What is the role of a newspaper in a democratic society?

Is it just supposed to reassure us that the sun rose majestically in the east this morning? Is it committing a cardinal sin in reporting that the big fellow may have strayed off his path while we were groggy?

Is a newspaper wrong in airing views that may be contrary to its own or to those of its readers, or even the government of the day? Are those writing for a newspaper—staffers and freelancers—duty-bound to write what only makes readers “feel good”?

Is a newspaper—or a magazine or a blog—wrong in throwing a pebble, creating a ripple; in subversively sowing thoughts that hadn’t infiltrated the craniums of readers before?

Is hearing an opinion, howsoever contrarian, howsoever provocative, injurious to our health and of our democracy?

These are fundamental questions editors and publishers face every day. And they come to us again courtesy the “vibrant” Government of Gujarat.

33 years after Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency, 20 years after Rajiv Gandhi‘s Defamation Bill, Narendra Modi‘s BJP government has responded in kind.

It has decided to file a criminal case against the sociologist Ashis Nandy for an opinion piece he wrote on the editorial page of The Times of India on January 8 this year, in the aftermath of Modi’s resounding victory in the assembly elections.

Prof Nandy’s piece “Blame the Middle Class” had this paragraph:

“Recovering Gujarat from its urban middle class will not be easy. The class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self-respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community, the way Bengali babus, Maharashtrian Brahmins and Kashmiri Muslims at different times have sought salvation in violence. In Gujarat this class has smelt blood, for it does not have to do the killings but can plan, finance and coordinate them with impunity. The actual killers are the lowest of the low, mostly tribals and Dalits. The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times. And they receive spirited support from most non-resident Indians who, at a safe distance from India, can afford to be more nationalist, bloodthirsty, and irresponsible.”

Certainly, the piece contains gross generalisations about the middleclass. It stereotypes communities in different corners of the country and even draws NRIs into the picture. And it makes charges, and it imputes motives and methods that are difficult to prove.

It may be the truth and nothing but the truth.

On the other hand, it may be all lies, through and through.

But it is not news, repeat, not news.

It is an opinion piece by one of the country’s most renowned sociologists, one of six from the country who figured in a global list of the top 100 intellectuals. The Times of India‘s editorial advisor Gautam Adhikari explained as much in a piece a few days after a YouTube video dissecting and lambasting the piece and calling The Times of India “a banana newspaper” began circulating.

“I have been charged with creating animosity between communities for publishing a column. They want to threaten me but they also know that their case has cannot stand against me,” Nandy tells CNN-IBN.

Is a sociologist who has studied societies for decades, not entitled to his views and air them in public, even if they are completely unpalatable to the majority of the public it reaches? Is a political psychologist’s freedom to express bound by what he chooses to express, failing which the might of the state can be invoked to threaten and silence him and the media vehicle which gave him the platform?

Who was it who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?


The case against Prof. Nandy comes on the same day the police commissioner of Ahmedabad has decided to file charges of sedition against The Times of India, its (Ahmedabad Market) editor Bharat Desai, reporter Prashant Dayal, and a photographer, for news reports accusing him of having had mafia connections in the past, and questioning the propriety of such an appointment vide an opinion poll.

The newspaper contends that the news reports were based on a CBI report.

But the piece in contention is news, not views, and the newspaper must prove that it was serving the public interest in doing so and that it has the requisite documentation to prove that it was not making it all up. But in filing charges under sedition, not defamation, is the Narendra Modi government justly going on the offensive against the “pseudo-secular” English media?

In April this year, a $100 million lawsuit was filed by the Indian National Overseas Congress against three prominent Hindu activists for defaming Sonia Gandhi during her visit to the United States last October by taking out a provocative advertisement in the New York Times.

Congress first, BJP now, have our parties lost all sense of balance—and achieved a chilling balance of terror?

