Features Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 05:30
By Pramod Kumar It has been apparent for a long while now that our media has lost its celebrated diversity, healthy scepticism, questioning spirit and investigative urge and has been forced to operate as a “herd” by its owners and media professionals because of common economic interests and the caste/faith affinities. Except for the niche units here and there (mostly online), the media has been functioning as a cheer leader and a drummer boy for the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. It is therefore not at all surprising that the coverage of the Prime Minister`s speech from the Red Fort has been hailed as a breakthrough moment, transformational, refreshing and above all a commanding oratorical performance which has struck a direct connect with the people.  It is, in fact, a case of déjà vu. The election campaign too was not only funded by the India Inc but was enthusiastically endorsed by the media professionals who unabashedly used the propaganda material and TV footage provided and prepared by Modi`s Managers. They tried to convince the viewers/readers that Modi has moved on. Modi also projected himself as a person who believed in the well-being of all citizens and even called Hindus and Muslims to fight against poverty together. He assured people that “better days” are imminent. He won over the ‘aspirational” and consumerist middle class by offering a radical reformist economic vision and a focus on growth. The media has not stopped harping on the same theme and on Modi`s vacuous pieties and innocuous appeals for consensus, cooperation and conciliation. His call for “Sabka Saath – Sabka Vikas” has been buzzing in the media circles ever since. However, the media has failed to keep the viewers/readers sufficiently informed about the parallel narrative employed, with Modi`s knowledge, by the BJP. It was about the thousands of RSS workers who had spread out in critical states like U.P., Bihar and Madhya Pradesh to consolidate Hindu votes and polarise the electorate through a well orchestrated hate campaign. Modi tried to be aseptic in his speeches, but RSS and his closest aide Amit Shah had no qualms in using the pet Hindutva shibboleth of Hindus being persecuted in their own country. They even raised and magnified the fears that Hindus and their religion will become history if Hindus did not vote in favour of Modi.  Even Modi strained hard not to deviate from his original narrative but could not resist letting in coded messages for his cohorts by referring to Assam Government`s killing of rhinos to make room for Bangla Deshi infiltrators, pink revolution and burqa secularism. Modi has been a Pracharak of RSS and the decades` long indoctrination has led to the intrinsic and inherent prejudices, especially against the religious minorities. The media has not enlightened the people about Hindutva which is a distortion of the millennia old Sanatan Dharma, an assimilative, accommodative and a tolerant religious order. Hindutva, as formulated by Savarkar and Golwalkar, attempts to homogenise Hindus on the lines of Semitic religions. It is antithetical to the Constitution as it espouses primacy of the Hindus in India. Its belief in even democracy is suspect since RSS functions on oligarchic principle.  The media is well aware that this is not the first time RSS has discarded the pretence of being a cultural organisation to mobilise Hindus. The destruction of the Babri Masjid was the first and the second was the Gujarat riots. Modi was an important player in both these instances. These have had serious consequences for our fragile democracy and fragmented polity. Modi`s template of the past is intimately associated with what has been labelled as the Hindutva Laboratory in Gujarat. The media has not found it odd that when it comes to destruction and violence for furthering RSS` causes, it is the lower castes and the tribals who are pushed to the forefront. In Ayodhya it was the lower castes that, in the name of Ram, were instigated and trained in Gujarat, as revealed by the Cobra Post sting, to pull down the Babri Mosque.  Modi Government has been in power for three months now. He has refrained from making any reference to Hindutva/RSS and Hindu Rashtra. Yet, as a leader of the House, Modi assigned Rajiv Pratap Rudy to humiliate the defeated opposition in a show of crass triumphalism. Again, he allowed Yogi Adityanath to raise doubts about the patriotism of the opposition in a rabidly communal speech. In fact, Modi himself chose to make a reference to “1200 years of slavery” in his speech in Parliament. What could be more divisive than charging the largest minority of having enslaved India whereas it had chosen to adopt India as its fatherland too and has an important place in Indian History`s cultural and social mosaic? Indeed a curious way of seeking conciliation, cooperation and consensus and media did not even take note of it.  Modi had so far projected himself as a decisive and a strong leader promising to unshackle the entrepreneurs and unleash their “animal spirit” for the sake of growth under a neo-liberal economic framework. It may well come about but so far it has been a case of continuity of the old policies. May be now that Modi`s BJP is not required to put any premium on disruptions and obstructionism, we may see the nation recover from the alleged ills of policy paralysis. Karan Thapars and Barkha Dutts have been too busy questioning the double standards of Congress by asking questions about FDI in insurance while ignoring the incongruity in words and deeds of Modi who had tweeted when the FDI issue was re-introduced in the last Lok Sabha that the UPA2 was out to sell the nation to the foreigners or his creating hurdles in the finalisation of GST. It is perhaps the realisation that the promised “better days” and the unleashing of the “animal spirit” is taking some time which has prompted Modi to change tack and take up issues like cleanliness, foeticide, infanticide, women`s status, open defecation and toilets. Now who can find faults with these pious postulates? There is continuity here also as these issues happen to be part of the “work in progress” scenario. However, when Jairam Ramesh called for “toilets before temples” he had to face the wrath of BJP and the Parivar. Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) launched by the previous Government and the increasing awareness about skewed sex ratios have improved the situation somewhat. These are problems which cannot be solved through diktats and need active participation and above all a change in the mindset of the people. The Prime Minister lending his own imprimatur and Governmental authority is indeed a welcome step. It would have been better if the homilies – of hearth and home – of sons and daughters - of cleanliness, open defecation and toilets had been included in Dina Nath Batra`s books which carry a foreword from the then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi and have been prescribed for the supplementary reading for young students. This would have sensitized the young minds about these matters. Books however include weird and bizarre pronouncements about cows, motor car in Vedic period called “ANASHAVA RATH” and heap ridicule on the icons like Vivekananda and S. Radhakrishanan through unedifying references (like foreigners and Swami’s feet - about half, full and over-baked rotis respectively).  Media has not taken up seriously the incidence of rapes. These take place because of the serious fault lines in the very structure of our society. The rapes against Dalits and those which happen during communal riots get CONDONED by the society and even the rule of law fails to provide justice. In our largely feudal and patriarchal society, lower castes and tribals have been exploited by the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, clubbed together as Upper Castes, since millennia through a despicable mechanism of dividing the people, with the religious (contrived?) “Sanction”, into immutable caste hierarchies in the name of social stability.  To keep the lower castes at the margins of the society literally, the recourse to dehumanising torture and rapes is not uncommon. Even the other religions like Islam and Christianity have not escaped contamination from the virus of caste discriminations. The caste/class divides are clearly apparent from the manner in which the rapes and killings of Khairlanji (Maharshtra), Bagana and Mirchipur (Haryana), Laxmanpur Bathe (Bihar) and Tsundar (Andhra Pradesh) and those of Mattoo, Gehrotra and Nirbhaya have been treated by the Media Professionals. Similarly, despite acquittal of the accused persons in Akshardham Terror case by the Supreme Court and strictures against the then Chief Minister, Modi, the acquitted are still being harassed and persecuted by the Gujarat Police (Indian Express-12.8.14) but there is an eloquent silence in the News TV studios. The other fault line is the glaring dichotomy in treatment of a girl. On the one hand, she is put on a pedestal and called a Goddess and on the other even her birth is resented. It is only the girl who is burdened with guarding her chastity and any violation is treated as dishonour for the family/caste. This perverse mindset is exploited, whenever any dispute arises, amongst various castes and families, by victimising the girl to settle the scores. Urbanisation also has had an adverse effect for the migrants find it hard to bring their families to cities because of economic reasons and the long separation and relative anonymity are fecund grounds for criminal acts. These issues require a holistic treatment and social reforms. Sons` upbringing will of course help but it is the elimination of caste oppression, respect for all religions and above all change has to be made from a patriarchal to an egalitarian society.  The open defecation and lack of toilets are also the result of distorted sense of cleanliness. The premium is on the personal cleanliness. The homes and its interiors used to be diligently cleaned with cow dung but the common public areas were considered fit for disposal of garbage. Old habits have persisted. The ablutions and related tasks were carried out in the near fields because of economic reasons perhaps. Even those who could afford would provide privies away from the living quarters. The cleaning of privies was assigned to the lower castes (SCs) and they were made to carry the filth and night-soil on their heads to dispose it off in fields, ponds and rivers.  This abominable practice continues to this day in many States though Modi did not make any reference to it on 15th August. Media has praised Modi for taking up basic issues but in his tenure as the Chief Minister, the Human Development Indices of Gujarat have not improved as much as in some other states and manual scavenging is prevalent in Gujarat too.  Media has applauded Modi for his call for moratorium on civic, ethnic and sectarian strife for 10 years so that all energies can be devoted to the nation`s development. For ten years only? Why not permanent cessation of communal and caste killings? Is there a message in it for his cohorts in RSS? In any case RSS and its various wings are again at their divisive best in UP and have raised the issue of Love-Jihad whose genesis also happened to be in Gujarat. Remember Babu Bajrangi who launched a violent agitation against Hindu girls marrying Muslims in 2005/06 and was later convicted for his part in the Gujarat riots.  