NEWS
10/11/2019 11:24 AM IST

‘Wahi Banega Mandir’: How India’s Language Newspapers Covered Ayodhya Verdict

From ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ and ‘Loksatta’ to ‘Pratidin’ and ‘Mathrubhumi’, the tone of coverage of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid verdict varied wildly across publications.

NEW DELHI—Newspapers from across India set aside the majority of their pages on Sunday for news reports and opinion pieces on the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict, though the tone of the coverage swung from euphoric to measured across publications.

The difference in perspectives could be chalked up to geographical location and readership, as well as the respective brands’ ideological views—so while some Hindi newspapers used hyperbolic terms that made it difficult to distinguish their coverage from a right-wing party’s pamphlet, prominent Malayalam newspapers were more circumspect.

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Leaving no doubt about just how consequential the story is for its readers, the front pages of the Delhi editions of two of the highest selling and read Hindi newspapers, Dainik Jagran and Dainik Bhaskar, were entirely devoted to the Ayodhya verdict. While Jagran had a prominent illustration of Lord Ram on the upper fold of the page, Bhaskar had an illustration of the Ram Temple prominently portrayed on its front page. Jagran’s headline was a simple Sri Ram, with the sub-head explaining the consequences of the Supreme Court verdict using terms used more often by people from the Sangh Parivar. For instance, it referred to the Babri Masjid as the “disputed structure” (vivadit dhacha). 

The relatively less popular Jansatta led with a headline that played on the BJP’s slogan during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement—Mandir Wahin Banayenge (Temple Shall Be Constructed Only At The Disputed Spot—to read, Mandir Wahin (Temple Will Come Up There). But it did not editorialise otherwise and reported the story in a straight manner elsewhere on the front page. 

Unlike the other Hindi newspapers, it also gave space for the historic Kartarpur corridor launch. On Page 3, where it had more news reports, Jagran’s main headline was also Wahi Banega Mandir.

Three of the most prominent Marathi newspapers, Loksatta, Lokmat and Saamna reported the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya title suit judgement on the front pages of their Mumbai editions. 

The tone of the headlines, especially for news reports published on the front pages, reflected the different messages they were emphasising. While Loksatta’s headline read, “...finally resolved!”, Lokmat front page lead said, “Way open for Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Land for Masjid will also be given”. Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna surprised nobody when it declared in its boisterous style, “Ayodhya Belongs To Shri Ram Only!”

A “special edit” published by Lokmat on its frontpage welcomed the Supreme Court verdict, calling it a “balanced decision”. Loksatta’s editorial also welcomed the verdict, calling it as one which was decided not on the basis of faith but on the consideration of to whom the land rightfully belongs. The edit was telling titled, “Everything except Ram”. 

In West Bengal, where the BJP is posing a serious threat to the ruling Trinamool Congress with its increasing voter base, leading Bengali daily Pratidin went with the lead headline “Ram Is Reborn In Janmabhoomi” (Janmabhoomi Tei Ram Er Nobojonmo).

The paper also had an interview with L.K. Advani, where he spoke about his feelings after the verdict.

Another Bengali daily, Aaj Kal, went with a headline that said: “Mandir on that same land” (Shei Jomitei Mandir)

For Anandabazar Patrika, the highest-selling Bengali daily, retired Supreme Court justice A.K. Ganguly wrote an opinion piece, where he said the verdict raises some uncomfortable questions.

Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna surprised nobody when it declared in its boisterous style, “Ayodhya Belongs To Shri Ram Only!”

In Kerala, one of the few states in India where the BJP hasn’t yet won a Lok Sabha seat, the most popular newspapers stayed away from hyperbole in their headlines and reporting. 

Malayala Manorama had a measured lead headline—’Disputed Land For Ram Temple, Alternative Land For Mosque’—along with a satellite map marking out the area under contention. On the front page of the Delhi edition, it also made space for several smaller news reports on the highlights of the judgement, reactions from PM Narendra Modi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer for the Muslim parties. It also had a centre page spread on the implications of the verdict and the convoluted history of the case, though it didn’t have an editorial on the issue.

Mathrubhumi’s headline was even more balanced, though not as safe as Manorama’s—while the two-part headline began with ‘Ram Temple Can Be Built’, it continued in slightly smaller font ‘5 Acres Of Prominent Land For Mosque’. The paper seemed to going with the theme of secular brotherhood throughout it coverage—the front-page also had a four-column photo of Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha chief Nand Kishore Mishra hugging a Muslim man in jubilation. On its front page, the newspaper also had a ground report on peace prevailing in Ayodhya town after the verdict and a slightly puzzling cartoon featuring a marching Mahatma Gandhi, with India following along, holding on to his lathi

Both newspapers made some space at the bottom of the page for news reports on the Maharashtra deadlock. Mathrubhumi also had at least eight more pages of coverage unpacking different angles of the judgement, as well as a half-page of what the day looked like in photos. In an editorial titled ‘Let’s forget our differences and walk together’, the newspaper hailed the resolution of the case and the fact that there was no violence after the verdict was pronounced. It ended by calling for meaningful debates between people on the verdict, rather than self-defeating aggrandisement.