Cross-posted on sans serif

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  1. jeevarathna Says:

    How can using the due process of law and filing a criminal case be construed as disgraceful assault on media ? Common KP, you cannot be above law, just because you call yourself one of the pillars of a civilized democratic society. On the face of it it Ashish Nandi dose not look any different from his brother Pritish despite such hallowed claimed to intellectualism and social scientist> If this is his unabashed exhibition of his capacity to analyze society, god save our country and the world

  2. Madhu Rao Says:

    A healthy skepticism is a much needed trait in journalism. When done right, questioning the status quo inspires people and evokes a democratic temper. N.Ram and Chitra during the Bofors era and much recently Tehelka (questionable means per some) broke the much toed line and stood out of the homogenous cronies club, as having spine. Them and a few others apart, how has the fourth estate fared for most parts?

    For most parts, media (TOI included) is as much a part of the problem they report on : TOI is more famous for its page-3 stories than their featured posts ; many publications are capitalistic corporations, much like the companies they decry ; drunk journos have run down hawkers ; populist reporting – selective reporting is common and on and on. Sales and bottom line rule roost ; serving questionable content is acceptable — part and parcel to doing business. This is the new norm. And it’s not just the media houses mind you..

    With journalism getting lucrative, we have seen better educated journalists join the fray. That should have improved the standards, right ? Not if the new breed is more than happy to bare their teeth and proffer them for defanging — in exchange for a better pay and perks. Perks like subsidized houses, free phoren jaunts, advisory roles et al …

    To be able to stand up to the government requires a sense of unity at a deeper level than just the pay-perks. You have seen journos protesting against their pay, but how many have stood in solidarity at a slap on the freedom of press — not many and far in-between when they have. Rare exception to the dogma is when say we are at war, a la Kargil, when we do see journalists rally behind the nation and stand united.

    The above assault is bad news. No doubts about it. But it’s the company you keep. It works out most of the time and sometimes it does not.

    If you think bare naked bodies to inflate the sales is a sales necessity that is acceptable, government interference is a professional hazard you ought to expect. Sure, it’s bad for the ‘Freedom of Press’, but in large parts, given that many publications are in bed with the government, it is poetic justice…

  3. ravi Says:

    What irks me about these intellectuals like Mr. Nandy is that they only remember “Maharashtrian Brahmins” resorting to violence but never write about the horrific genocide of BrahmaNas after the only act of violence by three or four Chitpavan Brahmins along with others.

    Read an account from Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru’s life retold by his disciple, they almost killed Pt. Rajguru, if not for his Shivalinga, he would have been stabbed to death!

    These intellectuals seem to suffer from selective amnesia. After all they have their Pennguin books to justify their trains(railu!) of thought! (It’s a Penguin book, you’d better believe it!)

  4. Chaitanya N Says:

    Now that’s a great comment.

  5. Bibek Chatterjee Says:

    Perhaps one should do away with laws making hate speech illegal and let rabble rousers like Ashish Nandy and have Raj Thakre have their say.

  6. Bibek Chatterjee Says:

    Note: the above post was not sarcastic, I support US kind of free speech. No one whether it is Raj Thakre, Shahi Imam, Ashish Nandy or Pravin Togadia should be denied the right to free speech.

  7. Vinutha Mallya Says:

    The problem with Gujarat is that its middle class has let it down hugely. After a generation of thinkers and visionaries who contributed to the country from the late 19th Century, the current crop of the middle class is sitting on its haunches under the umbrella of Modi’s “achievements” in “development”.
    An architect friend and ardent Amdavadi once referred to Modi’s men as the Gestapo of Gujarat, who have instilled a fear among free thinkers and liberals.
    This shameful display of Modi’s muscle power comes after a series of such instances seen in Gujarat in the recent past — Mallika Sarabhai being harassed for years after her public speech against the government’s hands in the riots, Amir Khan being implicated in a wild life case after voicing his opinion about the Narmada issue, the complete state-sponsored boycott of the release of Parzania…to name a few.
    By instigating a false sense of Garvi Gujarat, Modi is making sure he creates a live example of Orwell’s 1984.
    Mind you, Modi’s men are articulate, well educated upper class officials who are exteremely charming and unlike the babus that one is used to in other governments. But they all have one thing in common — they are his “yes” men. And they are rewarded amply at that, with postings to Delhi or other coveted agencies, especially when the BJP was in power at the Centre.
    I fear for Gujarat. And I fear now more for Karnataka. The man who swore in to head the state government two days ago calls him a “great man” and says that Gujarat is a “perfect model”.

