Role Of Media And Opposition
Although we do not intend at this stage to go into the role of the media during the riots, a few words in this connection may not be out of place. The first day’s evening bulletins (October 31) brought out by different newspaper establishments stated that there were “two Sikhs and one clean shaven Sikh” among the assailants. The reporters did not clarify whether the news was from official or unofficial sources. Nor was it clear how a “clean shaven Sikh” could be identified as a Sikh. In later reports the next day and the following days, we were told that only two assailants – both Sikhs were involved. What happened to the earlier reported third one ? No newspaper has yet followed up the discrepancy.
But what is of immediate relevance is the question: should the media have described the assailants immediately as Sikhs ? Given the background of the Punjab situation, such mentioning of a community by name was bound to excite communal passions and inflame communal hatred. It may be worthwhile in this context to refer to a recommendation made at a seminar on communal writings held in New Delhi in November 1970 under the joint auspices of the Press Institute of India and the Press Information Bureau of the Government of India. It was suggested that certain facts which may aggravate the situation if published straight away should be printed after a stipulated period.
We were also intrigued to find Doordarshan allowing the broadcast of highly provocative slogans like ‘khoon ka badla khoon’ (blood for blood) by some members from the mourning crowd at Teen Murti.
There was a tendency among many reporters to concentrate on the names of important politicians instead of on earnest efforts made by a group of concerned citizens in South Delhi on November 2, which was joined by the Janata leader Mr. Chandrasekhar and some of his followers, some newspapers the next day described it as a Janata Party march. This created temporary misunderstanding and hampered the efforts of the non-party group to bring together all citizens, many of whom did not want to identify themselves with any particular political party. The need to keep party politics out of ventures like peace marches to put down riots, is yet to be recognised by our media people who seem to remain obsessed with names of political personalities.
This brings us to the role of Opposition political leaders. We regret to say that by and large, they failed to rise to the occasion during the crucial days of October 31 to November 5. Although news of arson and carnage was pouring into the offices of the political parties every hour, they hardly made any effort to rush to the spot with their cadres, stop the violence and organise peace committees in the localities, and remained content with issuing a joint statement with the Prime Minister on November 1 pleading for peace and amity.
On November 3, when following the carnage at Trilokpuri, the group of concerned citizens went to the Opposition party leaders (referred to earlier), some among the former appealed to the Janata Party leader Chandrasekhar to lead them in a deputation to Teen Murti and appeal to the Prime Minister. Mr. Chandrasekhar rose, folded his hands and pleaded: “I cannot do it. I don’t want to be accused of ruining the late Prime Minister funeral’.