If nothing, a section of the Indian TV media should be awarded for its consistency. Issues, and the news cycles around it, come and go but the medium’s tropes and persistence to spin narratives remain the same.
Especially when it comes to its favourite bugbear: Jawaharlal Nehru University.
On the evening of January 5, masked goons, wielding hammers, rods and other objects, entered the campus and beat up students and teachers. The Delhi police stood outside the university gates, as mute spectators, and barred the media and others from entering. Dozens were injured, street lights were switched off for hours, and reporters were attacked.
Over the last two days, concrete details on who, what and how have emerged.
We now know that most of the admins (10 out of a total of 14) of a WhatsApp group, that is at the centre of a controversy for planning the attacks, were directly linked to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The rooms of Kashmiri and Muslim student were specifically targeted. A majority of those who were admitted to AIIMS were professors and student activists linked to Left parties. On Times Now, an ABVP member said that they were carrying rods, pepper spray and acid in “self-defence”.
Here we are on the fifth day since the crime occurred, and the Delhi police has not been able to catch a single perpetrator that unleashed violence on Sunday night. Instead, two first information reports have been filed against Aishse Ghose, who is president of Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union. Meanwhile, today, the Delhi Police said it has identified 9 people, including Ghosh, as suspects. The police action is consistent with the narrative on some of our prominent news channels that have made every effort possible to paint Ghosh as a dreaded Leftist terrorist — an Urban Naxal, if you please.
In December 2019, when student protests started against the citizenship law, many anchors left no stone unturned to discredit them. So, let’s jump straight to the claims and arguments that formed their narrative on the JNU violence and Ghosh.
Lie: Left student leaders attacked ABVP in the run-up to January 5 violence
The likes of Republic Bharat consistently showed the above video from the scuffle at JNU, prior to the violence on January 5. The scuffle, set in the backdrop of the JNUSU’s decision to boycott the registration process of the new semester, was used as a rallying point to prove that it was the Left-affiliated students who first attacked the ABVP. This turned the Sunday night violence into a Left vs Right violence issue.
It helped that the country’s state broadcaster tweeted the video with the same intentions.
So, did Left students assault ABVP students in this video? Well, no. Alt News did a detailed fact-check and found that the guy in red beating up the students was, in fact, an ABVP member.
But right-wing folks like Abhijit Iyer-Mitra who had tweeted the video have neither deleted the tweet nor apologised for misleading the public.
Meanwhile, Prasar Bharati put out a lazy defence.
Diversion: ‘Free Kashmir’ poster at protests at Gateway of India, Mumbai
The violence in JNU also sparked protests in Mumbai. Celebrities, students and citizens thronged protests at the Gateway of India and Carter Road, with slogans, poems and posters.
However, one particular poster is at the centre of the media’s narrative.
Pointing out this solitary poster in a sea of posters and placards, anchors argued how protests were captured and led by the “tukde-tukde gang” that wants Kashmir to secede from India.
Zee News editor-in-chief Sudhir Chaudhary talked about how the JNU campus should be moved outside Delhi due to its current proximity to media outlets and the offices of political parties. He also discussed the commercial rate of the JNU campus because…why not.
False equivalence: JNUSU president Aishe Gosh earlier led a ‘mob’ of students, just like the masked goons
Arnab Goswami’s primetime show on January 7, with the hashtag #WhoStartedJNUWar, claimed “Lutyens’ media” had come to a wrong, premature conclusion. His proof was the video below, following which he proclaimed that a “barbaric, monstrous attack” was led by Left student leaders.
What’s interesting is how Arnab equates this video to the one where masked goons can be seen threatening people with lathis: this particular video actually shows violence and one of the masked students is, in fact, being identified as an ABVP student.
So, what Arnab essentially does is mix up two completely different videos to claim that the terror unleashed on the campus was led by Left students when in fact one of the videos may very well be that of ABVP unleashing violence.
Arnab starts off with visuals of Aishe leading the group, saying “now…we have visuals which show the extreme brutality of the Left”.
Before you can question his logic, he feeds you the visuals of masked, armed goons who are being identified as ABVP members.
Now, on to the “incriminating” video that shows Aishe leading a “mob”, used by both Arnab and Sudhir.
What we can see in the video is that Aishe is leading a group of students, including some hiding their faces with scarves. Do we know that they went on to attack students? Is there any evidence of physical violence that ensued? No, no and no.
But here’s the brilliance of Sudhir Chaudhary: He ran the same video with a ticker that read “Zee News does not vouch for the validation of the video”, but that didn’t stop him from drawing conclusions to put the blame on the Left.
The trick is simple: Use words like “mob” repeatedly, enmesh it with visuals set against racy, high-adrenaline audio tracks, and then mislead viewers into equating the visuals of masked, armed goons with those of the JNUSU president leading a group of students.