  8. Bangalore Boy Says:

    Just because there is ‘Right to Free speach’ journos cant go on expressing whatever they feel, there should be “ACCOUNTABILITY” as well.

    If Ashish Nandy was right in his views, let him defend it.

  9. verybleedingheart Says:

    It is somewhat surprising that intellectuals have not yet written any article psycho-anaysing the Kannadiga middle class. Particularly, Ashis Nandy being a “political psychologist” (that is how Times of India calls him in the article cited) should be able to throw light on the Orwellian (another pet phrase of the intellectuals) mentality of the folks who have chosen to elect the first BJP govt. in the south. If you don’t like a guy or his party, then abuse the population for the election results. Very intellectual, indeed.

  10. Gaby Says:

    As Nandy himself says THEY cant hold a criminal case against him- but THEY are subtler than before. This is just another opportunity to pose as the advocates of a middle class which is thoroughly compromised but yearns to keep a righteous facade- Oh the wily coots all of them!

    Bangalore Boy all that Prof nandy is doing is holding the middle class of Gujarat ( All of India I would think) accountable to basic tenets of human decency. As Voltaire said again on another occasion ‘ to hold a pen is to be at war’- now there was a man- inspiring the Nandys and gabys even today.

  11. Vinutha Mallya Says:

    Bangalore Boy, right or not right, Nandy does not have to defend his views being labelled a criminal, and in a court of law, for having them.

    Think about how it would be if all of us started slapping criminal cases against each other in court because of what was written in this discussion board…

    The role of the media is to be a watch dog, it is the fourth estate. if everyone agreed with other, then how will we have a dynamic social structure? The media is meant to give platform to differing views, it is not a public relations company to say only what you or I want to hear.

    I defend your right to disagree with me, however much I disagree with you…

  12. kaangeya Says:

    Can you spell, double standards, no I can spell multiple standards. Aftrer spilling ink by the bucketful over victimisation of the entire community because of the “misguided extreme actions of a few” who fly planes into skyscrapers or blow up buses, trains, markets, mandirs, etc., Vinutha Mallya and Ashish Nandy take on the entire Gujarat middle-class. What sort of tomfoolery is this? Hey

  13. kaangeya Says:

    Hey Madhu Rao, did you read The Hindu on Tibet, on Nandigram, on food riots in West Bengal, and arson in the fields of Kerala, or the massacre of Tiananmen?

    The Hindu is the same paper that condoned the riots over Jyllands-Posten cartoons and its London correspondent a much bigoted Hassan Suroor held the Danish government responsible for not heeding the warnings of radical Islamist groups to arrest the cartoonist in question.

    All said and done, it is absolutely disgraceful on the part of any government to sue a newspaper or its correspondents. But thuggish groups like the DMK are excepted from this rule. A porukki like MK Azhagiri can send his goons to burn down his cousin’s news office, and get away with blue murder with Manmohan Singh sleeping undisturbed.

  14. Anonymous Guy Says:


    Thanks for using the word porukki in a sentence. I always wondered what it meant. I will make it a point to use this word today.


    Nandys and Gabys?!

    Voltaire also said: ‘”Self-delusion is the key to happiness’.

  15. Karihaida Says:

    How to be an “intellectual” in india:
    1) Demonize Narendra Modi, RSS, BJP
    1a) Atleast have some reference to Hitler/Fascisism etc when refering to Modi/RSS
    2) Mandatory protest of some project/development
    3) Defend anything congress gov’ts do or stay silent about them
    4) Keep quoting some author/poet/writer to show you are well “read” (and that you don’t have a brain to think for yourself)
    5) Use of words “pen”,”sword”,”orwellian”,”secular”,”freedom” etc etc etc in every sentence..
    6) Never ever say anything against “minorities”
    7) Try and get a lawsuit filed against or even better get arrested..
    8) Rinse, repeat till you appear on CNN-IBN..

    Congratulations, now you are a certified “intellectual”

  16. Anon Says:

    Anyone knows what happened to the blog Spindian Express? Fellow bloggers should be more concerned about arm twisting by this UPA govt that ended in that blog shutting down.

    BTW, they say voice of people is the voice of God. This Ashish Nandy guy is too intellectual to the point he became poisonous.

  17. Gaby Says:

    But it isnt only the sexy Mr Modi who gets it from Prof Nandy- there is the decidedly unsexy to the current middle class Mr Rajiv Gandhi as well !

  18. Anonymous Guy Says:


    Your statement – ‘voice of people is the voice of God’. Sounds right out of the mouth of Chairman Mao. I read in China during their cultural revolution they dealt with dissenting voices by either killing them, or packing them off to remote villages to be ‘re-eduated’.

  19. Bangalore Boy Says:

    @ Vinuta Mallya, like it or dont like it, Nandy has to defend his views with proof because the case demands it :)

    The role of the media is to be a watch dog – I agree, but definitely not a biased-mad dog!!
    How can the media single handedly accuse the entire electorate of a state!
    Thats insane!!

  20. aristotlethegeek Says:

    Bibek Chatterjee. That you had to qualify your original post to say that you were not being sarcastic is a sign that the idea of freedom has probably been damaged beyond repair.

    The lunatic fringe has now become the lunatic mainstream. Can’t swallow someone’s opinion? Target him. Harass him. Break him. And then claim that a majority of the people are in favor of this treatment. That winning an election does not mean that the government has the power to pimp away the rights of those who did not vote for it seems to be cleanly forgotten. This is not democracy, but ochlocracy. And the criticism applies as much to Modi as to the CPM government in Bengal and the UPA government at the center. All of them have indulged in the demolition of individual rights, the only difference is in their methods. Throw in the Sachhar Committee report, every kind of reservation, perverse use of eminent domain by the West Bengal government, Modi’s victory in Gujarat (please remember that the Congress did get a substantial percentage of the votes. Modi simply scored more, that’s all), bad investigation of various acts of terror being blamed on the lack of ‘tougher’ laws, and we have a stinking concoction.

    While the mere mention of Modi raises the temperature in the room, I can say this – people cannot, with a straight face, lambast Modi and then go sleep with the mullahs, or do the reverse. That is pseudo-secularism, plain and simple. Either criticize both of them or admit a bias.

    Freedom is where I began, so I will end by paraphrasing GWB – you are either with us or against us in the fight for freedom.

    Cast your vote.

  21. Santosh Says:

    Now come on guys …Letz get facts right

    N. RAM is a known crony of Left and Congress. He thinks represents a ideal Indian.

    Malayalam Manorama group has been supporting the Congress cause.

    Veerendra Kumar (JD-S) owns Mathrubhumi.

    Deccan Herald’s pre-poll reviews are well known. It is a Bangarappa/Congress paper.

    Indian Express which represented the mainstream Indian(considered anti-establishment during the erstwhile era) has got sucked up by Shekhar Gupta/Sanjay Baru… A known congress chamcha.

    Times of India is yet to get out of the colonial mindset. It has page 3 content and represents the British Raj. Known to suppress Indian culture to a large extent.

    Hindustan Times had Vir Sanghvi who is used to state “Yes Madam” to Sonia. A known congress chamcha.

    Most of the English media in India has got vested interests ploughing its dividends.

    Now we have NDTV and CNN-IBN … No better than the rest… Again they talk about dynasty politics, but media itself has practised it all way.

    Sagarika Ghouse and Rajdeep combine.(Rajdeep’s father is erstwhile Prasar Bharti Chief Bhaskar Ghose)
    Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy combine.

    Now how do you expect life without “MILAVAT” . I mean corruption is in all forms of life in India. It is deep rooted . Thanks to so called mainstream media moghuls.

    They have hijacked not just middle, upper and lower class.. They have hijacked the country. Politicians and media form strange bed fellows..

    They get rewarded with Padma Bhushan for all the work they do in their favour.

    NDTV and CNN name Sonia and Manmohan as Person of the year etc and the next year they get rewarded with institutional awards by the Govt.

  22. tarlesubba Says:

    pissing on middil klass is ok, ididde, but it would have been great if the penultimate paragraph could have been hyperlinked to an internal post or atleast to editorials of some traditional members of the 4th column.

