Gandhi's 1926 Call for Boycott of Newspapers Spreading Hatred Resonates With INDIA's Decision

“India would lose nothing if 90 per cent of the papers were to cease today,” Gandhi had said then.

The Opposition-party alliance, INDIA, has decided not to participate in discussions hosted by 14 TV anchors on the grounds that they conduct hate-filled news programmes and spew venom and contempt causing communal discord, fostering bitterness among people on the basis of faith and dividing the nation and society along religious lines. The alliance partners have governments in 11 states.

In a statement, the alliance partners announced that they would not send their spokespersons, panelists and representatives to participate in programmes featuring Aman Chopra, Amish Devgan and Anand Narasimhan of News 18; Chitra Tripathi and Sudhir Chaudhary of Aaj Tak; Gaurav Sawant and Shiv Aroor of India Today; Prachi Parashar of India TV; Arnab Goswami of Republic Bharat; Rubika Liyaquat of Bharat 24; Navika Kumar and Sushant Sinha of Times Now Navbharat; Aditi Tyagi of Bharat Express; and Ashok Shrivastav of DD News.

The BJP sharply reacted to the decision and accused the partners of gagging the media with a mindset reminiscent of the emergency era. It also accused them of targeting the anchors by disclosing their names, thus making them vulnerable to physical attacks from those who might be actuated by the attitude of the alliance partners.

NBDA’s odd response

The News Broadcasters and Digital Association (NBDA) in a statement described the alliance’s decision as “a dangerous precedent” and went on to observe that “The ban on representatives of the opposition alliance from participating in TV news shows anchored by some of India’s top TV news personalities goes against the ethos of democracy.” The usage of the word “ban” in its statement is contrary to the decision of the alliance partners not to send their representatives to participate in the programmes anchored by those 14 anchors.

The NBDA also very strangely hailed those anchors as “India’s top TV news personalities”, without in any way explaining the reasons for doing so. In its statement, the NBDA remarked that the decision of the alliance partners “betokens intolerance and imperils press freedom” and “…betrays callous disregard for democracy’s most fundamental tenet – the inalienable right to openly express ideas and opinions”. It also charged them of taking “the nation back to the Emergency era, when the press was gagged, and independent opinions and voices were crushed”.

Watch: Boycott of ‘Godi’ Anchors Raises Moral Concerns, INDIA Alliance Needs a More Subtle Approach: N Ram

BJP’s record of boycotting TV channels

This is not the first time that political parties have decided not to send their representatives to certain TV channels. There have been earlier examples of the BJP boycotting NDTV prior to Gautam Adani taking over the TV channel. Celebrated media personality N. Ram in an interaction with Karan Thapar said that the BJP has been consistently boycotting all TV channels of Tamil Nadu. It is worth noting that BJP’s decision to boycott is not based on any formal announcement. However, it is instructive that nobody has commented against the BJP for doing so in the manner in which the NBDA has come down on INDIA’s decision.

Gandhi appealed for boycotting newspapers spreading hate

Be that as it may, the INDIA alliance partners decided not to send their representatives to participate in the news programmes hosted by 14 anchors primarily because they used hate-filled remarks in a calculated manner in their newsrooms to engage in poisonous propaganda for promoting a communal agenda. Those partners did not want to be part of that agenda aimed at creating communal division and inciting religious sentiments which eventually would tear apart the unity and solidarity of people regardless of the faiths they pursued.

That decision of the alliance partners echoes Mahatma Gandhi’s 1926 appeal to people to stay away from newspapers which carried hate-filled content and wrought havoc to communal harmony. It is illuminating to note he issued that appeal for “…purging the atmosphere of mutual hatred and calumny”, by “boycotting papers which foment hatred and spread misrepresentation”. He persuasively put forth that “India would lose nothing if 90 per cent of the papers were to cease today”.

He did so while moving a resolution on December 26, 1926 at the Gauhati session of the Indian National Congress, expressing “…horror and indignation at the cowardly and treacherous murder of Swami Shraddhanand” and placing “on record its sense of the irreparable loss the nation has sustained by the tragic death of a brave and noble patriot”.

Swami Shraddhanand was assassinated in the last week of December 1926 by one Abdul Rashid who came to interview Swamiji about his understanding of Islam. Rashid asked for some water to drink before the commencement of the interview. As Swami’s servant went to fetch water, Rashid took out his revolver and fatally fired at him. Gandhi took a stand that the hate and hostility spread by the newspapers in the name of religion deeply poisoned Rashid’s mind. In his article “Shraddhanandji- The Martyr” published in Young India on December 30, 1926, he wrote about the role played by newspapers in disrupting communal harmony by spreading hate and violence. Those words of Gandhi assume enormous significance in the context of India of 2023 witnessing a demonic upsurge in religious polarisation caused, among others, by TV channels, or ‘Godi media’, incessantly peddling poisonous narratives on the basis of religion.

Gandhi forcefully asserted in the aforementioned article that “The newspaper man has become a walking plague” and claimed, “He spreads the contagion of lies and calumnies.” He further observed, “He exhausts the foul vocabulary of his dialect, and injects his virus into the unsuspecting, and often receptive minds of his readers”. Gandhi then said that “Leaders ‘intoxicated with the exuberance of their own language’ have not known to put a curb upon their tongues or pens”. He remarked with pain and anguish, “Secret and insidious propaganda has done its dark and horrible work, unchecked and unabashed,”. Gandhi then stated, “It is, therefore, we the educated and the semi-educated class that are responsible for the hot fever which possessed Abdul Rashid”.

The “secret and insidious propaganda” caused by “the contagion of lies and calumnies” of the newspaper man of 1926 has been multiplied manifold by the Godi Media and most TV channels, whose anchors are now one of the principal sources of the hate-filled campaign against people based on the religion they profess. Therefore, Gandhi’s appeal for boycott of newspapers transmitting hatred resonates in INDIA’s decision not to send their representatives to take part in programmes hosted by 14 TV anchors who are accused of propagating a hate-driven agenda. Possibly for this reason, the partners described their decision as a form of satyagraha and non-cooperation, invoking the spirit of the freedom struggle.

S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K.R. Narayanan.