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How the media created the Raj Thackeray bogey

September 09, 2008 12:36 IST
If UP-ites and Biharis have been thrashed in Mumbai and elsewhere by Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and now the Bachchan family has been targeted, thank the media, both the television and the print variety.

Not just because the media have been giving Raj Thackeray's campaign full, wall-to-wall coverage but because the media gave him the cause. Strange, but true. And also tragic.

Here is how it all happened. Go back to February of this year. To an evening when Raj Thackeray, with a party in hand which was more like an NGO and not a splinter of the fiery Shiv Sena, gave a speech at a small event in Vikhroli, a central suburb of Mumbai.

Paraphrased in English, his Marathi speech went something like this: Amitabh Bachchan lived and worked in Maharashtra's Mumbai but ran to Allahabad to contest elections to the Lok Sabha, picked Bhojpuri for acting in non-Hindi films and be the brand ambassador for Uttar Pradesh, and when it was the turn to gift a girls' school, it was to UP. What, he asked, was wrong if Raj Thackeray too loved his Maharashtra?

Note that there is no criticism of Bachchan here but only a telling comparison with him. Even Raj Thackeray liked to compare himself with the Bollywood icon. He presented to the audience the strength of his love for his own state. There was this me-too in Raj Thackeray.

But what did the newspapers do? They reported that Raj Thackeray criticised Bachchan. Far from the fact, that.

But then freedom of expression by distortion marred the media's claims to credibility and television, which showed the footage of Raj Thackeray's speech -- better than a quote in print -- jumped on the bandwagon, silenced his words and used voiceovers with content akin to the print's contention.

The media thus did a Frankenstein, revelling in its own doing.

The media was given another opportunity to correct the perception. In Pune the day after fierce opposition to Raj Thackeray's reported speech emerged in the public domain, with everyone calling him a misguided chauvinist, he held a press conference. No, he did not criticise Bachchan but compared his own love with that of Bachchan's for Uttar Pradesh.

Did he not say at a rally in UP with stalwarts of the Samajwadi Party present that whatever his present residence, he always remained a Chora Ganga kinarewala -- , the boy from the banks of the Ganga?

Despite Raj Thackeray's patient presentation, the media missed the woods for the trees and kept to the same refrain -- he panned the UP-ites and Biharis.

On Monday evening, at his Mumbai press conference to denounce Jaya Bachchan's remark that she was from UP and that people from Maharashtra should excuse her for speaking in Hindi, he predicated his statement with a recall of his Vikhroli speech. He had compared himself to Bachchan. Television channels, especially Star Majha, telecast lengthy excerpts.

Again, the media missed the woods for the trees. Of course, by now the old lie had to be protected and what would be juicier than report on the ban on films starring any of the Bachchans? Drona (starring Abhishek Bachchan) and Bachchan Senior's The Last Lear were set to release. The products endorsed by them were to be boycotted and that was juicy meat.

Raj Thackeray, no babe in the woods, and in search of a political platform which would yield him his constituency, seemed to have decided within the first week of February that the issue was not only engaging a media which had made up their minds but seemed to catch the imagination of his cadres who would otherwise dump him if they saw no future with him, made the lie his truth. And with good results, too.

Hasn't his pro-Maharashtra and anti-UP-ite, anti-Bihari stance unnerved the Shiv Sena by walking away with its original Marathi manoos plank? What better than to tell his cousin Uddhav that he had touched the chord of the middle class Marathi people while the Shiv Sena, with its Hindutva and other on-now, off-again planks, was ideologically floundering?

Senior Shiv Sena leaders have confided in me that Raj was smart, much more than he was credited with, to have co-opted the 'media misreportage' into a political campaign. If you can't fight 'em, join 'em is the way he chose to go.

Not only did the media breathe life into the MNS which did not take off at a trajectory which would make it an electoral challenge to any political party, but proved that Irving Wallace was bang on target in his 1982 novel The Almighty in which the power-hungry media-owner Edward Armstead's obsession was to shape the news and then manipulate and control it with disastrous consequences to the world.

Here, the Indian media's obsession to shape -- or sex up? -- a story to its worst distortion has come to the fore. And without anyone even batting an eyelid in concern.

What further mischief lies ahead? Can we trust the mass media? The reader believes the printed word and sees television, despite its limited depth -- or actually, the absolute lack of it -- as real because he sees live images.

It is quite possible that pundits with access to the media because they speak the politically correct lingo would lampoon me for being a Raj Thackeray apologist -- if they have no arguments, they tend to shoot the messenger -- but the fact is that the present MNS campaign is a demon created by the media.

Before you assault me, interview reporters who covered the three events -- Raj Thackeray's Vikhroli speech, his Pune press conference as well as the latest on Monday at the MNS office -- and check the video footage available with the television news channels. You will know the truth.

I, of course, stand by my contention. The media has lost its head and plunged the region into trouble, jeopardising lives and property by its irresponsibility.

Mahesh Vijapurkar