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Kennedy School Review

Topic / Democracy and Governance

Coercion and Enticement: How the Indian Media Lost Its Soul to the BJP

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the general elections in 2014, India’s media has precipitously fallen from grace. The media’s depreciation is intertwined with the rise of the BJP’s controversial Hindutva agenda. Hindutva, an ideology of the BJP and other right-wing groups in India, aims to establish Hindu hegemony in India. Under BJP rule, Muslims and Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”) have suffered mob lynching,1 hate speech, and lack of political representation.2 The Indian media today is generally characterized by a lack of objectivity, as its reporting has become increasingly jingoistic and pro-BJP. For example, since the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, the media has drastically reduced coverage about the humanitarian crisis in Indian-controlled Kashmir3 or lied about it.4 The media was caught blatantly lying after Pakistan downed two Indian MiG planes during the Pulwama Attack and about Indian forces bringing down a Pakistani F-16.5 India’s dismal World Press Freedom ranking of 140 out of 180 countries can largely be attributed to the BJP’s insidious political machinations. Employing the dual strategies of coercion and enticement to infuence news production, the BJP has effectively transformed the Indian media into its personal propaganda machine.

Tactics of Coercion

Since the BJP took offce, verbal and physical attacks on reporters have markedly increased. While talking to Reuters, some TV anchors and reporters said that they have been threatened “with physical harm, abused on social media and ostracized by Modi’s administration.”6 The plight of the female journalist in modern-day India is even worse than that of her male counterparts. Bloomberg News asserts that the BJP’s IT Cell regularly disseminates rape and death threats to female journalists, such as Barkha Dutt, who challenge Modi’s agenda.7 Under the BJP’s rule, Hindutva fringe groups have become empowered to commit unabashed violence. A far-right Hindu group murdered editor Gauri Lankesh, a critic of right-wing politics and the BJP, outside her house in 2017. Between January 2016 and April 2017, an Indian media watchdog reported seven murders and 54 total attacks on journalists, primarily perpetrated by political party leaders and members.8 Out of 114 incidents of assaults on journalists in 2014, only 32 people were arrested.9

Under the pretense of financial fraud, the government has raided channels such as NDTV, a left-leaning network that took a position against a BJP spokesperson.10 Media owners are also pressured into dismissing journalists who do not subscribe to the Hindutva ideology or condemn the lynching of Muslims.11 In September 2017, Bobby Ghosh resigned as editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times. Apparently, the newspaper’s “Hate Tracker”—an online feature that depicted the proliferation of hate crimes across India since the BJP came into power—upset BJP offcials. Bobby quit shortly after Modi met the owner of the newspaper. Two senior journalists said that they were told Modi was displeased with Ghosh’s editorial policies.12

Similarly, Prasun Bajpai, host of Master Stroke on ABP News, maintains that he was removed because government offcials were displeased with his reporting of their wrongdoings.13 In response, the BJP unoffcially boycotted the channel, which led to the regular “mysterious” loss of satellite signal while the show was airing. The show lost significant revenue, which precipitated Bajpai’s resignation. The satellite signal resumed normalcy after his exodus.

Strategies of Enticement

Part of the Indian media’s susceptibility to coercion is its dependence on government advertisements as a major source of revenue. Sudhir Chaudhary, editor of Zee News, one of India’s most popular channels, states that under such conditions, no news channel in India is able to be neutral.14

Although some media networks are supportive of the BJP’s Hindutva alignment because their owners themselves believe in the ideology, others are more interested in government bribes and advertisement revenues. In 2016, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, the Indian government emerged among the top advertisers on television for the year. During elections, “paid news” or “advertorials,” where channels and newspapers reportedly demanded cash for the coverage of politicians, became commonplace.15 When India’s most popular and controversial BJP-supporting anchor, Arnab Goswami, launched Republic TV, questions arose regarding the channel’s main fnancial backers, who happened to be BJP strongmen.16 The government primarily uses Republic TV as its mouthpiece,17 which has unsurprisingly become one of the most-watched English news channels in India. Following the money trail, one of India’s largest channels, Times Now, has initiated its own regular programming of jingoistic, overtly pro-Modi and Congress-bashing content.18

