Two car crashes in Karnataka involving Congress MLA’s son and BJP minister’s son. Guess which got more media attention?

Only a few news outlets asked tough questions about the accident involving the son of revenue minister R Ashok of the BJP.

WrittenBy:Kapil Kajal
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On February 11, two road accidents involving luxury cars took place in Karnataka. In Bengaluru, a Bentley crashed into two vehicles, injuring four people. In Ballari district, a Mercedes Benz rammed into a tea stall and killed two people.

The two accidents had something else in common: they both involved the sons of prominent politicians. The Bentley was purportedly driven by Mohammed Nalapad Haris — referred to as Nalapad Jr — son of Nalapad Ahmed Haris, a Congress MLA. In the Mercedes, Sharath, son of Karnataka revenue minister R Ashok of the BJP, was a passenger, according to eyewitnesses.

Yet, media coverage of both accidents had a clear division. The Bentley accident was splashed across the front pages of all major English newspapers — the Times of India, Deccan Herald, Hindu, New Indian Express. The media went out of its way to highlight that the son of a Congress leader was involved.

In comparison, the second accident found limited mention in these newspapers. Many media houses chose not to highlight the alleged involvement of the son of a BJP leader.

Coverage of Congress MLA’s son

Reporting on the Bentley accident, across mediums, was thorough. Reports included details of Nalapad Jr’s background, CCTV footage that established him as the driver of the car, details of victims, and quotes from the police commissioner.

On February 12, Deccan Herald covered the accident involving Nalapad’s son in Bengaluru. The report detailed his past criminal records.

“Mohammed Nalapad — who catapulted to national notoriety for brutally assaulting a youth in a Bengaluru pub in 2018 — trouble again,” the report said. “Son of Shanthinagar Congress MLA N A Haris, Nalapad rammed his high-end Bentley car into a motorcycle, autorickshaw and a car on Sunday afternoon near Mekhri Circle, severely injuring the biker. Based on eyewitness accounts, traffic police have issued a notice to Nalapad.”

The report added: “Interestingly, the central government website ‘Vahaan’ shows that Bentley Continental GT with Telangana registration (TS 09-0009) belongs to ‘Driven By You Mobili’, a car rental company in Hyderabad. The luxury vehicle costs Rs 3.5 crore to Rs 5 crore in the market.”

The Times of India carried a report on February 12 which began: “Investigations into Sunday’s Bentley car crash have taken an interesting turn with traffic police issuing a notice to Mohammed Nalapad Haris, son of Shantinagar MLA NA Haris, for allegedly sending his private gunman to own up responsibility for the accident.”

The New Indian Express went the same way, stating: “Mohammed Haris Nalapad, son of Shantinagar Congress MLA NA Haris, is in news for wrong reasons again. He has been accused of causing a series of accidents, leaving four people injured, and escaping from the spot.”

Business Standard’s headline focused on Nalapad Jr’s father: “Out on bail, Karnataka Congress MLA's son arrested for ramming car into 2 vehicles”.

The first paragraph of Bangalore Mirror’s report said: “In 2018, in an interview to a city magazine, Mohammed Nalapad, son of NA Haris, Shantinagar MLA, had said he wanted to be the Prime Minister of India. In the same interview he had said he had a great passion for cars.”

The Hindu left out details of the father in its headline (“Mohammed Nalapad gets station bail in car accident case”) but the report began: “Mohammed Nalapad Haris, the son of Shantinagar Congress MLA NA Haris, who appeared before the Sadashiv Nagar traffic police on Wednesday for questioning, has denied the police’s charge that he was involved in the accident in which his Bentley knocked down an autorickshaw and a motorcycle, injuring four people.”

Television and digital media also extensively reported on the accident, including News18, India Today, and India TV. All of them focused on who Nalapad Jr’s father is. Republic TV went a step further: “VVIP Brat Surrenders Before Police, Claims Innocence After His Bentley Injures Four.”

Was the BJP minister’s son not worthy of media coverage?

Some sections of the media handled the Mercedes accident with kid-gloves. As it stands, Sharath was present in the car. He wasn’t named in the FIR.

The Times of India included the accident as a box item attached to its coverage of the Bentley accident. “Sources claimed the car was being driven by the son of a Karnataka minister...Police identified the car driver as Rahul and said he was not the son of the Karnataka minister.”

The minister was not named. His party affiliation was not mentioned. The box item added: “The reportedly registered in the name of a prominent chain of school and the minister is on the school management.”

