Insensitive Minister blames media for Dera violence

By sending a “reminder” to the media to refrain from “causing panic, distress and undue fear” by its coverage of the widespread violence in Haryana and other states, Union Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani has exhibited utter insensitivity and unadulterated shamelessness.

An incompetent state administration under the charge of her own party allows supporters of the sect Dera Sacha Sauda to go berserk, and the lady Minister blames journalists for causing panic, distress, and undue fear. The sect devotees assault newspersons, burn their vehicles, and chase them away from hotspots, and she blames the victims for their suffering.

Even her words of sympathy for the media are facetious at best and insincere at worst. She tweeted, “Attack on media, damage to property condemnable. Appeal to all to maintain peace.” Condemnable? Is she an editorialist who tells the world what’s right and what’s not? Isn’t her party, whose important member she is, in power at the Centre and in Haryana? What has her party done to impose a cost on the spectacularly incompetent and brazen Chief Minister of the state, Manohar Lal Khattar?

For if anybody is to be blamed, it is Khattar and other nitwits running the state. Several media organizations have rightly underlined the fact that it was the Khattar government that let dozens of people die in the violence perpetrated by Dera Sacha Sauda Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s disciples. In fact, the Punjab and Haryana High Court used these words to slam the Khattar government; Prime Minister Narendra Modi also faced the heat over the high number of casualties that followed Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction on Friday in a rape case. The court held Khattar directly responsible for the mayhem. “You let a city like Panchkula burn for political gains,” the court said on Saturday.

Accusing the Haryana Chief Minister of helping the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, the court went on to questioning the state government as to why it couldn’t stop over 1.5 lakh Dera followers congregating at Panchkula. “Administrative decisions were paralysed because of political decisions,” the High Court reportedly told state Advocate General Baldev Raj Mahajan. “The Chief Minister is [also] the Home Minister. Why have you allowed people to assemble for seven days?”

This is a question no Haryana state functionary or Bharatiya Janata Party leader answers honestly; they lie, equivocate, evade, but don’t answer truthfully. A BJP spokesman even said on a news channel on Friday that it was because of his party’s government that the godman got convicted, as the prosecutor represents the state! Rarely is mendacity so pompous.

The media and the High Court, as also many others, have been saying for quite some time that the situation in the state was becoming volatile because of the congregation of Dera supporters. Section 144 orders were issued perfunctorily, more as an administrative ritual than with any serious intent to stop Rahim Singh’s devotees from gathering at Panchkula. Even when the violence started, security forces were not used to restrain the rioters; cops played mute spectators to the burning of OB vans. There are also reports of security personnel showing their back to the protesters. Evidently, an important, entrenched section within the system was not letting police and paramilitary forces from taking effective action.

All this happened with Khattar and others keeping their eyes wide shut. What the media did was just highlight this fact. Instead of applauding journalists for doing their job well in dangerous situations, Irani is alluding to the media’s role in “causing panic, distress and undue fear.”

Shame on you, Madam Minister.