Two things stand out for their sublime quality in the current round of pre-election campaigning. First, the danger to Indian democracy has assumed unprecedented proportions, and there is a clear sense of desperation in the air. The threat emanates, you guessed right, from a group of anarchists who are poised to take over Indian democracy. This is perhaps the dirtiest and most dangerous election that India has ever seen – what with the bunch of anarchists ‘fixing the media‘, ‘spreading anarchy‘, ‘hijacking democracy‘, ‘taking foreign funds‘ for their election campaign (while the others, the impeccable democrats of the BJP and the Congress have to make do with ‘local’ capitalists like Mukesh Ambani). What’s more, these people are ‘political mercenaries‘, urban Maoists in disguise and they want to wreck the neatly and painstakingly built edifice of our hallowed democracy. This widespread love of democracy is touching. For someone like me who has closely watched (and participated in) politics from the mid 1970s, the panic evident in the tone of those attacking AAP is as unprecedented as it is revealing. It is revealing of the fact that the political class is thrown into disarray by this new way of doing politics that AAP represents. In BJP’s case, in particular, one can discern complete befuddlement – neither its hope to reap the benefit of the mass anger against the Congress, nor its tried and tested polarizing communal vocabulary seem to have any meaning any more.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Thursday accused Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of being “the gentle face of Maoism” and said they are trying to hijack democracy through anarchy.
“The way AAP has displayed anarchy and violence on the day election has been declared in the country. They are trying to disturb and vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in the country which could affect the free, fair and peaceful conduct of polls,” Naqvi said.
Naqvi expressed what has now emerged as a matter of consensus among major political parties – the Congress included – when he said that “they are trying to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in the country which could affect the free, fair and peaceful conduct of polls” – something that has never happened before in the country. The demolition of the Babri Masjid or the massacre of Muslims (on a routine basis) and of the Sikhs in 1984 (just before elections) are all nothing compared to the threat posed by the AAP anarcho-Maoists.
The consensus goes far beyond the political parties – it is a consensus that is shared by the Big Media as well. Thus, while Kejriwal ‘fixes’ the media in cahoots with Punya Prasoon Vajpeyi, the Big Guns of the Big Media join in the chorus of denunciation. The BJP’s chief-minister-in-the-future-anterior (the would-have-been CM) Mr Harsh Vardhan, now went one step further and revealed that Kejriwal was a CIA agent.
Following the unfortunate incidents during the AAP protest at the BJP’s office, where some stones and other sundry materials were exchanged, the BJP has now raised the demand for the de-recognition of AAP, on the grounds that it indulged in violence and is spreading anarchy. Its leaders who met the Chief Election Commissioner also took care to repeat their warning again:
The delegation also handed over a CD of Wednesday’s incident and demanded action against those working at the behest of “some foreign forces” that threaten the democratic system in the country.
Despite the clear-headed ignorance, often bordering on idiocy, of the BJP leadership that is on display in these quotes, we are perhaps not unjustified in asking what its new-found distaste of anarchy is all about. (Never mind, for the time being, the minor question of the conflation of anarchism with anarchy). Isn’t this the same party that promised before the Supreme Court of the country in 1992 that it would ensure that nothing would happen to the Babri Masjid and then proceeded to oversee its destruction? Its leaders who were present when their very own mobs destroyed, not merely the mosque but also the Constitution, in one fell swoop, were seen celebrating their ‘victory’. Hugging, kissing and distributing sweets.
That of course, was not anarchy. Nor was it anarchy when the incident was followed by large scale riots across the length and breadth of the country, leading to killings of hundreds of Muslims. Nor indeed was it anarchy when the same party under Narendra Modi’s stewardship presided over the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002? All that was done out of deep love for India’s democracy and its Constitution.
The threat AAP poses to business as usual is evident from the number of complaints filed before the Election Commission and with the police, and petitions in courts against AAP. For what? Use of microphones without permission, for instance. Two of the former Delhi MLAs still face a case in court for having allegedly spent beyond what the EC norms allow for – unlike all the others who, as we know, have always adhered to every single norm. It is a different matter of course, that their bills may be directly footed by their corporate benefactors and never enter the account books at all.
What is interesting is that the big media and its self-righteous anchors are lapping up and participating in this entire orchestrated campaign against AAP. Not one person, to my knowledge, has cared to ask whether, if creating anarchy is a problem, should the BJP not be the first party to be de-recognized; nor has anyone grilled the BJP leaders on television for making this demand or spouting the nonsense listed above.
Narendra Modi: The Mask and the Myth
The reasons are not far to seek. The media decisively changed its tone and tune from the time AAP raised its voice against the colonization of the natural commons by the Ambanis. But that is not the only reason. Now it is clear that the point at issue is not just Ambani – who will rule irrespective of whether it is the Congress or the BJP that comes to power; it is rather that the decision has been taken inside corporate board rooms that Narendra Modi must become the next prime minister. For quite some time now, this section has been ‘worried’ about what it calls ‘policy paralysis’ – that is to say, ‘needless delays’ in acquiring land and waiving environmental clearances for their projects. As opposed to the ‘weak’ character of the Manmohan Singh government, Modi is being projected before the country as the tough guy who can take tough decisions. And why not, for as Arvind Kejriwal recently pointed out (in the India Today Conclave 2014) Modi’s might be the only government that has two convicted ministers for corruption still in the cabinet – apart from having the dubious distinction of having Saurabh Patel, the brother-in-law of the Ambani brothers, in the ministry as well. This is a section of society that cares for nothing but its profits – what after all does the death of a few thousand Muslims mean, when thousands of crores of rupees are at stake.
