Raj Thackeray’s Rise Reflects Utter Failure of Mainstream Media

Raj has been whitewashed after going all anti-Modi... but his rallies should be a wake-up call for mainstream media.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray
i

There are no permanent winners or losers in politics, to tweak a famous cliché.

On the list of permanent losers seemed to be Raj Thackeray, with no role to play in state or even Mumbai politics. His Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, now 13 years of age, began with a bang seizing 13 seats in the state Assembly in 2009, and in subsequent years, went on to score handsomely in some of the municipal corporations in state.

In the next Assembly elections – in 2014 – its tally had come down to one, and that sole MLA too crossed over to the Shiv Sena. As far as the civic bodies were concerned, the MNS’s presence is negligible to nothing.

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Now, he is back with a bang and his innovative rallies are the big talking point of this election.

Though there is no telling how much the rest of the country knows or cares about his diatribe against the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah jugalbandi, but in Maharashtra, he seems to have found traction across the state.

Mainstream News Media’s Failure at Large

That is the political story. The bigger one points to the disgraceful fall of the traditional media. What Raj has primarily done is what the mainstream media should have been doing all along.

The mainstream media – both print and television – has been working mostly as an extension of the Publicity Department of the Modi government. Almost all the media houses have been guilty of lapping up the government’s half-truths, lies and subterfuge, without bringing into play even a modicum of due diligence.

During these last five years, the media groups’ failure to be fair not only in their reportage but also in fact-checking have ceded space to creation of an Alt News and later Boomlive to do what should have been the media conglomerates’ job in the first place: Not to be a stenographer media, and instead counter fake news.

Raj’s Modus Operandi

Now that Raj has entered the fray, exposing Modi’s lies and fake promises, it’s a slap in the face of the media houses. Things have come to such a pass that Raj Thackeray can claim more credibility than the leading newspapers of India.

Among other “idea of India” components that we have lost in the last five years, the damage to the credibility of the media should rank high.

On the flip side, the new fans that Raj has signed up is what has made the situation interesting: the non-BJP/Sena intelligentsia. They are revelling at the potshots he is taking at the Modi government.

And so clinically. With two big LED screens, Modi’s speeches are telecast in bits and pieces – but never out of context – and torn to bits and pieces. It is fact-checking at its best and as direct as can be, reaching the masses who may not have heard of a Pratik Sinha and who may in fact be getting fake feeds on their smartphones through WhatsApp.

Raj has turned out to be the offline version of AltNews, Dhruv Rathee, Ravish Kumar, Janta ka Reporter, The Wire, combined with Kunal Kamra and Varun Grover.

The deadly mixture of debunking tall promises and exposing lies, with hard evidence on wide screen, and irreverent humour inherent in Marathi (and most Indian languages) is – for want of a better parallel – going viral on ground.

The Ghost of Politics Past

But, amidst the accolades, the admiration from the “secular” media – few and far between these days – has not gone down well with another section with similar leanings. Through their tweets and retweets, they are making their displeasure evident at the liberal media going gaga over Raj.

After all, Raj’s party spearheaded several hate campaigns in Maharashtra, bashing up hapless Biharis and UP-ites in Mumbai on its outskirts in the 2008 railway recruitment exams. As recently as 2017, MNS activists became a law unto themselves, evicting hawkers from Mumbai’s famed suburban rail premises.

With such a dubious record, making Raj virtuous is akin to Maneka Gandhi being considered secular if she were to jump ship to the Samajwadi Party.

How can such a person who has used fear psychosis and terror against soft targets be encouraged and accepted as the torchbearer of freedom of speech just because he has suddenly turned anti-Modi?

It was also the same Raj – something which he doesn’t deny even in his speeches –who went, on invitation from Modi, to Gujarat in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and gave the state a glowing certificate as a model for Modi’s India.

All things considered, the angst of this section of liberal media at Raj Thackeray becoming the anti-right wing poster-boy may well be justified – but it screams for an introspection by the mainstream media.

The journalistic credibility of the big media houses does seem beyond redemption, and Raj’s rallies have only added more nails to the coffin of this mainstream, and spineless, media.

(Mahesh Balasubramanian has extensively covered Maharashtra politics from mid-1980s to the late 1990s. He was City Editor of DNA from 2007 to 2010. His last stint was as editor of Bangalore Mirror for six years, till 2016. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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