Perhaps the most brazen indicator of the Indian media’s corruptibility was emblematized by an investigative undercover operation by Cobrapost, an independent news organizations in India. Sending an employee posing as a Hindutva group member into the offces of major news networks, Cobrapost revealed that many channels were ready to strike business deals to promote Hindutva content and infuence the 2019 elections coverage for a price.19 The undercover “Acharya Atal” offered managers and owners of Indian networks money to implement his three-pronged strategy vis-à-vis Hindutva promotion.20 Interestingly, many media houses openly told Acharya that they wholeheartedly agree with the agenda and ideology of the RSS, a right-wing paramilitary organization with close ties to the BJP, and would be honored to support the cause. Cobrapost stated that the organizations were willing to “not only cause communal disharmony among the citizens but also tilt the electoral outcome in favour of a particular party.”21


A free, thriving media is the cornerstone of any working democracy. It is meant to hold the government accountable and truthfully inform the public of current events happening nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, due to the BJP’s use of threats and violence on the one hand and money and fame on the other, the Indian media has been reduced to a Hindutva-promotion tool of the ruling party. This has not only undermined India’s democratic process but has also adversely affected minorities, whether the historically oppressed Kashmiris or the marginalized Dalits. Modi’s resounding 2019 election victory saw him return as premier, which means it may become even more diffcult for the media to break free from the BJP’s grasp.

Sarmad Ishfaq works as a research fellow for the Lahore Centre for Peace Research. He completed his master in international studies and graduated as the “top graduate” from the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and magazines in the areas of counter-terrorism/terrorism and the geopolitics of South Asia and the GCC.


[1] Rana Ayyub, “Mobs are killing Muslims in India. Why is no one stopping them?” The Guardian, 20 July 2018,
[2] Daniel Wolfe, Dan Kopf, and Aria Thaker, “Why is Muslim political representation declining in India,” Quartz India, 22 May 2019,
[3] Moazum Mohammad, “The Resignation of a Senior Journalist Raises Questions About the National Media’s Coverage of Kashmir,” The Caravan, 1 September 2016,
[4] Tavleen Singh, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors (New Delhi: Penguin India, 2000).
[5] Lara Seligman, “Did India Shoot Down a Pakistani Jet? U.S. Count Says No,” Foreign Policy, 4 April 2019,
[6] Raju Gopalakrishnan, “Indian journalists say they intimidated, ostracized if they criticize Modi and the BJP,” Reuters, 26 April 2018,
[7] Michael Riley, Lauren Etter, and Bibhudatta Pradhan, “A Global Guide to State-Sponsored Trolling,” Bloomberg, 19 July 2018,
[8] Sevanti Ninan, Geeta Seshu, and Shilpi Goyal, “The India Freedom Report, January 2016-April 2017,” The Hoot, 7 May 2017,
[9] Geeta Seshu, “India 2016-17: The silencing of journalists,” The Hoot, 30 April 2017,
[10] Aman Madan, “India’s Not-So-Free Media,” The Diplomat, 23 January 2019,
[11] Nupur Basu, “Indian Media: Turbulent Times,” The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 107, no. 2 (2018): 238.
[12] Gopalakrishnan, “Indian journalists.”
[13] Punya Prasun Bajpai, “Exclusive: Punya Prasun Bajpai Reveals the Story Behind His Exit From ABP News,” The Wire, 6 August 2018,
[14] Abid Hasan, “Today, no news channel is neutral; journalism is in bad shape – Sudhir Chaudhary,” exchange4media, 10 May 2016,
[15] Basu, “Indian Media: Turbulent Times,” 239.
[16] Sohaib Daniyal and Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, “‘Proud of all my partners’: Arnab Goswami when asked about BJP infuence in new venture,” Scroll, 27 April 2017,
[17] Madan, “India’s Not-So-Free Media.”
[18] Madan, “India’s Not-So-Free Media.”
[19] The Wire Staff, “Cobrapost Sting: Big Media Houses Say Yes to Hindutva, Black Money, Paid News,” The Wire, 26 May 2018,
[20] Ranjona Banerji, “Cobrapost exposé shows Indian media is sinking. Now we can fght back or be drowned for good,” Scroll, 27 May 2018,
[21] Justin Rowlatt, “The story barely reported by Indian media,” BBC News, 28 May 2018,