The English press in India has been playing this story in a muted, cautious manner. Strong statements are only coming from the most improbable quarter.
The Hindu gave it four-inches on Pg 12, where they reprinted a newswire report. The Hindustan Times ran their own story on Pg 13, emphasizing that "Tehelka says... but we don't." The Indian Express gave it the most inches on Pg 1, under the header: "Sting traps footsoldiers of Gujarat riots boasting about killings with state support," but made no editorial statements.
Who would have guessed that it would be the Times of India that, under the header "Guj Rioters Brag About Killings," actually had the guts to say this: "Indeed the phrase "state-sponsored genocide," often bandied about by activists, may not be an exaggeration if these claims of rioters are correct."
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So whats with the print media's limp response? Why would the Hindu - the most pointedly anti-Hindutva English broadsheet - squash the story, preferring to focus on new rules to regulate hot money and Sanjay Dutt's appeal?
Because - the thinking in the media has already reached this consensus - the sting operation is going to help Modi win.
Before the sting operation, the BJP was expected to to win the state election again, but by a much narrower margin, for reasons we've blogged about earlier [here]: divisions between the BJP and the VHP, and within the BJP. Rivalry and atrophy were doing, on their own, what appeals to truth and justice and humanity could not: turning people against Modi. If this investigation leads to serious indictments against the BJP-VHP combine, it may draw them back into a defensive unity.
Much of the attrition of Modi's support base was from people further right of him, who have been accusing him of rolling back the Hidutva agenda after the massacres: Uma Bharti, Pravin Togadia and a group of renegade sadhus. This operation is a reminder that Modi went beyond the call of duty - or law, or the Constitution, or decency - for the cause of Hindutva.
BJP defectors, like Gordhan Zadaphia, the 2002 Gujarat Home Minister who has been incriminated by the operation, may reconsider supporting the Congress government; if it wins, and begins prosecuting the accused, they will be among the first ones against the wall. And the Congress, in return, is probably unable to touch Zadaphia any longer - he just looks too dirty right now.
Of course, the hindu samaj in Gujarat always knew that the government and police led the massacres - a few of them profited from it, a larger number endorsed it, and a plausible majority simply dont want to be reminded of it. They resent the way that Modi is relentlessly depicted as an exterminationist and a thug outside the state, and they're no longer interested in the accuracy of that depiction.
The sensitive combination of chauvinism, embarassment and self-righteousness which prevails in Gujarat currently means that, the more their man is sullied and slimed, the more they will support him.
The Congress Party, which will make political mileage from this at the national level, will come across at the state level as wilfully embarassing and denigrating Gujarat. The fact that one of their senior colleagues was quartered and immolated during the massacres is not good enough reason to keep bringing them up; they know this as well. They've been content to plod around complaining of corruption and economic mismanagement.
So while the national spokesperson, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, proclaims, "Modi deserves to be prosecuted for first-degree murder," the state leaders maintain a sullen reserve. "The revelations are not new. The entire civil society knows who was behind the incident," said Gujarat Gen'l Sec'y BK Hari Prasad, adding: "But I am surprised about the timing."
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So what is the explanation for the timing? Two weeks may be too short for the Election Commission to even debar the legislators who were caught on tape, much less take any more significant action. It is just long enough for the accusations to go from a boil to a simmer and leave Gujaratis seething.
Keep in mind that the sting was conducted by Tehelka, which is determinedly left-wing and secular, and has a track-record of harassing the BJP. Their motivations are transparent: loosing another shower of arrows, in hopes of felling an evil giant, and boosting their precarious sales to keep the magazine in the black.
But it was broadcast by Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, both owned by the India Today Group, which can be generally described as right-centrist, at least in the editorial line set by Group Editor Prabhu Chawla. There's no way the Group would refuse this kind of exclusive - its TRPs must have gone through the roof (except in parts of Gujarat, where the channels' transmissions were suspended last evening).
But who chose the timing of the broadcast? Why right now? The real answer to that might be a twisted inversion of what we were thinking 24 hours ago.