By Atal Tiwari
Central Hindi Institute, Agra, has announced the [delayed] awards for 2016. I was stunned to see, in the four-paged announcement, Second (Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Award) of the 12 categories and the names of those 26 awardees.
According to the announcement in the field of Hindi Journalism and Mass Communication, Sheela Jhunjunwala and Rohit Sardana would be presented with Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Award and would be given Rs five lakh each.
Working for training, research and promotion of Hindi in the country and abroad, this institute comes under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Instead of [wasting time on] discussing all of the 26 winners, this review is confined only to TV journalist Rohit Sardana.
One feels pity at the wisdom [intellectual depth and honesty as well of] the committee led by the institute’s director Professor Nand Kishore Pandey that has selected the journalist in question for Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthii Award. Impelled with this [state of affairs], I undertook a study of Rohit Sardana’s journalism during the last few years and the mission and journalism of Vidiarthi Ji. During this mental exercise, I kept asking myself if the scope of Hindi journalism is simply as narrow that the institute had to pick a journalist who has been [playing a leading role in] promoting sectarian hatred.
I could not even imagine that just ten days after delivering a memorial lecture on the death anniversary (25 March 2018) of Vidhiarthi Ji, I will have to pen this comment. By making this choice the institute has [done a great injustice to and] made the blunder of making a mockery of Vidyarthi’s standard of journalism. What is ironic is the fact that the person who, until his last breath, kept fighting for the rights of peasants and labourers, waged a war against sectarian violence, remained an embodiment [and a flag-bearer] of Ganga Jamni Tehzeeb [a Cultural Mix of India], worked for social integrity and, at last, gained martyrdom while trying to stop a Hindu-Muslim riot, an award named after a devoted and such a great hero of India’s freedom struggle is being given to someone who has only earned notoriety for working against the very mission of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi.
The British executed Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary comrades on 23th March 1931. Vidyarthi learnt about it the next morning on 24th March. He immediately left his home and spent the day in organising condolence meetings and strikes. Following the executions of the revolutionaries, widespread riots broke out all over the country including Kanpur. He returned home late that night and informed his relatives and friends about the execution of Bhagat Singh and his friends.
Disturbed and saddened by the executions and sectarian riots he spent sleepless nights. All the while he would leave his bed and walk around in the house. [Seeing her son in such a state], His mother kept advising him saying: ‘Son have some sleep’. To this Vidhiarthi responded: ‘Mom, I don’t know what to do.’
Obviously the mother was getting worried thinking about what might be the result of her son’s revolutionary activities. Only the next day her fears proved right. Some Muslim women were trapped in a Muslim locality. While trying to rescue them back to Muslim localities and taking out Hindu families from Muslim neighbourhoods, he was himself killed by the rioters. In the words of his daughter Vimla Vidhiarthi: ‘It would be wrong to call them rioters. They must have been elements directed and misguided by the British Government.’
Thus Vidyarthi embarked upon the path his disciples had marched on two days ago. [The anxiety caused by] Sectarian riots had taken away his peace of mind. He could not sleep for two days. But [The anxiety caused by] Sectarian riots had deprived Vidyarthi of his sleep [and because of this] he had not slept for two days.
Now [ironically] the award named after him has been announced for a journalist who, through his journalism, has destroyed the peace and sleep of people specially of those who think and care for the country and the society.
Here we will merely have a look at the catchlines of the last few months of Dangal, presented by this journalist representing ‘Aaj Tak, [supposedly] is the fastest channel of the country. This will give one an idea [of what he is up to].
During the Kasgang riots he broke all the records of partisan journalism and wrote the catchline of his show as, ‘Bharat MeiN Tiranga Phairaia to Danga’ [If you hoist the tricolour flag in India, riots would follow].
Obviously, this gentleman does not feel that the telecast of contents, full of lies, in the name of patriotism will increase sectarian hatred and the already existing gulf between the two religious communities will become even more wider. He did not even care about what his correspondents have been reporting. Because of his intransigence, his TV Channel broadcasts various versions of a story. In a way Rohit Sardana, in his show, continued to brand all of the Indian Muslims as anti-India, anti-vandematram and Pakistan lovers. The questions asked by him simply reflected his feelings. For example, ‘If tricolour is not flown in India, will it be hoisted in Pakistan then?’; ‘Are Vande Matram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai sectarian slogans?’; ‘Who are the people who are opposed to tricolour in Kasgang? Why is the police not revealing their names?’ and ‘How many Pakistanis like this are flourishing there in the country at the moment?’