It is in keeping with the patriarchal mindset of RSS that they distrust their women and refuse to concede them their right to make their own decisions and freedom of choice. Also, almost daily, assertions are being made that all Indians are Hindus which does not go well with the minorities. The claim that India will be a Hindu Rashtra sooner or later from Hindutva stalwarts displays lack of faith in what Modi calls his “holy Book”, the Indian Constitution. Modi too has not distanced himself from these developments so far and nor has he drawn any red lines for BJP/RSS.  Media has appreciated that Modi, in direct communion with the people, has done away with the bullet-proof shield in use for many years. Media is not so gullible as to miss the real significance of this symbolic gesture which was to draw attention to Modi`s macho and muscular persona. It has been reported in newspapers that he claimed “if JAWANs can lay themselves open to attacks on the border at all hours of the day, surely I can do without a bullet-proof shield for an hour” (Indian Express/24.8.14). Of course he can but Modi must have been aware of the fact that thrice as elaborate a security drill as was the norm had to be made to sanitize a far larger area and for a much longer period than before and considerably heavy deployment of security staff and the sharp-shooters on the top of the thousands of the building near the Red Fort had to be made. But need there be a cavil about keeping the “PRADHAN SEWAK” of the nation happy? Media has been highlighting Modi`s assertion that he came as an outsider to the Capital, New Delhi while being well aware that it is only partially true. Every anchor/editor must be knowing that in late 1990s, Modi was a fixture in the studios discussions (not as noisy and ludicrous then as now) and that he stayed in BJP Headquarters for years. NDA was in power then and he was being mentored by no less a person than Arun Jaitly an expert in explaining the intricacies of exercising power in a democratic set-up. But who in media will point such minor fibs to Modi for even their access to the new Prime Minister has now been severally curtailed. Yet his every action/tweet is treated with an excessively adulatory spin. The talk of punctuality and discipline is a throwback to the days of Emergency but the media is quite ecstatic about it. Well, as Advani has said, media crawled when asked to bend in those days. Will things be any different now? Media has hailed Modi`s call to the young Naxalites to give up their war against the State by referring to Nepal where the young people from the Left have joined the mainstream and are busy preparing a new Constitution. Media forgets and so does Modi that in India; the young have gone into jungles due to a sense of perceived frustration that the nation and the Constitution have failed to work for a just society because of the political manipulations and the stranglehold of Upper castes on the power structure.  Also Modi`s concern for the status of Indian women is quite touching when their intelligence, their ability to choose their life-partners and to make their own decisions have been questioned through the latest divisive ploy of Love-Jihad. Modi has also no hesitation in referring to a lawfully wedded lady as a “wife of Rs 50 Crores”. He has also been economical with truth about his own marital status. Jashodaben may be constrained by our social customs and her belief that a “husband is no less than a God”. Modi surely can rise above these considerations and either relieves her of what she considers her duty and frees himself to lead his life as he desires.  Media has been somewhat partisan in praising the reported changes wrought by Modi in the Government functioning. The feeling that a control-freak is at work is getting strengthened by the day. Even the senior Ministers have been denied the freedom and the right to choose their staff. The corridors of power, North and South Block, sport CCTVs to keep an eye on the staff. In fact, figuratively speaking every Minister, every senior Bureaucrat seems to be under a CCTV these days if the alleged reports about some Ministers are to be believed. There is a palpable sense of insecurity and paranoia in the air around the seat of power. “Mera Kya Hoga?” reveals the fear and anxiety in the political hierarchy: should any proposal or decision of theirs fail to come up to the standards set almost always unilaterally.  The discussion, debate and even the dissent, legitimate components of any political discourse, seem to be disappearing in a government characterised by the memos and diktats from one direction only. There is another concern about the stealth with which Hindutva envelope is being pushed. First it was asked that Hindi be used more and more in official work and then came the celebration of Sanskrit week. Even the appointment of S. Sudarshan Rao, closely connected with Parivar, as the director of the ICHR was done on the quiet. Also devious means like leaks from IB/CBI and planting of stories in the Media are being employed to manipulate and circumvent issues which are found unpalatable or difficult to deal with. Media Professionals should realize that the oratorical brilliance, demagogic rhetoric, symbolic gestures co-existing with the half-truths and connivance at or ignorance of the subversive activities of the groups close to Modi may prove to be a double edged sword. Modi may succeed in delivering what he has promised but should his fortunes take a dip, is there any guarantee that he will not use these very attributes to revert to low, mean and divisive tactics he employed to leverage the 2002 Godhra riots? It is important to remember that as late as 2013, Modi Govt. in Gujarat tried to deny official help in repairing and restoring the religious places razed and damaged during the 2002 riots.  