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Raj T's rally, not biggest exodus ever, gets more press!

August 23, 2012 18:06 IST
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Assam. But it is Raj Thackeray's fire and brimstone speeches that make it to the front pages of the newspapers, says Sherna Gandhy.

So Raj Thackeray is well on his way to being a media-created hero. Newspapers -- the day after his rally in Mumbai on Tuesday -- were full of front page pictures of the crowds he mustered and the lengthy text of his speech, that played the same old tune.

No one commented on the irony of a man who urges his followers to violence to get his way, now criticising another group for doing the same thing!

No one pointed out that not once did Thackeray say a word about the shameful discrimination of people from the north-eastern states which led to the violence he was protesting.

Of course, it would have been even more ironical if he was seen championing the rights of people from other states to live as Indians in Maharashtra, when he once tried to eject 'North Indians'.

No one pointed out the breathtaking effrontery of a man practically declaring he was above the law, and particularly above the police force.

The whole rally was a farce, but the media has taken it dead seriously.

The Afternoon newspaper took up the entire front page to declare in all capitals: 'Raj Routs All' and a picture of a sea of his supporters. The opening paragraph of the lead article said admiringly that senior policemen and cabinet ministers could 'run but could not hide' from Thackeray. It spoke even more admiringly of 'a rapt crowd of thousands' listening to 'one popular warning after another'.

The Mumbai Mirror chose to play up the fact that so important were Thackeray and his rallyists that the Mumbai police had to launch 'the biggest surveillance exercise' in the city. All that meant, it turned out, was that a sole UAV or unmanned aerial vehicle was deployed.

The Mirror did not use the same laudatory language as the Afternoon at least and pointed out pertinently that this was just a game of one-upmanship over the Shiv Sena.

Its sister publication The Times of India made up for its lack of adulation by giving the stirring front page headline 'Raj defies govt, flexes muscle, paralyses city'.

No hint that defying government orders, slighting the police, openly declaring a crusade against the home minister and the police chief only because they tried to curb the strength of his rally, which has been apt in the past to turn violent, is reprehensible.

At a time when the most pressing issue is how hundreds of thousands of people from the north-eastern states fled their homes and businesses in other parts of India and boarded packed trains to go back to their states, nothing of this was mentioned by Thackeray.

Curiously, what is being seen as a larger migration than even the infamous one that occurred during the Partition of the country 65 years ago, has met with little concern or comment in the press.

Everything is attributed to 'rumours' and 'Pakistani mischief'. It is highly unlikely that there would have been such an exodus only on the strength of 'rumours'. There have been numerous documented incidents of discrimination against people from the north-eastern region living in other states just because they look different, before the most recent Bodo-Muslim conflict.

Press and public alike have treated such shameful blots on the integrity of India with complacency. I have edited copy coming out of Bangalore, which saw one of the biggest exoduses of people, where all sorts of 'angles' were covered, but there was not one that bothered to interview and get the opinion of the affected people themselves.

There is a huge humanitarian crisis unfolding in Assam, and though this triggered the series of events that led to the Thackeray march, there was not a hint of it in his rhetorical speech. Instead, there were diatribes against the police chief and home minister of Maharashtra for not allowing him to have as many people as he wanted to join the march.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Assam. The deputy commissioner of Gossaingaon is appealing for educational and health support for children in the many packed refugee camps, and adoption of villages that have been burned to the ground.

But it is Raj Thackeray's fire and brimstone speeches that make it to the front pages of the newspapers.

All he accomplished on Tuesday was delaying people from getting to work and stopping kids from attending college. Why does that merit front page news?

Sherna Gandhy