Earlier, in November 2017, a portal had conducted a study of the previous ten days of the contents of two special programmes of two TV channels. According to this Rohit Sardana had turned 95% of his shows into Hindu versus Muslim debate during which he specially targeted the Muslims and the Maulanas. Before Aaj Tak, this gentleman worked with Zee TV news channel. There he used to present ‘Taal ThoNk ke’ programme. There most of his broadcasts were, or he was ordered to do so, on Hindu versus Muslims as well. In order to present a taste of what type of journalism he practices it is necessary to talk about some of his shows.
A programme presented in May 2017 was headlined: ‘Desh Darohi Hurriyet ko desh nikala kab?’ [When will the Hurriat traitors be exiled?] Have a look at some of the questions asked in this show: ‘Aatank ke dallaloN ki sewa kab tak kare ga Bharat?’ [For how long will India continue serving the agents of terror?]; ‘AatankioN ke agentoN ko desh nikala kab?’ [When will the agents of terror be exiled?]; ‘AatankioN ke agent Hindustan ke VVIP kiyoN?’ [Why are the agents of terror treated like VVIPs in India?]. The issue here was only that there was an allegation that Pakistan was sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir for which money had been sent from there. The NIA had registered a case in this regard.
In this regard the NIA had started an investigation against some Hurriyet leaders including Syed Ali Shah Gilani. But in Rohit’s question all of the above mentioned leaders had been declared terrorist agents. Similarly in mid-May a programme, ‘Mulk meiN desh daroh par double standard kioN?’ [Why double standards about treason in the country?’ Its intro was, ‘Have the traitors in Kashmir been assured that whatever they do no action will be taken against them and even if some action is taken it will simply be a flimsy show? Has the government been blind folded with regards to anti-national activities in Kashmir?’
The issue was that there was an allegation of Pakistani national anthem being sung during a match at Pulwama stadium. There were also reports of anti-India slogans having been raised and posters of some alleged terrorists been pasted. Surely as a news these incidents should have been reported. But special attention [and care] should have also been paid to the language used in it. There would have been some elements behind these activities and not each and every Kashmiri is anti-national as the journalist has tried to create an impression of by not using ‘some’ or ‘few’.
In September 2017, in a show of Taal ThoNk ke, Rohit Sardana, talking to Asaduddin Owaisi, asked, ‘Five Muslim youths were killed in a police encounter what have you done in this regard?’ To this Owaisi replied, ‘Because you do not show my work that’s why people do not know about it. I mobilised an opinion against the government, organised public meetings and filed a case in the High Court.’
Rohit [adding some spice] said, ‘You mean the media shows only your anti-national statements and not your good work?’ To this an enraged Owaisi replied, ‘When did I make an anti-national statement? Give one proof. And if there is any proof send me to jail straight from here or take your words back.’ In response Rohit started beating about the bush and referred to his younger brother’s [Akbaruddin Owasi] statements.
Reacting strongly, Owaisi replied, ‘If he has made such statements, case had been filed against him and he was sent to jail. Now the case is in court. But you will have to produce the proof of whatever I have said against the country.’ But Rohit had no proof and was only trying to fabricate one. And on that day he had to bite dust.
To talk about Rohit Sardana’s journalism and not to mention JNU is not possible. Although he is alleged to be on the forefront of those journalists who are alleged to have been taking cash for reporting against JNU and he did telecast several shows on JNU, here we would refer only to one show entitled, ‘Ghaddari par seena zori kioN’ [Why such a brazen audacity for anti-nationalism?]
During this programme questions were asked why politics was being played on anti-national slogans chanted in JNU? Why attempts were being made to cover seditions activities with the pretext of freedom of expression? Why from a campus from where the smell of anti-nationalism was coming, political parties started smelling votes?
While these questions were being asked, photographs of Congress’s vice president Raul Gandhi, Communist Party of India’s (Marxist) President Sitaram Yechuri with the then JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were constantly displaying in the background.
Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram Yechuri had gone to JNU to express solidarity with the students, something Rohit Sardana found hard to digest. Such type of journalism had portrayed JNU as a den of anti-nationals and Umar Khalid as a separatist. The fact, however, is that this was a well thought out plan hatched by the central government and its sponsored media against JNU. Intelligence agencies have so far been unable to produce any proof of any anti-national activity of the students targeted in this campaign.
This is how Rohit Sardana has been breaking the records of spreading [sectarian] hatred through his journalism that he started from his ‘Taal thok ke’ programme at Zee News and is continuing in his show, ‘Dangal’, at Aaj Tak TV.
