Media and govt briefings are communalising COVID-19: Indian historian and economist

Many Indians are anti-muslim. Both media and govt briefings are communalising COVID-19 by their repeated references to Tablighi Jammat. PM’s silence is deliberate: Ramachandra Guha to Karan Thapar for The Wire
In a sharp and outspoken attack on the media, the Health Ministry’s daily official briefings and the Prime Minister, the well-known author and historian Ramachandra Guha says the Covid-19 crisis has become an opportunity to ventilate anti-muslim sentiments and islamophobia. He says in large parts of Northern and Western India anti-muslim sentiment is “a disturbing and distressing aspect of our compatriots.” Guha says the present surge in Islamophobia, both in India and by Indian expatriates in the Gulf, has led to “an extraordinary drop in India’s global standing… (it’s done) huge damage to India’s image….we have no friends more or less.”

In a 25 minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Ramchandra Guha (Media and govt briefings are communalising COVID-19: Indian historian and economist) questions the Prime Minister’s failure to speak out strongly against the targeting and demonization of Muslims. All the PM has come out with is a tepid and anodyne message that the Coronavirus does not see race, religion, colour, caste, etc. “Why did the PM have to wait so long,” asks Guha “and (speak) only after countries of the Gulf chastised us?”

Guha is critical of the deliberate use of Hindu religious imagery in the PM’s three Covid-19 speeches. He points out the PM repeatedly uses Hindu imagery such as seven steps, diyas, Lakshman rekha and Agni pariksha. Guha says this is part of a practice or tradition that has been well-established since 2014 which he calls “the steady, systematic, deliberate conversion of India into a Hindu majoritarian state.” Guha calls Mr. Modi’s govt. “an explicitly Hindu majoritarian govt” and says it’s very different to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s govt. which included secular leaders like George Fernandes, Mamta Banerjee, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha.

In another part of the interview, Guha calls Mr. Modi an “emperor and “an imperial Prime Minister”. This is with reference to Mr. Modi’s insistence on having his way in all matters including the redesigning of Delhi’s central vista which Guha calls “a vanity project”.

Guha praises Udhav Thackerey for saying he will not allow Muslims to be demonized. He also compliments the Chief Ministers of West Bengal and Chhattisgarh for trying to stem the communalisation of Covid-19.

Speaking to The Wire about the Health Ministry’s daily briefings, Guha says Lav Agrawal’s frequent references to the Tablighi Jammat to explain the spread of Covid-19 is “incitement to polarisation”. He calls it “tendentious” and “mischievous”. However, Guha adds that Lav Agrawal “is not doing it on his own…he’s been explicitly told to go ahead and do it.” Guha calls him “an instrument of the political establishment”. Guha says he’s “doing what his bosses want”.

Speaking to The Wire about the media, Guha says “without question, the media is guilty of whipping up Islamophobia.” He speaks of “anchors who go out of their way to inflame for TRPs.” However, he adds that “ a large section of the media has been communalized for a long time.”

Finally, referring to Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who dismissed the criticism India is facing in the western media and the Gulf for its treatment of its Muslim citizens and instead claimed India is “heaven for Muslim”, Guha tells The Wire “ this is the most ludicrous statement from a cabinet minister.” Guha says it’s an example of “alternative reality” and compares it to the sort of things President Trump says.

In the interview to The Wire Guha also speaks of why he has terminated his 6-year-old relationship with The Hindustan Times as a columnist on the Sunday paper. He reveals details of what was in the column the paper refused to carry and what they said to him. Guha reveals that an almost identical situation happened in 2008 when he was also a columnist for the same paper. At the time he discontinued his column but agreed to resume it in 2011 when the editor of the day assured him he would not be censured again. Now that it has happened a second time he believes terminating his relationship is the right thing to do. It’s not an extreme or impulsive response. Guha also refutes the charge that he terminated the relationship because his pride or ego was hurt.

The above is a paraphrased precis of Ram Guha’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Please see the full 25 mt interview for accurate details.

Here is a link to the interview: