While there is a lot of discussion happening around on how ‘Muslim voters’ polled in the recently concluded assembly elections in five states, there is hardly any talk of how Urdu (and Hindi) newspapers reported these results. As Hindi is not the primary language for the non-Muslim population of these areas, so too is Urdu not the primary language of the Muslims in these states. However, it is hardly a matter of dispute that Urdu enjoys an influential (if not large) readership base amongst Muslims in not just several states of North India, but also in southern states such as Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In fact, West Bengal also has a bunch of Urdu dailies that are regularly published from Kolkata, such as the Akhbar e Mashriq and Azad Hind. I remember, in 2012, Mamata Banerjee nominated Nadimul Haque, the owner of Akbar-e-Mashriq to Rajya Sabha. Haque was one of the three journalists chosen by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief for the upper house of the parliament. Needless to say, it was done to woo a section of educated Muslims (especially Urdu speaking), as the paper is patronised and subscribed by them. Apart from Kolkata, the Urdu daily has editions coming out from Delhi and Ranchi as well.
So back to the question of how were the Assembly poll results reported in the Urdu Dailies. If I have to answer this in one sentence, I would say that unlike English, Hindi or other dailies, those in Urdu did not declare a #CongressMuktBharat (“Congless India, Almost” reported The Times of India) or a #BJPTsunami, as reported by Asomiya Pratidin (Assamese) in its headlines. For Urdu dailies, it was essentially the return of Mamata and Jayalalithaa. In fact, it was their grand come back. “Mamata Banerjee aur Jayalalithaa ki shandar futuhat, Assam mein pahli martba Kamal khila” (The grand victory of Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa, Lotus blooms in Assam for the first time), reads the banner headline of Akhbar e Mashriq.
“Maghribi Bangal mein didi aur Tamilnadu mein Amma ka qabza barkarar, Assam par zafrani saya” (Didi’s hold in West Bengal and Amma’s in Tamilnadu remains intact, Saffron shadow over Assam), reported the Inquilab daily in its Mumbai edition on the front page. The Delhi edition’s banner headline reads, “Didi aur Amma in iqtedar mein shandar wapsi” (The grand comeback of Didi and Amma). The sub heading of the news item reads, “Puducherry ne Congress ki izzat bachai, Assam mein pahli bar hukumat banane se BJP khush, Kerala mein bayan mahaz ne lahraya parcham” (Puducherry saves Congress’ reputation, BJP happy with forming government in Assam for the first time, Left front flags government in Kerala). In its editorial, clearly hinting at BJP’s ‘over enthusiasm’ on the election results, the publication terms it “Jeet se bada zashn” (Celebration’s bigger than the victory). Inquilab is one of the most widely read Urdu dailies in India today, with 14 editions simultaneously being published in 14 cities of 3 states of north India (Delhi, UP and Bihar), and one from west-central India, namely Maharashtra.
Siyasat daily, which is published from Hyderabad reports, “Assam aur Kerala mein congress ka safaya, Jayalalithaaa, Mamata Banerjee ki shandar kamyabi” (Wipeout of Congress from Assam and Kerala, grand victory for Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee). While Munsif, another leading Urdu daily published from the city calls it “BJP ki Assam mein tarikhi kamyabi” (Historic Victory of BJP in Assam), Politician Owaisi’s family funded Etemaad daily reports, “Bangal mein Mamata, Tamilnadu mein Jayalalithaa ka iqtadar barqarar, Assam mein BJP ko fatah” (Mamata’s in Bengal and Jayalalithaa’s in Tamil Nadu reign intact, victory for BJP in Assam).
Sahafat daily, which is published simultaneously from Lucknow, Delhi, Dehradun and Mumbai, reports, “Bangal mein Mamata lahar, Tamilnadu mein amma ki wapsi, Assam mein khila Kamal, Kerala hua lal (Mamata wave in Bengal, amma returns in Tamil Nadu, lotus blooms in Assam, kerala turns red)”. There is no news of the results on the front page of either the Sri Nagar or Jammu editions of Kashmir Uzma, a leading Urdu daily of Jammu and Kashmir.
However, the most striking aspect about vernacular media reporting, even if owned by the same group of publications, is that they present a different picture, which are often contradictory to each other (this might be equally true of other languages as well but here my argument is based on Urdu and Hindi dailies only).
Let’s compare, reports of Inquilab (Urdu) and Dainik Jagran Hindi daily, one of the most widely read (according to its own claim of being the world’s most read daily) and influential Hindi newspapers. This comparison is important because both Inquilab and Dainik Jagaran are owned and managed by the same group of publications. While the Urdu counterpart terms it the “Saffron shadow”, the Hindi daily reports, “Bhari Bhajapa ki jholi, Congress aur simti” (BJP’s cup fills up, Congress’ further shrinks). The lead editorial calls it, “Aik achcha din Bhajpa ka” (A good day for BJP). It can be noted here that Narendra Mohan, the chairman and the managing director of Jagaran Prakashan had been a member of the Rajya Sabha as a BJP nominee, and L K Advani is considered to be his mentor. And Jagran is known for its pro-Hindutva reporting and editorials.
But why should the blame only rest with Jagaran when it is not just limited to them? Sahara India group, which publishes both a Hindi and an Urdu daily is not far behind when it comes to an opinionated and biased reporting. And as a regular reader of these newspapers, I can confidently say that this is their common practice. Sample this: while Roznama Rashtriya Sahara Urdu reports, “Amma aur Didi ki shandar wapsi” (Grand comeback of Amma and Didi), Rashtriya Sahara Hindi banner’s headline reads, “Bhajpa, Jaya, Mamata ne racha itihas” (BJP, Jaya and Mamata script history).
So clearly, both the publications, though brought out by the same media organizations, are trying to give two different messages, which might be totally based on their business interests. However, the end result of these heavily opinionated reports develop a viewpoint which can be essentially based on a ‘communal’ line. And which essentially feeds to the production of prejudiced mindsets, albeit in different languages.
Note: All the newspapers cited above were published on 20th May 2016, the day after the results were declared.