Having talked about his records [of hate preaching], let us also have a look at the names of his shows. ‘Vikas ke Maare’ [Tormented by development]; ‘Hindu aatankwad ke sahare MP ko gaali’ [Using Hindu terrorism as a pretext to swear at an MP]; ‘Hafiz ko Tali’ [Clap for Hafiz]; ‘Rashtrawadi TaqatoN ke khilaf Church [Church against nationalist forces]; ‘Desh DrohiyoN ke khilaf India ki batting [India’s batting against anti-nationals]; ‘Triple Talaq ko Aakhri Talaq’ [Last divorce to triple divorce]; ‘Mujre kara ke palega Kashmir ko Pakistan’ [Pakistan will feed Kashmir by organising the dance by prostitutes]; ‘Mughal Bharat ke liye bojh ya virasat’ [Mughals: A burden for India or a heritage?]
If all these topics of Rohit Sardana’s programmes are seriously assessed and the blunder of testing them against the principles of journalism is committed, then he would surely need to be given several medals not only for dividing the society, pitching two communities against each other and destroying social cohesion but also for destroying relations with another country.
Perhaps it was this journalism that was in the mind of Chief Justice of Supreme Court when, during the hearing of a case, he said that he did not want to name the channels but some of them think that they are the, ‘Popes sitting on the pulpit’ who, ‘think that they can write anything. Whatever excites your imagination—you can write anything and get away’. At this time this is exactly what Rohit Sardana and other journalists like him think. How much such TV shows are contributing in increasing the knowledge of viewers or how many get poisoned and get consumed with hatred for fellow citizens, is displayed in the violent sectarian crimes taking place every day in the country]
Surely, this is not benefitting the public in terms of increasing their knowledge. However, what these shows are doing is that the youths get enraged and poisoned. Their religious zeal start losing control. The journalism of this ‘respectable’ journalist is filled with hate speech. Ignoring the everyday problems faced by the people he shapes everything into Hindu versus Muslim debate. By so doing, while on the one hand he is helping a particular political party, and on the other he gets the status of a blue-eyed boy of his employers. But he is not the only blue-eyed boy of this kind. There is a whole team of such journalists around. A poster of six members of such a team of journalists was recently posted on a WhatsApp group the catch line of it was, ‘Bharat ka sab se bada atanki sangathan Lashkar-e-Media’. A caption underneath the poster reads, ‘Yeh media par sateek satire hai. Desh ko hinsa ke anmod meN dubo raha hai yeh Lashkar-e-Media’. [This is an appropriate satire on the Media. This Lashkar-e-Media is intoxicating the country with militant propaganda].
Although I am talking about this poster, personally I am against restrictions on any media outlet. I am for objectivity and impartiality in journalism. The said poster also has a smiling photo of Rohit Sardana. I am not commenting on the rest of the five because they have nothing to do with my comment. If they were also selected for Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi award I would have included them in my comment as well. However, for whom and on whose directions has this team been working in journalism is not a secret anymore. In this background, the Director of Central Hindi Institute Professor Nand Kishore Pandey may have invited some scribes and informed them about the selected scholars; and Committee members might have put their seal of approval on these selected names but wherefrom the directions to select Rohit Sardana for Ganesh Shankar Vidiarthi award would have come one doesn’t need to think much and waste energies on this.
Outlining the policies of his newspaper ‘Partap’ this is what Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi had written in the concluding paragraph: ‘If there ever comes a day [in our life] when our soul becomes so insensitive that we deviate from our cherished principles; start supporting lies intentionally and with brazen shamelessness; display cowardice and deviate from the principles of liberalism, independence and impartiality that day will be the most unfortunate day of our life. And [if that happens] along with the death of our morals we would also wish the end of our life.’
Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi practiced journalism with these goals until his martyrdom. He did not live to see such a cursed day. But 70 years after the independence in the ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’ [Everybody on board; everybody’s progress] chanting India, his soul or his admirers and those who read and hum his writings, are having to witness a dark day on which a decision has been made to give an award, named after someone who did not hesitate in sacrificing his life for Hindu-Muslim unity, to someone who has been promoting sectarian hatred instead.
It would be much better if the journalist in question refuses to accept the award saying that he does not deserve the award named after Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and that he has been doing just the opposite to the noble journalism practiced by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. By so doing he will do justice to the soul of the martyred freedom fighter and will also be able to protect his conscience as well.