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Why Times of India 'allowed' a story that embarrassed Yogi's Shivaji museum move

By Rajiv Shah/ A few days back I wrote a blog, giving the example of Facebook ads, on how advertisement could go to some length in deterring crucial news stories which may embarrass those in power – whether in the corporate or the political world. I had cited example of my experience as a “Times of India” man, first in Ahmedabad and then in Gandhinagar, on how this happens. 
There appears some reaction to my blog, with some on social media particularly seeking to highlight the fact that ads do play a certain role in "blocking" certain types of news, as it would happen during biennial Vibrant Gujarat summits, involving top Indian businessmen.
However, I just tried putting facts as these occurred to me, without seeking to comment on whether the corporate-owned media – which the “Times of India” was and is – blocks free expression, too.
Let me put it things straight: Corporate media is owned by businessmen, who consider newspapers as a means to earn profit. This is as much true of the “Times of India” as any other top international media across the world, whether owned by Rupert Murdoch or Mukesh Ambani.
One of the top owners of the “Times of India”, addressing a few “seniors” in late 1990s, made his point very clear about this. He went to the whiteboard, wrote down “liberal social agenda”, and put a big cross on it, telling us: “We do not pursue any social agenda.”
Underlining that “to us news is a family business”, this owner, at the same time, gave the example of a certain news story about Gandhiji’s social reform. He justified the story stating, “This is news and is perfectly valid, as it no one knew about it earlier.”
The message from the owner was loud and clear: Stick to facts, there is nothing wrong in stories even if they are news on social agenda. Things would go awry in case one trespasses the “lakshmanrekha” and tries to be propagate a social agenda.
Does this suggest that while the corporate media has a certain limitation – it may not want to hit its corporate interests, one reason why it is so sensitive about ads, on which its revenues depend – yet wouldn’t mind taking news stories that embarrass the powers that be?
I think yes. If you stick to facts, and report news as news, without getting sentimental about what you have reported, the corporate media wouldn’t embarrass you. Only, the journalist must remember: She or he is working in corporate media, and the owner wouldn’t want his corporate interests to be hit. Any news story which powers-that-be may consider as running its interests would, however, be welcome.
I found my way in filing stories that often embarrassed the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, whose office, I know, even complained several times to people at the very top in the “Times of India” about certain stories I had filed, none of my stories were blocked, as I tried to stick to news.
Things do not seem to have changed.
A case in point is a story “Shivaji and the Mughals: The relationship was complicated”, by Manimugdha S Sharma, which appeared in on September 19, referring to UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath seeking to rename an under-construction Mughal museum in Agra after Chhatrapati Shivaji with the claim that “Mughals cannot be our heroes” and Shivaji instills nationalist pride.
The story says, “Today, Shivaji is projected as a Hindu hero who warred against evil Muslim forces. But the historical record doesn’t lend itself to such simplistic depictions. The historical Shivaji lived in a Persianate world in which Muslims were rulers and, as US academic James Laine tells us, ‘commanded a certain obedience and respect’.”
It was news to me what was reported in the story: that “Shivaji’s mother Jijabai’s family were allies of the Mughals”, his father Bijapur general Shahaji Bhosale “also served the Mughals at one point”, and “in 1648, when Shahaji was arrested by the Adil Shahi state for insubordination and imprisoned, his son turned to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.”
It points out, “For this, Shivaji even offered to accept Mughal service though that did not happen as two Muslim noblemen from Bijapur interceded on Shahaji’s behalf and got him freed.”

Let me reproduce excerpts from this interesting story, all of which would sound nothing but news, and to utter embarrassment to Yogi Adityanath:

The earliest known ballad in Marathi, Afzal Khan Vadh (The Killing of Afzal Khan), written in a heavily Persianised language in 1659, makes Shivaji appear as someone who is at ease with the Persianate system, sending his salaam to his father as well as Lord Shiva and goddess Bhavani. Shivaji is lionised, quite literally, with the Persian honorific Sarja or “the lion”, Laine informs in his book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India.
Professor Ali Nadeem Rezavi, former chairman of the history department of Aligarh Muslim University, says this ahistorical positioning of Shivaji was made during the 19th century.
“The image of Shivaji as the Hindu saviour who tried to throw out the foreign Mughals was created by certain leaders of the Congress in Maharashtra during the Freedom Struggle to drive home the point that the British were foreigners too who needed to be thrown out just like Shivaji did. The policy of divide and rule of the colonial state further strengthened it. Gradually, by the 20th century, Shivaji in popular mythology emerged as a Hindu king,” Rezavi says.
Even when Shivaji declared himself a sovereign and took the title of Chhatrapati – a title also used for Emperor Akbar in ‘Hindu’ sources – and replaced many Persian terms of administration with Sanskrit, the idiom of his kingship was still Islamic in many ways. His court biographers called him both Raja and Badshah.
Professor Anirudh Deshpande of Delhi University, who wrote the introduction of the English translation of the late Govind Pansare’s book ‘Who Was Shivaji?’, says the Maratha king was “more in sync with political and cultural practices of the Deccan Sultanates like the Adil Shahi and Nizam Shahi states”.
“And these practices were syncretic in nature. In fact, the northern Mughals themselves were outsiders in the Deccan and the Deccan Sultanates resisted their encroachment on the area. So, what we actually have is a varied picture of Deccan politics in the 17th century.”
Indeed, the Mughal-Maratha rivalry was a rivalry of the core and periphery: the Mughal hegemony was opposed not by a Hindu kingdom, but by the Deccan region which had Muslims and Hindus both. “Impartial research on Shivaji has shown that the Maratha leader might have had regional aspirations but never communal. He did have his rivalries with Bijapur and Golconda, but he was one with them when it came to the Mughals. Mughals too understood this,” Rezavi says.


Prasad Chacko said…
Really good piece...Thank you


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