Delhi, 05 October 2002
massacre of devotees at the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar on 25th
Sep was an outrageous act by Pakistani militants or disgruntled
muslims and the whole matter needs a thorough study to determine how
the militants managed all that they did in such an unprofessional
manner. Mohan Guruswamy has offered his analysis with emphasis on
the unprofessional reporting by the media.
is a fact that the NSG is an Army Outfit, with Brigadiers and junior
officers deputed to it for short periods, but it is totally
controlled by the bureaucrats of the Home Ministry.
have repeatedly stated the one million strong Indian Para Military
Forces need more professionalism. Police Officers at the end of
their career looking for billets, who choose to head these outfits
may not be the right answer –– both for India's Intelligence and
Para Military Forces. We post below Mohan Guruswamy’s analysis of
the Akshardham fiasco:
Medium is the Massage?
thirty years ago Marshall McLuhan wrote: “All media work us over
completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political,
economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social
consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected,
unaltered. The medium is the massage.”
McLuhan wrote that, the USA was in the process of being
irretrievably altered by the intrusion into the placid living rooms
of America by the distant Vietnam War, with all its gory and bloody
detail by nightly telecasts, made more vivid by color television. It
not only turned more Americans against the war than were for it, it
made the common citizen ever more suspicious of elected leaders, and
soon TV anchors like Walter Cronkite supplanted the elected leaders
of America as its philosopher kings. Cronkite’s insistence for
accuracy was legendary and he came to be America’s most trusted
also made, as the late artist Andy Warhol famously said,
‘everybody famous for fifteen minutes’! That war and new
technology brought about a revolution in the standards expected from
leaders and even more importantly from the media in whose power it
now lay to make and unmake leaders, and create new trends. American
media responded magnificently to the challenge. Having driven Lyndon
Johnson out of the US presidency, it followed by hounding out
Richard Nixon. And such was the searing impact of television on its
national consciousness that America still mortally fears bloody wars
in distant lands.
tight and rigid bureaucratic control of free to air television and
radio by the state in India ensured that we missed that revolution.
A small window of opportunity however opened up when private cable
TV channels were allowed in the mid 90’s. Today cable TV reaches
out into every part of the country and into almost every home with a
television set. Even though that is quite far from all households it
is still a lot of households. Of the 55 million households in urban
India cable TV is available in 28 million; and of the 137 million
rural households cable TV now reaches 9 million households. Since
every home of affluence and hence influence is now touched by cable
TV, even if less than one in six homes have it, cable TV could be a
significant power in positively shaping our society and our lives.
But that could only happen if there was a revolution in standards
that our electronic media has been traditionally known for. That
alas has not happened and for immediate evidence of it we need only
to go back to the coverage of the Akshardham attack last week.
presentations of top three all news channels, Aaj Tak, Zee and Star
of the event as it unfolded are revealing for how differently each
one saw it and interpreted happenings in a very small place. To
enable you to see this, first imagine that you are looking at a
rectangular sketch of the Akshardham campus. If the temple complex
were at the top center, the museum is along the right, and the main
entrance at the bottom. Two pathways from the center of each side
cross in the middle with the temple straddling the vertical pathway
and the museum on the top right quadrant.
Tak had us first believe that the terrorists entered from the left
and raced along the horizontal pathway, and gunned down most of the
victims in the center of the yard before turning towards the museum.
Star’s initial reporting, with the help of some excellent graphics
suggested that the terrorists entered from the museum side i.e. the
right and having perpetrated mayhem there turned towards the temple,
shooting down some more people in the open yard before turning
towards the temple whose door was by now closed. Zee, quite
prudently it first seemed, did not commit itself to where the
terrorists had entered from, but the reasons for that showed up soon
after when the presenter rather diffidently suggested that the
museum was on top of the temple. Zee then compounded its ignorance
by suggesting that number of dead could be in the three figures.
can understand the desire to be first out with the story, but to get
essential facts wrong betrays a serious lack of journalistic skills
and even a commitment to ferret out the real truth and maintain the
trust of the viewers. Star was very clearly guilty of more
unprofessional conduct when it later in the evening made it seem but
without saying so that its Political Editor, Rajdeep Sardesai, was
reporting from near Akshardham when he was probably just in front of
a blue screen in New Delhi. Aaj Tak was first to redeem itself by
getting the facts finally right around nine that evening. Sardesai
was at the spot the next morning and had a better innings this time.
He had one of the temple priests show the moving camera from where
exactly the terrorists entered and how they moved about carrying out
their bloody business till they were finally cornered and shot down
at daybreak. It was quite brilliant but it contradicted everything
that Star had shown for details the previous evening. Shouldn’t
there then have been even a hint of regret for having kept us
inaccurately informed till then?
where the terrorists were holed up in the night was got wrong for
most of the time by all three channels. They were suggesting that
the terrorists had found some bushes to hide in front of the temple
in the top left quadrant, when the fact was that they had climbed on
top of the museum and disembarked into the bushes outside the main
complex and next to gate 3. This would be outside the bottom left
quadrant of the map in your mind.
the three channels reported that the terrorists had worn military
tunics and suggested that there were three if not four of them. But
then how can one expect them to have the facts right when Sardar
Advani himself sitting in his North Block office told journalists
that there might be three or four terrorists in the temple complex
and had worn uniforms?
conduct itself did not come under any scrutiny. Even as the drama
was unfolding the Deputy Prime Minister of India, many say even the de
facto Prime Minister flew into Ahmedabad and was in the
Akshardham complex around ten that evening with a retinue of
journalists eagerly reporting every word he had to utter. It is
possible that had Advani shown similar alacrity much that happened
after Godhra might have been averted?
that is not the point here. What is the point is that when a
sensitive operation was underway with many hundred still inside the
temple complex, and possibly some even held hostage, a heavily
guarded and long retinued VIP would have been a most unwanted
distraction for the security men. It seemed that Advani’s need to
be in the news from the spot far outweighed other considerations.
The following morning Advani was back in the blood splattered
complex to hold a press conference. I suppose you just can’t keep
a good man back?
Reporting of events after the operation. Even at seven
the following morning Star’s graphics were still showing the
location of the final encounter as being within the complex in front
of the main temple, when its reporting could not have been hindered
by darkness. But it seems for them the fog of war took time lifting.
The previous evening Star’s Col. Ajay Shukla reported on the
equipment and capability of the NSG. He even assuringly suggested
that it would soon be over particularly since the NSG commandos had
night vision equipment. What Shukla should have also told us is that
the night vision scopes cannot work if there are any bright light
sources in front of them. As a matter of fact if the scopes are
exposed to any bright light the image intensifying picture tubes
that are at the heart of the system get irretrievably damaged. Since
the lights were all shining bright behind the back of the NSG
commandos it was only the terrorists who had the benefit of night
minutes of the first shootings security forces of all hues
congregated on to the spot. These included the Gujarat Police,
Gujarat Armed Police, CRPF and units of its Rapid Action Force, BSF
and even plenty of RSS volunteers with the latest lathis. The
perimeter was tightly encircled and there was no question of anybody
escaping. Then a planeload of NSG moved in with their special
weapons and tactics. Was there then going to be any doubt of the
outcome? Yet the media has tried to make it out as an action of
great collective heroism when it was just another day at the office
so to say. Heroism is when you battle the odds, which our forces do
almost everyday in some far corner of our much troubled country. It
comes as no surprise then that the NSG’s bureaucrats, now basking
in their fifteen minutes of fame, are seeking the redress of all
their long pending demands, the most important of which seem higher
allowances and purchase of new weapons.
the media misses is that there is much that is amiss with the NSG.
For instance only the NSG’s Special Action Group made up
exclusively of Indian Army officers and jawans take part in such
operations, while their police drawn component do duty securing the
Mayawati’s and Mulayam Singh’s of our political firmament. The
question then that must be asked is, what is it that the NSG can do
that the Army’s para-commandos cannot do? Britain’s SAS which
was the original inspiration for the NSG is entirely a military
outfit, yet it is frequently called to assist civil authorities and
work in tandem with clandestine agencies. Clearly there is a need to
re-evaluate the structure and constitution of the NSG, and just
acceding to pressures for higher allowances is not going to make it
is obvious that our electronic media is still geared to making
people famous for fifteen minutes rather than working us over so
completely that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected and
unaltered as McLuhan had prophesized it would. For that it must
first learn to gets its facts right.