For the dominant Indian media, the first three weeks of November 2023 have been all about two campaigns: elections to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan State Assemblies and the 46-day-long ODI Cricket World Cup which started on 5 October and ended on 19 November, both matches played in Ahmedabad at the erstwhile Sardar Patel Stadium which the Modi government renamed after Narendra Modi The continuing genocide of children, women and other unarmed Palestinians in Gaza of course never really became news in the Godi media. Even the news of the tunnel collapse in Uttarakhand which has trapped forty one workers for more than a week now has received little attention.
There are of course double standards in the election campaign coverage. Ahead of the Chhattisgarh polls on 7 November there was big breaking news attributed to the ED which alleged that the incumbent Congress CM Bhupesh Baghel had received 500-odd crore rupees in a betting app scam. The reports that followed the screaming headlines of course said that the allegation remained to be investigated. The betting app in question has been a subject of an ongoing probe by the state government for quite some time and several arrests have already been made. The timing of the ‘breaking news’ was clearly aimed at affecting the public perception and voting choice of the electorate in Chhattisgarh. The weaponisation of the ED reached an altogether new level in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Around the same time there were two major news stories presenting a different picture. Two ED officials were captured redhanded in Rajasthan by the state anti-corruption bureau while taking bribes, but the story quickly disappeared from the media. More recently videos of Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s son Devendra Singh Tomar went viral on social media where the junior Tomar could be seen having telephonic conversations about settling commissions worth crores of rupees. Two such videos, the first talking of Rs 100 crore and the second mentioning a first monthly instalment of Rs 250 crore, were followed by a third video showing one Jagmandeep Singh from Abbotsford, Canada claiming to be the man talking to Devendra Singh Tomar about the financial transactions in the previous videos. The first two videos are possibly from an earlier period when Narendra Singh Tomar was the mining minister in Modi 1.0 before being handed the agriculture ministry in Modi’s second term.
Jagmandeep Singh has invited investigative agencies to approach him for more details. The version coming from him suggests a very intricate plot involving some 10,000 crore rupees accusing the Tomars of being involved in collecting commissions and investing money in marijuana cultivation in Canada. Narendra Singh Tomar is one of the seven MPs who have been fielded by the BJP as MLA candidates in the ongoing MP elections. Considering the gravity of the allegations there should have been a prompt response from the BJP central leadership, the central investigative agencies and the Election Commission, yet all of them maintained a deafening silence and the dominant media altogether blacked out the story. The contrasting media response to the Baghel and Tomar corruption allegations is a most telling testimony to the complete transformation of the dominant media into a propaganda instrument and political weapon of the powers that be.
Meanwhile, Narendra Modi’s election speeches reveal both political desperation and progressive degeneration in the BJP’s election campaign. Following the Amit Shah and Anurag Thakur template of election speeches in the February 2020 Delhi Assembly elections when Shah had asked voters to send electric shock waves to Shaheen Bagh and Thakur wanted the ‘traitors’ to be shot down, Modi asked voters to press the Lotus button on EVMs in the spirit of sending the Congress to the gallows! The Election Commission continues to turn a deaf ear to such open incitement to violence and other brazen violations of the code of conduct in the BJP’s poll campaign. The BJP election campaign plans around the cricket world cup of course suffered a setback with the Indian team’s shock defeat at the final after a string of ten successive victories through the league stage and the semi-final.
The politicisation of cricket has assumed an unprecedentedly ugly level in the Modi years. After letting Lalit Modi, the key accused in the BCCI IPL scam who was known as the super-chief minister in Rajasthan during the earlier tenure of Vasundhara Raje, flee the country, the BJP has ensconced Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah at the helm of the BCCI and Anurag Thakur’s elder brother Arun Singh Dhumal as the chairman of the IPL. The coterie virtually converted the recent cricket world cup where ten countries from the cricket world participated for nearly seven weeks into an India-centric, nay Ahmedabad-centric, spectacle. The India-Pakistan match and the final match were both played in Ahmedabad and the Pakistan team was subjected to loud communal and jingoistic sloganeering and heckling. Even in the final match, the entire show was designed in anticipation of an Indian victory with almost no courtesy or appreciation shown to the victorious Australian team and its players. If India wants to let the world pay some serious attention to its bid to host the 2036 Olympics, the cricket world cup has been a disastrous and shameful advertisement of India’s sporting culture or utter lack of it.