The VHP has publicly disowned her, and the BJP has confirmed that she is no longer a party member. Yes, she did (unsuccessfully) contest the 2012 election from Purkazi in Uttar Pradesh on a BJP ticket, but she is no longer in the party, spokesperson Sambit Patra tells The Quint. She’s not even a member of the Rajya Sabha.
Regardless, several leading publications continue to designate her as a VHP or BJP leader. In their defence, it can be a challenge to separate her vitriol from that of serving parliamentarians like Yogi Adityanath, Hukum Singh and Sangeet Som.
Her communal propaganda ranges from “Salman Khan was acquitted because he’s Muslim” and “Shah Rukh Khan is a Pakistani agent” to “Beef-eaters like Akhlaq deserve death” and a call to “Make India Muslim-free”.
Why, then, does the Indian media give enviable column inches and air time to Sadhvi Prachi? How did a political failure like Sadhvi Prachi, someone who was of no political consequence a year ago, gain such prominence? To what extent are we, the media, responsible? And what would it take to block her out?
The Quint asked news editors from Hindi and English dailies and news channels.
The fact is, it’s easy to do a Sadhvi Prachi story. There’s isn’t much explaining to do, a simple quote or a sound byte and cursory expression of “outrage” does it. A news editor at a leading English news channel uses a more palatable analogy to explain why his newsroom has chosen to blank her out.
Sadhvi Prachi is the newsroom equivalent of mayonnaise. Nobody knows quite what is is, or what goes in it, but it’s easy to use and you don’t have to do much. She provides a steady stream of shock value that plays off the attention newsrooms give to her.
“Recently, our newsroom took a decision to blank her out. When she said Muslims should leave India, there was an enough switch that went off in the newsroom. We’ve all been part of giving dangerous rabble-rousing attention, elevating their statements and virtually ordering people to pay attention to them. Because it’s easy to do so. That makes sense when it’s a true public figure with public office,” says the senior journalist.
But what about the rest? How does drowning one voice among others who have political sanction help? NDTV India’s Executive Editor Ravish Kumar says Sadhvi Prachi should be viewed as a “mentality”, not a “symbol”.
There are many shades to politics of hate. Some are crude, others fine, but there’s no real difference. Such statements need to be put in context first.
The host of Prime Time, whose TV editorials often become a subject of debate on social media, says that while a media house can set an editorial policy, journalists should not fool themselves.
“I’m equally concerned about the role played by the media in Kairana. I don’t think we can make Sadhvi Prachi symbol. She’s represents a mentality that needs to be understood in a particular context”, says Ravish.
If the politics of hate has taken on epidemic proportions, the media’s coverage of Sadhvi Prachi, according to political editor at Hindustan Times Vinod Sharma, is endemic to journalism today.
We now merrily mention “Hindus” and “Muslims” while reporting communal riots. It no only exacerbates the situation, it also injects distrust in society.
The senior journalist refers to how Sadhvi Prachi is repeatedly referred to as a VHP or BJP leader in the media, despite the fact that both organisations have disowned her, as an example of “lazy journalism”.
Editorial judgement must be exercised, not just while reporting on Sadhvi Prachi, whose description as BJP MP is an example of lazy journalism, but even when a political party holds a press conference and makes damning allegations against a person. The media shouldn’t blindly quote them.
“They defame the “accused” without doing any due diligence. But when someone talks of the criminal dimension to defamation, we start crying about freedom of press”, adds the senior journalist.
It would be undemocratic to block her out, says Vinod Verma, who headed Amar Ujala’s online foray. He puts it simply: “She may not hold elected office, but you cannot deny that she a following. Sadhvi Prachi is not a nobody.”
You cannot block someone out in today’s age of hand-held devices. The media cannot bury its head in the sand. If you think that by not reporting something, you are stopping it, it is not so. In fact, by reporting about her, you’re exposing her.