Over the last few days, India has been waiting to welcome US President Donald Trump to its shores. During his visit, Trump will inaugurate the world’s biggest cricket stadium, possibly sign a landmark trade deal, and receive a grand reception in Ahmedabad that will signal India’s growing closeness with the most powerful nation in the world. But even as ordinary Indians look forward to Trump’s visit, Trump’s plans aren’t going down well with India’s leftist media.
India’s left-leaning media outlets have been getting creative in their efforts to demean and vilify Trump’s India’s tour. On 13th February, Indian Express reported that the Gujarat civil body was building a wall to “shut out a slum on Donald Trump’s route”. “The 6-7 feet high wall is being erected to cover the slum area on an estimated 600-metre stretch. This will be followed by plantation drive along the stretch,” the story quoted an “anonymous” Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation official.
Even though Indian Express’s story only had an “anonymous source” to back it up, the story was quickly picked up by other outlets. A day later, The Wire ran a story with an even more provocative headline: “A Wall Is Being Built in Ahmedabad to Block a Slum From Donald Trump’s View.” The Wire did no research of its own, but simply quoted the Indian Express report as fact.
By now, politicians had begun commenting on the news. NDTV carried an article saying how Sharad Pawar had made a jibe about the wall. “President Trump is visiting, and he will see the slums. How can this be allowed? So you have to build a wall to hide it. Then you have to colour it. Then take some photos there,” NDTV quoted Sharad Pawar as saying.
And at this point, the foreign media got into the action as well, with the Guardian carrying a report titled “Wall hastily built ahead of Trump visit in India criticized as ‘hiding poor people.”
Soon enough, memes and jokes began.
Wall of Modiji pic.twitter.com/x1FOvHb9dm
— MushtaqAnsari 🇮🇳#PotholeWarriors😎 B+Ve (@MushtaqAnsari80) February 19, 2020
Mr Modi should have taken Trump to a tour of Ahmedabad to show the Great Gujarat model proudly. If you are building a wall to hide something, first hide Godra 2002 ❗ pic.twitter.com/bMwbSSqQz4
— shamsuddin hyder (@shamsuddinhyder) February 14, 2020
But as it turns out, the entire brouhaha — based off a single anonymous source at the Indian Express — was all for nothing. The construction of this wall had begun even before US President Donald Trump was scheduled to visit Ahmedabad, said Vijay Nehra, Commissioner of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. He further said that the decision to build the wall was taken much before Trump’s tour to India was finalised and it was just a coincidence that the actual work started when Donald Trump’s India visit was finalised.
India TV also visited the site of the wall, and found many of the claims to be fake. The channel learnt that Sarani Awas, the area where the wall is being built has seen unauthorised encroachment for past 50-60 years. Unauthorised constructions have seen a spike in last 2-3 years and it was to limit this, the wall is being built. Also, the wall is 4 feet tall, not 7 feet tall, and as such, its purpose could not have been to hide slums from view.
This isn’t the only instance where India’s media created fake news out of nothing to paint the government in a bad light around Trump’s visit. On 17th February, Times of India reported that 3 paan shops were sealed after the civic body found improper disposal of garbage and spitting of pan-masala around the shops. Somewhat bizarrely, the headline of the article connected it to Trump’s visit, saying: “Trump’s Ahmedabad visit: Pan shops sealed to keep walls swachh.”
Even though other reports said that only three shops had been shut, they somehow carried headlines that made it appear that all paan shops in Ahmedabad were being shut for Trump’s arrival. Indiatimes carried the headline “Ahead Of Donald Trump’s Ahmedabad Visit, Paan Shops Shut To Keep Walls Clean,” while Mashable went with the headline “Before Donald Trump’s India Visit, Paan Shops Shut Down In Ahmedabad To Keep The Walls ‘Swachh.”
CNN News 18 had also carried a report titled “Ahmedabad has sealed its paan shops to prevent people from spitting it before Donald Trump’s India visit,” but was called out by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Commissioner Vijay Nehra. ” Another misleading news report. Looks like for next few days we are going to have a tough time countering such incorrect news reports,” he wrote on Twitter. After being called out, CNN News 18 changed the headline to: “No Paan Shops Shut, Clarifies AMC Commissioner Day After Reports on Preparation for Trump Visit.” The other news outlets are yet to make corrections.
While CNN News 18 has corrected its report, its astonishing how fake news is being spread by mainstream outlets right before Trump’s arrival. From creating a claim based off a single anonymous source, to extrapolating the closure of three shops to imply that all paan shops in Ahmedabad were being closed, Indian media outlets are doing their best to embarrass India and PM Modi on the world stage. It’s the job of the media to highlight problems within the country it operates — but when it begins inventing problems to make that country look bad at a time when the attention of the world is placed on it, one wonders if it really is serving the people it claims to serve.