Political merch from a newsroom

Shekhar Gupta, the editor of The Print, shared the following image on his Instagram profile a couple days ago:

The post had the following note:

Since we so love politics at ThePrint, we are developing a range of gifting merchandise. This mug is one such example. In the course of the next few days I will share more with you. Please do say what you think. We will soon make these available for sale…

I will say what I think. This is a poor but on-point example of a news establishment convinced that it has a view from nowhere upon the world – wherefrom it can dispense both op-eds criticising one policy or the other, news reports that call out one political leader or the other, and merchandise that seeks to appease and profit from supporters of one political party or the other. This would be a view that affords the establishment the belief that the stuff of its reports, even when they get wholly dispiriting with stories of caste and class discrimination, state-sponsored harassment and unpunished demonstrations of physical violence, still only concern the shenanigans of one more political party in the long parade of India’s political parties – and not the symptoms of an unchecked autocracy toppling a democracy. That it is therefore okay to sell mugs and T-shirts emblazoned with images and symbols of different power-players to their supporters who are all, but of course, on equal footing.

No; The Print‘s decision here is as simple as profiting from Hindutva fandom.

Journalism professor Jay Rosen’s comments for the American political press, just before Trump’s ascent, are apt here:

These are people who live daily with “the partisan divide,” a cliché they helped make into a cliché. But on the chance that they’re being sincere let me be equally straight with them…

Every time you had to “leave it there” after ideologies clashed mindlessly, fruitlessly. Every dubious truth claim you had to let pass because challenging it might interrupt the flow or make you sound too partisan. Every time you defaulted to “will it work?” when the bigger question was “is it so?” Every dutiful effort you made to “get the other side” without asking if the number of sides was really two. Every time you asked each other “what’s the politics of this?” so you could escape the tedium and complexity of public problem-solving. Every time you smiled weakly to say, “depends on who you ask” before launching into a description of public actors who dwell in separate worlds of fact. Every time you described political polarization as symmetrical when it isn’t. Every time you denied that being in the middle was a position so you didn’t have to ask if it was a defensible one. Every time you excluded yourselves from a faltering political class.

Every pox you put on both houses because it felt good to float above it all. Every eye you rolled at the humorless scolds who rage at the White House Correspondents dinner. … Every time you pointed with pride to the criticism you were getting from both sides, assuming it meant you were doing something right when you might have been doing everything wrong. Every operative you turned into an expert. Every unprincipled winner you admired for their savvy. Every time you thought it was not up to you to judge when it was on you — especially on you — to assess, weigh and, yes, judge.

All of it, every moment like that had the effect of implicating you in this mess.

Jay Rosen, ‘Tone poem for the “leave it there” press’, PressThink

India today is not the land of a civil contest between different political parties but, more broadly, a contest for survival between one entity that has seized control of the national government, while being openly dissatisfied with the demands of running the country with a democratic apparatus, and a people who are constantly assailed by a pressure to conform to the upper-caste orthodox Hindutva way of life or suffer physical, social and mental violence. (Did the love of politics miss this?)

If, in this context, The Print is able to claim that it belongs to no camp, it quite simply belongs to that camp.

(Aside: Don’t come at me saying other political parties screw up, too. They do very much, but calling their bullshit out doesn’t require distancing oneself from objecting to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nationalist programme – journalist or not – in the name of objectivity.)

Edit, 10:56 am: I’m told NewsLaundry has been selling similar merchandise for some time now, but the operational term seems to be ‘similar’. As one friend said about this T-shirt, for example: “The difference is between lampooning (NL’s brand) and apparently celebrating (Yogi as the Vitruvian man, Modi as Leonardo?).”

Featured image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Red Fort, August 15, 2021. Credit: Prime Minister’s Office/Wikimedia Commons.