  23. dharma Says:

    This is what happened, before and after the Gujarat elections which the CONGRESS LOST. Now it is happening again after the Karnataka elections where the CONGRESS LOST.
    It is very obvious as to who and which side is behind all this. This will not be the end, it is just the beginning, as the CONGRESS LOSES every where.

  24. Bibek Chatterjee Says:

    The problem here is that “secularists” have little problem with hate speech as long as it made by an “eminent” parapiksologist who has been certified by some third rate amru rag to be among the top 77.14159 intehlectuals in the WHOLE WORLD.

    Now simply change a few words in the final paragraph, change Gujarati to Muslim etc. and tell a secularist that it was written by Togadia and they will be baying for his head.

    The freedoms which allow Pravin Togadia to speak frankly against Islam are exactly the freedoms which will save the eminent parapiskologists ass for painting the Gujarati Hindu middle class as unremittingly evil, and laws which prevent Togadia from addressing rallies are the laws Hinduvadis CAN JUSTIFIABLY (I note this very unfortunately) use to pester the “eminent” parapiskologist.

  25. kkr Says:

    I totally agree with Nandy’s view. Its not just in Gujarat, but whole across the country this section of the demography, who have enjoyed the fruits of globalisation and economic growth tend to behave this way regardless their religion or cast.

    Netas who have divided the people and reaped the benefits want to charge this man with ‘creating animosity between people’. Such a wonderful time we are living in !!!

  26. Desi Homosapien Says:

    Kudos Churumuri for standing up to the freedom of expression of an eminent sociologist.

    Modi has made bold to proceed against him with a criminal case in view of the contemptuous references to the middle-class, a huge vote bank.

    By trying to muzzle his freedom to expression, Modi is clearly displaying Hindutva-inspired fascism, which he hopes to justify in the name of protecting the image of middle class.

    Could a sociologist resist the temptation to analyse the middle class in Gujarat, which re-elected Modi even after the horrendous Gujarat pogrom. A lot of people with concern for humanity and human lives would agree with Ashis Nandi’s observation, however unpalatable they may to be “majoritarianism”.

  27. SumneNeeve Says:

    Does the political psycologist also talk about why the Godhra riots happened in the first place. Err, we seem to have missed out that part of the burning train. Perhaps it is interesting to start an analysis of the middle-class of Gujarath from that instant of time when they happen to witness the burning train with 63 innocent lives caught in the fire.

  28. anonymous Says:

    Bibek Chatterjee asks a very good question. I doubt if anyone will answer it though. There is much too much partisanship.

    It can not be ‘my freedom of speech’ vs. ‘your freedom of speech’. if we want to tamper freedom of speech with social responsibility, that too would have to be uniform. If we dont want any such restraint, then raj thackeray got a police notice too. and couple of poor people on the net got arrested because of complaints from maharashtra. that did not make our blood ‘boil’.

    it is sort of like asking one group to be tolerant to the other group’s intolerance. coming to think of it, some groups already play the game that way.

  29. verybleedingheart Says:

    According to IBNLive, Modi govt files case against Ashis Nandy. However, a reader’s comment in the same report refers to a Hindustan Times article according to which the complaint was filed by V K Saxena, President of National Council of Civic Liberties, an NGO.


    If Saxena is not a bad middle class Gujarati, then he sould be at least a very bad saffron communalist.

  30. rar Says:

    SumneNeeve, ashish nandi has discussed communalism in much greater detail than in that editorial. and he, like most other people who believe in civil society, does not support the notion of collective guilt. murdering, torturing, and raping thousands is not a justifiable response to the godhra carnage.
    funny how modi and his partymen like to have it both ways in that they like to blame every act of islamic terrorism on pakistan and emphasize the transnational aspect of the event so that they can play hardball diplomatically. and when it suits them they like to hold entire communities of local muslims accountable for the exact same incident!
    at any rate, the only thing i missed in ashish nandi’s editorial is the part where he suggests that it would be justifiable to act violently against middle class gujaratis. no, i just got his sense, of which i did not need to be convinced of, that gujarati middle class culture does not inspire admiration.

