It seems large parts of mainstream national media have gone underground these days. If you view most of the English and some Hindi news channels or most of the English and Hindi newspapers, you suddenly find proliferation of reports favouring Mr Narendra Modi and BJP. The repeated highlighting of the doctored pre poll analysis, without attempt at in-depth analysis or investigation into the credentials of the agencies doing such predictions is only one troublesome part. But even in reporting of the news, there is a clearly discernable pro-BJP tendency and an attempt to black out or under report or mis-report the news surrounding BJP’s rivals, particularly the news around Aam Admi Party (AAP). This was most evident in reporting of AAP’s trip to Gujarat in first week of March 2014.
There will be no doubt to any objective viewer that AAP’s trip punctured the well-crafted balloon of Gujarat’s development image. To many Gujaratis like me, this was not such a big breaking news. But strangely, the media that is supposed to report realities in an objective manner, should have been happy reporting this significant development. Arvind Kejriwal’s hour long speech in Ahmedabad at a hugely attended meeting should have been reported extensively in the media. Strangely, large parts of the mainstream media (both print and electronic) almost blacked this out.
This no doubt reflected poorly on the media that has been accepting the claims of Modi and BJP as gospel truths, since an independent media should have exposed the reality of these claims on its own through trips like the one AAP members did. The speech in Ahmedabad on March 8, 2014 was a good opportunity for the media to correct their own failure. In stead of using that opportunity, by not reporting or under reporting or mis-reporting, the media has further discredited itself.
It reminds one of an episode in Gujarat not long ago. “One morning some years ago, Gujarat’s residents found a newspaper on their doorsteps. They hadn’t subscribed to it, and it carried a vaguely familiar masthead. It was called Gujarat Satya Samachar, to make it resemble the state’s largest circulated newspaper, Gujarat Samachar. It was produced by Gujarat’s information department (a portfolio held by chief minister Narendra Modi) and contained reports of the state government’s achievements”, wrote former Divya Bhaskar (Gujarati edition of paper from Bhaskar group) editor Aakar Patel in his column in Mint on March 1, 2014.
The reason Gujarat government resorted to Gujarat Satya Samachar was “belief was that the local media was either suppressing stories about government successes or was critical of Modi to the point of antagonism”. The Gujarat Satya Samachar did not run much beyond a couple of issues, since Gujarati media quickly fell in line, the way government wanted. In fact, this episode should not give a misleading picture that Gujarati media was depicting the reality of Gujarat’s development before the government resorted to Gujarat Satya Samachar. Far from it.
While traveling through various parts of Gujarat, I have seen frustration of the aam Gujarati about the way the state is ruled over the last decade and more. Repeatedly, common people on the street have told me, during my numerous trip in the state, about corruption, break down of the regular basic facilities like schooling (everyone seems to have to go for tuitions and tuition classes, “then what are the schools for?” as one frustrated autorikshaw wala told me) or electricity or water and pro-big-industries bias of the state establishment. Intellectuals and independent observers have talked about the huge gap between claims of the Gujarat government and reality for long.
Ahmedabad is supposed to be shining with Sabaramati river front development, but if you go a dozen kilometers upstream or downstream you realize that this is just for the benefit of the real estate developers of the city. The state of the river elsewhere is as bad as Yamuna in Delhi. Even the water you see in Sabarmati flows in it through a fraud. This water is from Narmada project and not a drop from it was planned or allocated for Ahmedabad city or Sabarmati River. The project was proposed and justified for drought prone areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. They are not getting this water, in stead farmers of Saurashtra are fighting FIRs and cases for using Narmada water! Farmers everywhere are feeling discriminated when the state government favours big industries at their expense and without transparency or due justice or their participation. The tribal belt is not only neglected, it is facing prospects of more and more displacement and deforestation in the name of dams, river linking projects and industrial zones and corridors.
While traveling through the tribal areas near Sardar Sarovar dam, Savitaben Tadvi of Indravarna village told us about the repression they are facing while peacefully opposing the Garudeshwar dam on Narmada river, which has neither any valid approval nor any impact assessment or consent from the affected villages in the upstream or downstream. Lakhan Musafir of Umarva village took us to the washed out portion below the Sardar Sarovar dam, including the viewers park, about which there is so little information in public domain. Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, showing the proposed site of the statue of Unity, publicized as world’s highest statue, just downstream of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, said how the foundation stone was laid on Oct 31, 2013 by arresting the peacefully opposing tribals, but that project neither has any impact assessment, nor any of the statutorily required approvals. As Nandini Oza, after traveling for over a thousand kilometers in Gujarat recently said, “You can actually smell development at Vapi, Ankaleshwar!”
