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The interview was titled ‘Is Modi flirting with fascism?’. After you watch the entire interview, you wonder, 'perhaps it is’.

Why it is Ram Madhav and his defenders who are embarrassing IndiaImage: Al Jazeera
Voices Opinion Monday, December 28, 2015 - 12:18

On December 25, just as Indian and Pakistani media were being taken in by the storm created by PM Narendra Modi’s sudden visit to Pakistan, Al Jazeera, the Doha-based and Qatar’s royal-family-funded English news channel, aired an interview with BJP General Secretary and RSS member Ram Madhav on its popular show Head to Head. The anchor of the show, Mehdi Hasan, known for his tough style of anchoring, ripped into Ram Madhav with hard questions on Kashmir, Hindutva and recent communal events which have been condemned by several intellectuals in the country.

What is perhaps most striking in the 47-minute interview is that we don't get to see such interviews in India. When was the last time any politician, be it from the political right or left, was questioned on the fundamental issues facing Kashmir or the ideological basis of a ruling party? If nothing else, the interview should help the media understand that we need to improve our quality of debates and interviews.

The headline-grabbers from the interview, however, were Ram Madhav's terrible gaffes, and there were more than just one.

Not only did he commit a crass blunder with his retort to Hasan that 'you' should first worry about  'your ISIS', his answers on RSS's Akhand Bharat dream, even with the qualification of wanting to achieve it through consensus, were laughable. Further, his wishy-washy responses to the Kashmir problem made him look unprepared, if not foolish. You can watch the whole interview here.

To be fair to Madhav, a patient hearing of the whole interview and not just reading web-pieces on it does show that Madhav was not a complete failure. He did manage to push Hasan back on some of the key accusations and data errors, and correct Hasan on wrong facts. But beyond his gaffes and combative answers, the moment of irony in the debate was when Ram Madhav accused the ‘award-wapsi’ intellectuals of defaming India and hampering its image abroad.

If one were an Indian, and a proud Hindu at that, watching the interview would be a painful experience.  By the end of the interview, Ram Madhav was successful in creating an image of India as a country being run a set of cockamamie politicians and ideologues that are neither clear in ideology nor in action. It showed India as a namesake democracy being run by people with hare-brained ideas.

What made it significantly worse was how the entire Hindutva right-wing ecosystem chose to defend Ram Madhav and attack Mehdi Hasan online. It would be a waste of time to show examples of the kind of attack Hasan was subject to. It would suffice to state that it was bad enough for Hasan to tweet the following.

What makes the attack on Hasan look even sillier is that he has a track record of going after all his interviewees, including former Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. And if Hasan is to be believed, he has his roots in India. He says his parents were from India.

When one takes a step back and looks at the mess which has been created, what emerges is the supreme irony of Ram Madhav and the Hindutvadis blaming others for “damaging the image of India”. For a proud Indian, nothing has been more shameful in the recent past than Ram Madhav showing his inability to defend India has a successful democracy with major flaws which we are still working on. A proud Indian would have told Mehdi Hasan on Twitter that he was wrong on certain counts but right on many and that we are getting better by the day, instead of trolling him.

The interview was titled ‘Is Modi flirting with fascism?’. The answer should have been a strong, resounding ‘no’. But when you finish watching the entire interview, you are left with a lingering thought: ‘if these are the guys running the show, perhaps it is’.

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