Modi contested the claims of the Muslim community till Supreme Court and had to give in only when SC so ordered. Modi has also made, during his election speeches, a clear distinction between illegal migrants from Bangla Desh on religious lines. MP a state ruled by the BJP has already granted citizenship to 5000 Hindus from that country (Hindu of 21.8.14). Modi has thus not shied away from clearly articulating his idea of a Hindu Nation, much like the conception of Israel as the nation of Jews. Modi as CM had been the Hindu Hriday Samrat of Gujarat. What will stop him from trying to become India`s Hindu Hriday Samrat now? The make-over or turning the page is too recent and the context in which this has happened does call for caution. The media is right in lauding Modi`s speech in so far as he has deigned to acknowledge the contribution of earlier Governments in the making of the India what it is today. It is all the more welcome that after outright condemnation of what and what not has been achieved by the Congress over 60 years rule in the acerbic election campaign, the continuity (unacknowledged so far) is clearly visible in every decision/action be it social reforms, FDIs or even the newly christened Jan Dhan Yojana. The Aadhar was trashed by the BJP but is now the fulcrum on which the platform for “financial inclusion” has been devised. Also, after ridiculing wholesale the policy of “hand outs” and subsidies, the Modi Govt. has chosen to trudge the same path. Of course every Govt. tries to build a legacy for itself and if dismantling of Planning Commission is part of this construct, so be it. Modi has won a massive verdict because of a) the alleged scams, the moribund leadership of the UPA Govt, right plans but conviction-less and lackadaisical implementation. Also it had been badly mauled by the obstructionism of Modi led BJP, b) the support from India Inc (and International Big Business too eying the huge internal market) because of Modi`s reliance on growth and growth only, c) media reducing journalism to partisan PR and event management and d) the RSS giving up its pretence of a cultural organisation and letting its thousands of Swayam Sewaks to polarise the electorate and consolidate the Hindu vote bank. The role of Hindutva in Modi`s electoral success has been deliberately underplayed by the media. Most of the Media Professionals, operating under the veneer of liberalism, supported Modi knowing well that Hindutva is not synonymous with Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism. Hindutva is being used as a ploy to secure political power. However, the pressure from the owners, class and caste interests or conceit of being a player in the big league, made the Media Professionals give up on ethical journalism. It is confirmed by the way some of the well-known practitioners of journalism, since the campaign for Lok Sabha began and when the trends were indicating transfer of power, had started shifting their positions, ever so subtly, and reinvented themselves as champions of neo-liberal policies and firm believers in Modi`s transformation. This reveals their expertise in swimming with the tide but it also says something about their professional integrity. This does not bode well for the democracy and the idea of India, its syncretic civilization, its diversity and its plurality. The media has lost its credibility no matter how many charades of being unbiased are played out during the TV discussions. The efforts by iconic anchors to subliminally and subtly plug the lines advocated by the new dispensation are quite evident. Even the discussions on Love Jihad in the studios have tried to lend credence to the obnoxious claims by quoting an alleged observation of a Kerala High Court Judge. This is being repeated in the Goebbelisian way and soon it will become a Ved Vakya for the RSS workers which may lead once again to the gender repression in the name of protecting Hindu girls. No anchor has tried to counter it by doing some investigative work to clear the position that the Kerala High Court had unequivocally rejected the charges of Love-Jihad. In fact, investigative journalism has just vanished. The media survives on bytes, leaks and press notes, planted stories and motivated gossip. The Media cannot regain or retain its credibility by allowing pre-scripted interviews and letting the interviewee choose his interviewer. Of course, Media need not be antagonistic to the Govt. but it cannot play ball also. Media`s role is essentially an adversarial role. The loss of credibility at a time of political turmoil and churning like the present is indeed dangerous. Modi is trying to centralise all power in his own hands and his unfettered control on his party present a challenge to the democratic process.  It is time Anchors stopped “shaping the world” and “setting the agendas” through frenzied rhetoric and “direct” and “straight” questions at prime time. This is the time for the Fourth Pillar to be an active watch-dog and not a lap-dog. The Media is busy swatting the scorpions and cockroaches of the Indian politics but seems to be oblivious of the predatory instinct of the ruling dispensation which is tearing apart the democratic process, political discourse and has the ominous potential to bring down the whole edifice of democracy too. In fact, the goings on in UP and poll bound states clearly indicate that what was called fringe is now steadily creeping towards the centre stage. Modi`s speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort may be a commanding oratorical performance in stark contrast to the phlegmatic and soporific speeches of his immediate predecessor. But ManMohan Singh is what we see and what we hear. Can this be said about Modi? Pramod Kumar is a retiree from an MNC Company. He has been closely connected with the theatre and Film Society in Delhi. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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