  31. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    The media deserves the assaults. Just how many members of the profession has gone to prison for doing their job?

  32. tarlesubba Says:

    let us be clear this is a matter of freedom of speech, not sociology. so stop pulling rank with ’eminent socialogist’s eminent socialogy is under attack’ nonsense. also quit acting like a great socialogical insight is being attacked.

    they are going after him not for what he published in peer reviewed journal but what was published in a journalist approved market driven newspaper. he wrote that article not as socialogist but as a citizen. none of his contentions have been reviwed by his peers in an academic setting. what happens in public sphere is politics not sociology. without that whatever he said is not socialogy. until then it is just one man’s political opinion not sociology. nothing more than the hate speech of togadia or sathyaraj or random commentors on rediff even if in better english. kiTTi heLidella geete alla, jajju nuDiyodella judgement alla.

    talking of aarbhaavi and his doDDaNNa. eminent sociologists and filosofers only were churning insights after insights in service of the tharDu reich. i bet there were hundreds of minions nodding their heads in approval and churning out examples in aid of eminent sociologists. quit pulling rank.

    this new doNNe bees-all collect analysis called middil kilas is another such. hack job antharalla that only this is.
    alla-ri vonly eminent sociologists need not defend their actions-a? what about sslc pass middil klass why they have to defend-ya?
    middil klass is being persecuted for their beliefs only.

  33. padmakumar Says:

    With no proper accountability the english media are running stories to hurt hindus. Case in point is todays NDTV news about Tirupati not attracting enough IT investments. The news ends with a derogatory statement that even the tirupati ‘s rich God has to wait for the investments. This last statement has nothing to do with the IT investments, but the NDTV’s scribes cannot resist these kind of digs against the hindu Gods.

    Modi is doing the right thing in asking for Journalists accountability in their writings.

  34. Gaby Says:

    The Tirupati article is just an example of the dumbed down thing we have come to recognise as journalism. However in Nandy’s case Modi is not asking for accountability- he is just being a goonda- buffoon like I Gandhi and R Gandhi before him.

  35. nandu Says:

    GABY,churumuri etc lecture about free speech and yet see how media like churumuri censor comments like this one that does not fit into their false propaganda.The case against Nandy was filed by an individual saxena and not by Modi govt.Churumuri and TOI will intentionally hide this.It seems they have a right to lie,hide and spin against BJP and hindus.TOI and other english media censor comments
    that show up their propaganda for what it is.

    TOI has some shameless hypocrisy to lecture about freedom.They were banned in Nandigram and that was fine with theese shameless hypocrites.Where was TOI’s freedom lecture when it willingly was willing to
    lick Indira’s feet during emergency as it is working for its jihadi and congress masters right now.See how CHURUMURUI CENSORS while lecturing about free speech with a forked tongue.

  36. 170 intellectuals protest case against edit writer « sans serif Says:

    […] Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’ […]

  37. ‘Intimidation won’t help restore Gujarati asmita’ « churumuri Says:

    […] Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’ […]

  38. R.K.D.G Says:

    Read the 14 pages abusing E-mail of INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN.

    If Modi will be continue as CM of Gujarat and is the 2nd in waiting for the PM candidate of NDA / BJP the whole mankind will face not only IEDs bombs but the mass destructive weapons of Chemical, Biological and N-arms already said by the ISI of Pakistan.

    THE 5.5 crores Gujaratis are on the INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN to be slaughter by them on the Indian Land only by the Indian Muslims.

    For this the INDIAN GOVERNMENT and THE GUJARAT GOVERNMENT failure of IB will be responsible. On 21.05.2008 the DNS wrote “WHO IS SAFE IN GUJARAT” of Course Modi only. Even then our both governments have not taken any preventive measures resulting Bomb Blasts by INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN killing 57 inocents peple of Ahmedabad.

    NO ONE IS SAFE IN THE HAND OF Mr. MANMOHAN SINGH PM and Mr. Narendra Modi CM of Gujarat.

  39. srikanth joshi Says:

    we want one cm who works for 18hrs per day for the people ..
    if he can make gujarath to win !! why not INDIA ??

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