This communally charged ‘debate’ was sponsored by Patanjali, Dabur, Real Fruit Juice and EaseMyTrip.com, among others.
The Uttar Pradesh election is around the corner and our TV news channels are getting ready to milk the attention out of those eyeballs and feed it to their advertisers. And, of course, the assumption is that the viewers want to watch Hindus screeching “Hum khatre mein hai” – “we are in danger” – and Muslims being blamed for it.
Zee News made one such attempt this week on their 5 pm “debate” programme Taal Thok Ke.
Other than the usual screaming, shouting and saying nonsense words, there was a fair amount of nudge nudge, wink wink indication that Muslims are the ones keeping India backward by reproducing too much.
Let’s start with the imagery.
These are the two title screens of the show. One asks “Kudrat Bahana Hai, Muslim Abaadi Badhaana hai?” Nature is an excuse, the aim is to raise the Muslim population?
The second blares, “Nizaam-e-Kudrat ya Hindustan par Aafat?” System of nature or disaster for India?
Notice how there is adarniya mukhyamantri Yogi Adityanath looking all serious on one side and, on the other side, Samajwadi Party MP Shafiqur Rahman surrounded by a crowd of Muslims. Subtle messaging with not-so-subtle titles.
The title plates are just the beginning of Zee News’s “debate”. But first, let me lay out the premise of this programme.
The Uttar Pradesh government has launched an information campaign for two-kid families called “do bacche hi acche”. Rahman’s reaction to this campaign was, “Children are part of the system of nature. Nobody has a right to interfere with that.” Now, Rahman has a history of saying and doing problematic things: he claimed Covid is Allah’s punishment and that saying “Vande Mataram” goes against his religion.
Another comment on the campaign came from Samajwadi Party MLA Iqbal Mehmood, who said, “Population is increased by Dalits and Adivasis because they don’t have jobs.”
Both these statements were like fresh fodder for cud-chewing channels like Zee News, which decided to regurgitate some same old Hindu-Muslim communal bullshit, for the lack of a better word, for 40 minutes.
So, the show began with explaining what Rahman and Mehmood said followed by images of areas crowded by Muslim people.
Of course, Zee News roped in a very “Hindu” looking fellow to comment on the matter: Mahant Narayan Giri of the Antarashtriya Juna Akhada. He rose to the occasion and said, “When such stupid people reach Parliament, it is an insult towards our constitution. Today, the population in India is exploding...”
Cut to even more visuals of crowded Muslim areas.
The show’s anchor Aditi Tyagi asked viewers whether it was wrong to preach “hum do hamare do” and why one particular religion was opposed to it. The panel comprised this lovely bunch.
Now, most of the debate was general shouting, as these things usually go. But there were some standout moments.
For instance, a spokesperson from the Samajwadi Party, Anurag Bhadauriya, went on about how the issue is being used to distract from things like unemployment and Covid deaths. He also asked the BJP to explain the population control law and what it would entail. Aditi Tyagi, however, kept asking Bhadauriya whether he agreed with the statements by Rahman and Mehmood; when he tried talking about anything else, she would cut him off and play the statements on loop.
Then there was the BJP spokie, Sanju Verma, who started by saying “Why is this law being looked at from a religious perspective?” before doing the exact same thing.
“I want to quote Alok Vajpeyi of Population Fund of India,” she said. “He pointed out there are three states where Muslim population is high: West Bengal, Bihar and UP. There are 86 districts which have the most unemployment, malnutrition and crime. In these districts, Muslim population is more than 50 percent.”
Tyagi looked confused and asked, “What is the point you are trying to make? Why are you bringing in a religion?” Verma just repeated the same points...including the point about not making this issue about religion.
About the 86 districts: we have no clue where Verma got her “facts” from but the only reference about the 86 districts is this. The HRD ministry had said that Muslims count for 20 percent of the population or more in 86 out of 675 districts. Of these, 12 are listed among the country’s most backward, while others include districts in urbanised centres. We searched for a statement from the Population Foundation of India on these lines, but couldn’t find one. If you do, please let us know.
What we did find is articles like these which bust the myth of this Muslim population “explosion”, as Zee News put it. Former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi has written a book on this subject where he talked about how the high birth rates are purely because of non-religious factors such as the lack of literacy, income and access to health services. And in each of these metrics, the Muslim community in India fares the worst.
The right-wing tends to point towards the higher fertility rate of Muslim women as compared to Hindu women: 2.61 births per woman compared to the Hindus’ 2.13. But Quraishi said this means nothing given the sheer difference in numbers between the two communities. In 1951, there were 30 crore more Hindus than Muslims. That gap increased to 80 crore by 2011.
So, when Sanju Verma throws around such figures on primetime TV, she’s propagating a myth that has been conveniently used to push the Hindutva agenda for years.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that a compulsory, state-mandated two-child policy can have disastrous effects on the demography of a country. I’m not saying this, the government said as much in an affidavit in the Supreme Court. We also have the live example of China, which adopted a one-child policy only to scrap it in 2015.
Why? Because, as it turns out, it was an utter disaster.
But it is kinda amazing how meta this situation is. A person says “don’t bring religion into this issue” and then goes on to make the issue religious, on a show where the anchor questions her for making the issue religious, during a show where the channel is making the issue about religion.
Zee News openly hinted at the fact that Muslims want to produce many, many children in an effort to take the country backward. They then platformed people like Sanju Verma who openly made false statements and were not countered.
And all of this based on what? Statements from two men.
That, my dear readers, is the art of creating a communally-charged debate out of literally nothing. There was no discussion on whether a law was actually being brought in to control the population. No BJP representative or person in power had to answer to what this law would actually entail.
In fact, at the very beginning of this show, during their communally-charged graphic designing showcase, they included a statement from union minister Siddharth Nath Singh. He said, “There should be control on population. Now whether the government makes a law on it, and when, I don’t have any information on this yet.” That is literally where the idea of having a debate like this should have ended. But not for Zee News who wants to make people angry in its desperate need for sweet, sweet TRPs.
Speaking of which, here’s the list of sponsors we spotted during the 5 pm “news show”. Easemytrip.com, Dabur Shilajit Gold, Real Fruit Juice, and Patanjali.
Other than these, we spotted these products being advertised during the 5 pm slot as well: Google, Vicks, Faasos, Duraguard Cement, Nirma, TVS Radeon, Concreto, Zee Learn, Zee5, Dhara, Dell Technologies, Intel, Patanjali Facewash, Behroz, KN (Seltos), Jeevansaathi, Sweettruth, Acko Insurance, Patanjali oils, Amba Cement, Hempushpa, Patanjali Gai Ka Ghee, Agarwal Packers, Hicks Digital Thermometer, Kassmudhu, Patanjali Peedanil Gold and Orthoghrit, Patanjali Divya Livoghrit, Patanjali Swasaari, Divya BP Ghrit & Mukt Vati, and Patanjali Madhughrit.
About Patanjali, we have seen before and reported on how they have been flooding TV media with money and getting their products pushed seamlessly, including the controversial Coronil kit. Newslaundry also investigated the “approval” for Coronil that Patanjali claimed to have received based on dubious trials. But alas, Patanjali continues to show Coronil ads on TV till date, just like in this debate.
With inputs from Yusra Hasan.
Update: There were 30 crore more Hindus than Muslims in 1951, not the other way around. This has been corrected in the story.