The first principle of journalism is getting the facts right. The second principle is speaking truth to power.
The Lakhimpur Kheri violence unpeels what is right and wrong with our journalism. The facts remain blurred behind conflicting video images. The narrative can, therefore, be easily fixed.
We will await the outcome of the investigation to uncover all the facts before building a narrative to fit those facts, not as per ideology, prejudice and—as is often the case—fear of the consequences of going against the grain.
The second principle, however, has already been violated: Speaking truth to power. This applies to all: Journalists, activists, politicians. The Congress and the Opposition (Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and others) are certainly not speaking truth to power. For them, Lakhimpur Kheri is an incident to be milked ahead of the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
As a result, they have assumed the role of judge, jury and executioner even before the investigation under a retired high court judge begins.
Equally, the BJP’s political leadership and supporters have failed the test. The silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah has provoked further silence from party members: Ministers, MPs and supporters.
Responsible leaders react to issues after cool judgement. But react they do. It is a poor argument to say that law and order is a state subject. The same argument was used to justify the silence and inaction of the BJP’s top leadership during the horrific post-poll violence in West Bengal.
Law and order may indeed be a state subject. But that does not prevent the central government from taking appropriate action. It does not justify silence. That only emboldens hooligans disguised as political workers—in West Bengal, from the Trinamool Congress; in Uttar Pradesh, from the Samajwadi Party.
The retreat into silence by the BJP’s high command is not new. It occurred during the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. It manifested itself again after the toolkit-led violence instigated by Khalistani elements that have clearly infiltrated the farmers’ protests. Silence emboldens lawbreakers as much as it enfeebles lawmakers.
The government believes it can ride out these incidents. After all, public memory is short. The Lok Sabha election is still 30 months away.
But the critical Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are only four months away. The Congress-led Opposition will use incidents like Lakhimpur Kheri to put Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the back foot. Congress leaders note with undisguised glee the lack of verbal and moral support he has received during this incident from the central government’s top leadership.
The rest of the BJP is silent as well. Most are mortally afraid of opening their mouths lest what they say offends the top leadership. For them silence is golden. Speaking truth to power? Too risky: Personal interest supersedes national interest.
The anti-Modi media is feasting on Lakhimpur Kheri. It doesn’t care to report on the BJP workers who were lynched by the mob of alleged farmers. Why should it speak about that atrocity when the BJP’s top leadership doesn’t?
The massacre of BJP cadres by Trinamool Congress hooligans continues to go unnoticed by the national media. It echoes the lack of visible concern shown by the party’s leadership and Central ministers.
The BJP is fortunate that the Opposition today is fragmented and incompetent. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has taken a hard-Left turn which will lead him to an electoral cul-de-sac.
Mamata Banerjee remains a parochial leader despite her attempt to broaden the Trinamool’s base in tiny Tripura and Goa. Political violence in West Bengal has smeared her reputation in the rest of India.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the presumed ace up the Congress’ sleeve, has shown a command of optics in Lakhimpur Kheri, but if you are looking for intellectual substance or policymaking smarts, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav gives the impression that he’d rather be somewhere else than in the badlands of UP. Courting arrest in Lakhimpur Kheri was the most he could muster. Local authorities didn’t think it important enough to detain him for long.
But the BJP cannot rely indefinitely on the Opposition’s infirmities or caste arithmetic or polarisation to win elections.
The government has implemented important reforms in the past few months. It now needs to become an enabler for its party members. Encourage them to speak up. Constructive criticism should be welcome. Sycophancy must be discouraged.
The last thing India needs is the cult of Modi. Modi himself has no pretensions. I don’t want to break confidential conversations, but I can reveal that power doesn’t interest him except for what it can enable him to do for India.
The most important thing he can now do is to empower his ministers, MPs and party workers to speak truth to power. Even if sometimes the truth hurts.
The writer is editor, author and publisher. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.