The Gujarat Hindu–Muslim clashes of 2002 were the first major Indian riots of the 24-hour television age—and television became central to the politics of the violence. This paper examines the role of television in the shaping of the riots and its impact on the subsequent election campaign in Gujarat. It seeks, thereby, to demonstrate the change in Indian politics brought about by the advent of satellite television. It will show how the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) skilfully used television coverage of the riots and mediated the message of this coverage for its own political purposes. Secondly, as an analytical aid, it compares the Gujarat case with the television coverage of the civil rights disturbances in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s, and British television coverage of the inner-city disturbances in 1981. It will be seen that in all three countries, the reportage was remarkably similar, and that many of the same issues were raised. In each case television clearly introduced a new factor into the political matrix. Nevertheless, Gujarat was different because of the nature of the round-the-clock live coverage television provided of that event. Generally that coverage was hostile to the Hindu Right forces affiliated with the Gujarat BJP government. But the ruling BJP managed to portray the media coverage of the violence as an attack on Gujarati regional honour, successfully converting it into an emotive election issue.
This article was republished in Modern Indian Culture and Society: Critical Concepts in Asian Studies, edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, (London: Routledge, 2009), 4 vols.