Hence proved: The story is about Left vs Right violence.
Between the video where Aishe is leading a group and the one of armed, masked goons — which one best fits the description for “masked outsiders”?
But not for Arnab. His team used the visual with Aishe and pasted the other video’s description.
Whataboutery: Defending the Delhi police’s complicity
The consistency of the pro-government TV media echo chamber is best seen by how tweets by right-wing ecosystem feed into the government’s narrative that, in turn, feeds into declamations by anchors.
Of course, Arnab also employed this whataboutery.
Besides the fact that the first call to the police control room was made as early as 4.57 pm on January 5, the police didn’t enter the campus for hours, even as videos of the violence went viral. For a university that is known to be a haven for “Urban Naxals”, “anti-nationals” and “the tukde-tukde gang”, will the Delhi police wait for a written order even after calls to PCR have been made?
Not to forget, this when our home minister — to whom the Delhi police reports — publicly announced it’s time to punish the “tukde-tukde gang”.
Screenshots of SOS messages sent by Aishe to Vasant Kunj SHO Rituraj, Inspector Sanjeev Mandal, and Special Commissioner of Police Anand Mohan. Source: India Today
As former Delhi police commissioner, Neeraj Kumar told The Print: “There is no rule, no law that prevents police from entering into a place, may it be a university campus, when something illegal is going on.”
Was there anything illegal happening inside Jamia Millia Islamia when the police entered? No. Yet, they entered and went into a rampage on the pretext of chasing miscreants from outside.
Were the incidents unfolding in JNU on January 5 illegal, therefore requiring police intervention? Yes.
Importantly, The Indian Express says the JNU vice-chancellor asked that the police be stationed at the JNU gate as late as 6.24 pm, and an official letter from the JNU registrar was handed over to the police at 7.45 pm. Why did the VC ask the police to be stationed at the gates? Why did the police wait, even when they were “informally” told, hours before, of the situation getting worse?
But no, news anchors prefer Twitter whataboutery.
Mislead: Context about the events that preceded Sunday’s violence
JNU’s Executive Council had announced a partial rollback of the hike but the college has been on strike for a complete rollback.
It’s in this context that the JNUSU boycotted admissions for the upcoming academic session, and has been campaigning in the campus to ask everyone to not register. Last week, Left leaders also occupied the university’s server room to protest against the registration.
Obviously, this context is nowhere to be found in most of the opening monologues or debates on primetime shows. Here’s what we hear instead: The protests and scuffles that preceded the January 5 violence was a fight between those who want to study and those who want to “do politics”, and how students affiliated to Left parties are “ruining” the future of other students in the pursuit of their own political ambitions.
Not once did any of the anchors mention why Left groups were protesting in the first place, or the impact the fee hike may have on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Ad hominem: Say it till it evokes fear
One of the most effective and oft-used media tactics: Make a public enemy out of a group, create a hashtag, and repeat it until the mere mention of the term evokes fear and jingoistic patriotism. “Tukde-tukde gang” is entirely a media creation. Don’t forget — we documented the role the media played during the “sedition row” at JNY in February 2016. See here, here and here.
In his primetime show on January 6, between his #WhoStartedJNUWar and #TukdeGangSpotted debates, Arnab mentioned the words “Left”, “Leftist”, “Leftist mobs”, “Leftist goons” and “tukde-tukde” over 60 times.
Guess how many times he mentioned “ABVP”? Four — including when he introduced the ABVP representative on the panel.
Scuffles on campus are common. Sometimes, they turn violent. No one’s denying that there were scuffles, and that ABVP students were also hurt. When Newslaundry reached the spot, we were told how ABVP students too were targeted allegedly by a group of Left-affiliated people on 5th afternoon. There is no making excuses for those who indulged in violence on January 3, 4, and the afternoon of 5th, be it students from the Left or Right.
However, no one should deny that there were scuffles that escalated to a coordinated attack by outsiders and possibly students in the campus on the evening of January 5. The vice-chancellor should have controlled the situation, and not allowed the police to remain mute spectators.
There are a lot of pressing questions that the TV media can address with its reach, rhetoric and over-the-top graphics. Why did the police enter the campus so late? How did masked goons get away when there were police personnel deployed at all gates? On January 5 night, when students and staff were being assaulted, why was the JNU admin busy filing FIRs related to events between January 1 and 4? The first FIR against Ghosh was registered at 8:44 pm and the second FIR was registered at 8: 49 pm on January 5 just after the violence broke out. Why was the media not let in? Why were the street lights off for hours? Why has the police made zero arrests, even as media reports have been identifying some of the goons?
But then, that won’t line up with what you’re hearing from the government or its IT cell.
Arnab Goswami and Sudhir Chaudhary said in their monologues that viewers wait for their opinions and analyses. We can’t wish them away — all we can do is wake up and call out their bullshit.