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who as a chief minister, resorted to Gujarat Satya Samachar to show slightly critical Gujarati media its place and succeeded in arm-twisting them, has been resorting to less than Satya in his electioneering. Just to illustrate, during his trip to North East, he did not mention his support for either large hydro projects or inter linking of rivers, which are facing huge opposition in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and other states. But during his speech in following week on February 26, 2014 in Madhya Pradesh, he talked about the North East region being “heaven for hydro power generation”. In that same state of Madhya Pradesh, his party chief Minister flashed full page advertisements (at public expense) for three straight days about Narmada Kshipra link as harbinger of the ILR dream of former prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In reality it is just a pipeline water supply project with questionable viability and justifiability, without even impact assessment or participation of the people of the Narmada or Malwa region. There is already opposition to the project from among the farmers of the Narmada Valley.
There are others who have taken an objective view of Gujarat story. Revealing research by two professors of British Columbia, Canada about GUJARAT GROWTH VS DEVELOPMENT recently showed: “This is a perplexing picture of development. Gujarat has done so much better in terms of growth and so much worse in terms of development than other states. Why has the fast growth not translated into meaningful development? Finally, it is the grassroot-level institutions that run schools, health clinics, bring water and sanitation to households, and bring the fruits of growth to the multitudes. Could it be that the centralised model of governance that works well for big investment projects does not work as well for grassroot institutions? Or, is this high growth with low development model indicative of the priorities of the government of Gujarat? Or is it something else altogether? It would be good to know the answer.”
The trouble is, large part of mainstream media has mostly blacked out all this critical news. This situation is no doubt very bad for Indian democracy. As a senior journalist from financial paper told me, whenever there is extraordinarily positive report about any company or party, first question that arises is, how much has the reporter been paid to write such a story! Media should be wary of at least such a perception.
Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP
 An edited version of this article was published in April 2014 at: http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?509
Some other relevant links:
 VERY INTERESTING Column by AAKAR PATEL, calling Modi a TYRANT, who hates democracy and revers only the dead: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/NP7LlgqacegDU1PoTm3HKI/The-oneman-armys-forward-march.html
 How Modi’s government has treated RTI acitivists: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/narendra-modis-gujarat-model-has-no-space-for-rti-activists-1214009.html
 Why the growth fundamentalist THE ECONOMIST refused to back Modi: “But for now he should be judged on his record—which is that of a man who is still associated with sectarian hatred. There is nothing modern, honest or fair about that. India deserves better.” See: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21600106-he-will-probably-become-indias-next-prime-minister-does-not-mean-he-should-be-can-anyone?fb_action_ids=10202394265351839&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=scn%2Ffb_ec%2Fcan_anyone_stop_narendra_modi_
 http://indiatogether.org/could-modi-be-a-development-disaster-government by Ashish Kothri
 http://www.ndtv.com/elections/article/election-news/blog-gujarat-s-development-pre-dates-modi-considerably-505647?pfrom=home-topstories by Reetika Khera, Development Economist at IIT Delhi
 BJP’s PM candidate Modi showing his true colours: Opposes even RTI: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/in-karnataka-modi-targets-upas-aadhaar-rti/
 “Hemantkumar Shah, an economics professor at Gujarat University, has challenged Modi’s claim of dramatic economic growth. He said data reveals the state’s economic and human development parameters worsened under Modi.” http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Mumbai/Growth-declined-poverty-increased-in-Gujarat-under-Modi-Guj-varsity-prof-claims-in-book/articleshow/33463710.cms
 “CAG reports and data on economic and social development from various sources make it evident that the much-touted “Gujarat model” of development is non-inclusive, socially divisive and highly ineffective in key areas.”
By ATUL SOOD and KALAIYARASAN A.” Gujarat Model: Fiction and Facts: Frontline Cover Story, April 4, 2014: http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/fiction-and-facts/article5795324.ece?ref=sliderNews (needs registration to get full story)
 “To sum up, the “Gujarat model” story, recently embellished for the elections, is misleading in at least three ways. First, it exaggerates Gujarat’s development achievements. Second, it fails to recognise that many of these achievements have little to do with Narendra Modi. Third, it casually attributes these achievements to private enterprise and economic growth. All this is without going into murkier aspects of Gujarat’s experience, such as environmental destruction or state repression.” From Hindu article by Jean Dreze, See: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-gujarat-muddle/article5896998.ece
 Another warning from eminent people against voting for Narendra Modi for Prime Minister: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/10/if-modi-elected-india-future-gujarat
 Is Modi’s fabled Gujarat model lawful and accountable? http://www.firstpost.com/politics/is-modis-fabled-gujarat-model-lawful-and-accountable-1491885.html