Bangalore Mirror did. “Revenue Minister R Ashok’s son is alleged to have been present in the car which was involved in an accident at Ballari, killing two persons, including a car passenger. However, it is not clear if the minister’s son was in the driver’s seat. His name does not figure in the FIR either.” It included quotes from the minister saying his son was not involved.

ANI’s headline read: “Have no connection with the car, says BJP leader R Ashok on Bellary accident case”. The report said: “However, the minister avoided answering questions about his son’s presence in the car and said that they had ‘no connection’ with the car.”

The Hindu’s report went the same way, quoting the police superintendent as saying it was a “rumour” that the minister’s son “was in the car involved in the accident”.

Not all media

However, some media houses asked tough questions, as they’re supposed to do.

Deccan Chronicle pointed out that the CCTV footage of the accident has gone missing. “In a shocking development, the CCTV footage of an accident involving a Mercedes Benz car that killed two persons on February 10 is said to be missing from cameras installed along the national highway,” the report said. “It is alleged that Karnataka revenue minister R Ashok’s son Sharath was driving the vehicle when the incident took place on February 10.”

The News Minute covered the story extensively in a report headlined “Karnataka minister R Ashoka’s son was allegedly in car that mowed down a man”. It cited a report by Kannada newspaper Prajavani which stated that “the local police didn’t mention Sharat’s name in the FIR though he was driving the car, in a clear bid to shield him”.

The report also pointed out that journalists with Public TV, a Kannada news channel, spoke to two eye-witnesses, who identified Sharath from a photograph as a passenger in the car.

The News Minute also reported on a photograph that shows an injured Sharath sitting in a grey pick-up truck but added that it couldn’t confirm if the photo was taken on the day of the accident.

Republic TV also reported that Sharath seemed to be involved in the accident.

On February 15, Republic TV ran the headline “BJP brat vs Cong brat” and said the revenue minister had “evaded” its reporter’s questions on Sharath’s involvement in the accident.

On February 17, Republic TV claimed it accessed footage that shows Sharath “fleeing from the accident site in a pickup truck. He is seen visibly injured after the incident in which two people were killed.”

Pooja Prasanna, Republic TV’s South India bureau chief, said: “It is curious that SP of Ballari had vehemently denied any role of Sharath and even his presence at the location where the accident took place…but the first photograph that we have accessed several days ago also proves that he was very much present and also sustain several injuries. This video also clearly shows that Sharath was right next to that red Mercedes which was involved in the accident.”

A doctor at the hospital that conducted the autopsy on one of the passengers killed in the accident confirmed to Republic TV that the deceased was “close” to R Ashok. The doctor said the same thing to The News Minute.

Pooja Prasanna pointed out: “A doctor of the hospital who went on record to say that he was told that people who are involved in that accident are close relatives and people close to R Ashok which is why he was pressured to conduct the autopsy in a very hurried manner because it has to be brought back to Bengaluru, and also several eyewitnesses go on to say that they have seen Sharath at the location — which is a charge that was denied.”

Why was the Bentley accident downplayed?

Ravindra Ambekar, founder and editor of MaxMaharashtra, a Marathi news portal, said politicians are often the “biggest advertisers” for the media.

“So, these days, 90 percent of the media will suppress the story of a politician in power,” he said. “Only a few do stories; the rest is PR work. Not taking a stand is called ‘neutrality’ but it’s dangerous for the industry.”

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of Deccan Chronicle and former editor of DNA and the New Indian Express, said the “suppression” of stories has increased in recent times.

“Recently, the media as a whole has been under a lot of pressure — not just in India but in the whole world,” Sinha said. “It has to do with the rise of populism in the world and the populist leaders. So, whether it is the US, Turkey, Philippines or India, one of the major targets of populist leaders is the media, so it is under a lot of pressure. That is one factor. Either they become totally the mouthpiece of the governing party or they have to keep quiet.”

The second thing, Sinha said, is that many media owners have other business interests. “So if they write against the governing party or members of the governing party, their other business interests get threatened.”

He added: “Ultimately if the media owners support the journalists, the journalists can report freely but in our country, the media owners tend to suppress their journalists. The vernacular newspapers, they feel the most pressure. The Uttar Pradesh MLA who was accused of gang rape, it should be played up. Similarly, the car accidents in Karnataka — both of them are underplayed.

Kapil Kajal is a staff reporter with, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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