On July 27, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani tweeted alleging pictures of floods in Chennai were being used to show the disastrous flood conditions in Gujarat. She asked the PTI to alert all news establishments about it and to find out how things happened that way. The PTI apologised for it and even said the photographer who had goofed it up was terminated.
Fair enough. The Union minister has every right and responsibility to come to the rescue of the state which is ruled by her own party – the BJP and where elections are not far. Irani's concern over the 'fake' photos is understandable. The media must be responsible in its conduct, especially in this age of the viral.
But we also have a concern here. It was in the same July that another BJP leader from Delhi was booked by the Kolkata Police on charges of posting a picture of the 2002 riots in Gujarat as one of the recent communal flare-up in southern West Bengal's Basirhat area. Nupur Sharma, the BJP spokesperson from Delhi, however, remained defiant in the face of the criticism from various quarters, saying irrespective of the place, the photos showed the 'reality' of Bengal.
So, we have two completely different stories unfolding in the same party, which speak about its politics of convenience. In one case, it abused the media. In the other, it warned against the abuse of media.
Deal with media cautiously when in power
The BJP understands very well that the media becomes a far more dangerous thing when one deals with it from the seat of power. Though the Congress is in doldrums in poll-bound Gujarat, the ruling BJP is apprehensive enough about the outcome of the elections and is not ready to accept the slightest of visual publicity to the floods happening in the western state.
It still remembers how the visuals of the Gujarat riots of 2002 had seriously dented the image of the current prime minister during his stint as the chief minister of that state. It doesn't want the floods to become a game-changing factor in the ensuing elections, especially at the time of expanding its pan-Indian base.
Use media irresponsibly when in opposition
But the same party's strategy changes when it comes to a state which it is still to conquer. Sharma's act of passing off a picture of the Gujarat riots as one from Bengal is one of abomination and she deserved a penalty for such recklessness.
But one supposes she only did what the party aims to do – topple Mamata Banerjee on charges of minority appeasement and take control of Bengal, something history is yet to witness. But what Sharma did is anti-thesis to democracy. It also reflected poorly on the BJP.
The two women leaders' contrasting actions expose the saffron party's desperation to both defend its existing territory and go to the offence to win more lands. In a hurry to fast emerge as a truly all-India outfit, the BJP now has given up the minimum political decorum and opted for as-it-suits-me approach which is smacked of awful inconsistency.
The BJP often boasts about itself as a party that follows democracy. If that is the case, then its top leadership needs to ensure that in the name of exercising democratic rights, the members do not score self-goals and leave their own organisation red-faced.