtags ‘ChurchvsNationalists’ and ‘Whocommunalisedpolitics’.
Archbishop of Gandhinagar Thomas Macwan in a letter dated November 21 had said, “The dates of Gujarat state assembly have been declared. The results of this election are significant and it will have its repercussion and reverberation throughout our beloved nation. It will influence the future course of the country. We are aware that the democratic and secular fabric of the country is at stake. Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, church personnel, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor etc. Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country. The election results of Gujarat state assembly can make a difference!”
It has been observed that leaders of various religious denominations and various religious sects have made statements supporting various political parties in the run up to the elections. Before the 2014 general elections, spiritual gurus such as Sri Sri Ravishankar and Baba Ramdev had appealed to voters to cast their vote in favour of Narendra Modi and the BJP.
Recently, on November 4, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had visited the Vadtal branch of the Swaminarayan sect in Gujarat and announced that he’d be contesting the elections from Rajkot constituency. The very next day, the Vadtal branch issued a statement asking people to support BJP in the upcoming state assembly elections. Was a similar zeal to call out the attempt to conflate religion and politics missing in the case of this recent appeal?
Alt News ran a check and found that no TV news channel had conducted prime time debates on the same. News channels like India Today, Republic TV and Times Now were conspicuously silent when a similar appeal was made only a few days back by the Swaminarayan sect.
Has the mainstream media succumbed to the diktats of the political establishment? What explains this lopsided treatment by prominent media houses? Is this a conscious attempt to polarize voters on communal lines as Gujarat gears up for a very important election which will decide the course of politics leading to 2019 elections?