The Broken Compact

Modi’s India replaces constitutional values with those of the RSS

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to VD Savarkar while inaugurating the new parliament building on the latter's birth anniversary, on 28 May 2023. ANI Photo
19 October, 2023

This is an edited excerpt from a keynote address delivered at Stanford University, on 10 October, while accepting the 2023 Shorenstein Journalism Award on behalf of The Caravan.

I know that I speak against the backdrop of the horrors unfolding in Israel and Gaza. At such a time, there is little reason to stress the importance of journalism. Our views, our knowledge, our opinions, even our sense of what is happening there, are being shaped by journalism. At times of crisis, journalism becomes a fundamental tool for understanding the world, so much so that we forget that there are other aspects to journalism as well. I think that one of the chief tasks of journalism is to warn us of the perils that lie ahead, of the tragedies that await us. And I want to invoke this task of journalism to talk about perils that have already unfolded in India but are not completely realised outside the country.

I want to begin by thanking the Shorenstein Center for the award. The names that have preceded us give us a good sense of the honour that has been bestowed upon us. I deliberately use the term “us” because I stand here as representative of an institution, The Caravan. Journalism is often seen as the work of individuals, with reporters breaking stories and columnists writing opinions and anchors holding forth, but, in the end, it is an activity sustained by institutions that are committed to certain values. Without such institutions, journalism does not survive. The Caravan is one such institution. The values that we are committed to are rigour, veracity and a commitment to examine the exercise of power by whoever possesses it.

This should be something commonplace and taken for granted in any institution that claims to do journalism. But, in India today, this is no longer the case. The number of institutions that can be said to be doing journalism is but a handful, at a time when the Indian media is thriving as it has never before in terms of infrastructure, technology and the number of employees. Every evening, at primetime, or in the opinion pages of English and Hindi newspapers, we see a reflection of hate and bigotry aimed at anyone who scrutinises the exercise of power by the Narendra Modi government. I am not talking about the south of the country here, but these media outlets are the primary source of information for a billion Indians. They have no sense of rigour and no commitment to veracity, and they certainly stay far from questioning those in power. They only amplify the government’s power.