This brings us to the second thing that stands out in this situation for its absolutely sublime quality. That is the careful designing of the angelic prime ministerial candidate of a big section of corporate India – India Inc, as they are also called. Designed as a Mask, Narendra Modi becomes as ubiquitous as he is inaccessible. As Arvind Kejriwal said in the lecture mentioned above, and many others have also noted, Modi neither addresses press conferences nor gives interviews. In public meetings he lands up straight from the air and disappears into it. All you have is the Mask – something that is meant to fill in for the absence of the Leader whose larger-than-life image can only be preserved as long as he is kept away from personal interactions with his public. With Modi, messages flow only in one direction. He only speaks. He neither listens nor replies to questions posed to him. Sure, Kejriwal can ask him about his stand on gas prices, there will be no response. The fact of the matter is that there cannot be any response. After all, Saurabh Patel, the Ambani brother-in-law, is no ordinary minister; he happens to be the Power and Energy minister of Gujarat. The most effective way of designing the Modi Mask then was to present him as someone distant, an Akash vani, whose utterances reach ordinary mortals but their noises don’t reach him. The only exception to this is the controlled environment of the “Chai pe Charcha” sessions that are planned as part of his campaign.
It is, in fact, well known that Modi has always run away from facing questions. The way his persona is designed now, is therefore, in keeping with this overall trait of his personality. Soon after he backed out from the “Facebook Live Talks”, the website www.truthofgujarat.com commented on it thus:
Narendra Modi has run away from yet another interview, this time he has backed out from the “Facebook Live Talks” event. The images of a profusely sweating Modi, desperately gulping down a glass of water, before making a run from the studio while being interviewed by Karan Thapar are still very fresh in everybody’s mind. It seems those images of 2007 are as fresh in Modi’s mind too as he has choked yet again and withdrawn his participation from the joint event hosted by Madhu Trehan of News Laundry and Facebook at the last minute.
Behind this face/ mask however, hides a megalomaniac whose ambitions and hunger for power know no bounds. That is why every journalist worth his or her salt knows, that if he were to become the prime minister, they are in for a bad time. His megalomania is not directed simply at his political opponents, for he is known not to tolerate any dissent or opposition even within his own party. In Gujarat, he is known to have marginalized and destroyed other leaders and senior leaders know they need to watch out.
Modi happens to be a leader of the BJP but he was not the candidate of choice of either the BJP or its parent organization, the RSS, as is well known. But it is he whom India Inc wanted – known as he is for taking ‘hard decisions’ of the kind mentioned above – taking over land and handing it over to corporations, suppressing dissent and running a paranoid police state in Gujarat. For the ramshackle BJP and its defeated organization, the possibility of a Narendra Modi becoming prime minister is nothing short of a disaster. However, given the sagging morale of the lower level cadre, the possibility of Modi-as-PM came as a godsend and pumped some life into its decrepit organization. The so-called ‘Modi wave’ was thus carefully manufactured by sections of India Inc and the Big Media and receives enthusiastic support from the lower level ranks of the RSS and the BJP.
Once it became clear that, thanks to the huge wave of anger against the Congress, the BJP could actually make a bid for power – however distant the target of 272 seats may seem – the RSS too fell in line. And so did the BJP leadership, all of whom are said to be extremely apprehensive about their own future in the party. And no sooner had this possibility of Modi steering them to power become clear to the RSS leadership, it started pronouncing on matters far beyond its ambit. Lovers – heterosexual and homosexual – were openly issued the next threat. RSS will not compromise on ‘moral values’ and with live-in relationships and homosexuality in particular. What that ‘no-compromise’ means is of course anybody’s guess. A sample from the RSS statement:
Joshi said that “in the past year, two issues had come up for discussion before society — live-in relationships and homosexuality — which led to arguments, both in favour and against, on according legal sanction to such relationships”.
“Before extending legality to such things, we have to keep in mind the long-time deleterious effect it will have on our social life.
Clearly, in the RSS/ BJP view of the world, anarchy is the upsetting of order by desire that refuses to be confined within the limits drawn for it by the custodians of morality. So not only does it issue a threat to live-in relationships and gay sex but we can already see the marauding gangs of goons who go around attacking loving couples in parks and other public places, coming out to enforce their moral code. Modi’s accession to power, the RSS leaves us in no doubt, will be the end of every value we cherish. It is not just Muslims who feel anxious at the prospect of Modi’s accession to power. It is a huge and hitherto silent world out there – one that is never seen on the mainstream media – that will have to play – and I believe, will play – a crucial role in this election. The image at the beginning of this post, the crowds at the AAP rally in Gujarat, including Modi’s own constituency, indicates how many surprises there may be in store for us, given the fact that in this atmosphere of terror, people have decided to silently wait for the time when they can exercise their right to vote.
The Media Circus
The terror, by the way, is not just a Gujarat-specific affair, as we know. Recent months have seen increasing threats to senior journalists who are known for their opposition to Modi. Some like Siddharth Varadarajan, have had goons attack the guard at his residence because his employer dared to speak against Modi, while others have been forced to shut up or risk losing their jobs. Journalists not friendly to Modi generally express a feeling of suffocation and despondence these days. In anticipation, many others have started exercising self-censorship or, as one friend put it, sit closer to the fence, just in case they need to climb up!
As a result, we have the interesting scenario of witnessing the righteous anger of media persons and politicians alike at the alleged ‘media fixing’ by AAP. I had the opportunity of watching a discussion on CNN-IBN on the night of 10 March where, like in other channels, the ‘expose’ was made out to be the great revelation of the century. BJP leader Nirmala Seetharaman was beside herself with rage while Rajdeep Sardesai, who was anchoring the show was equally vehement in his condemnation of AAP. Till the point when former journalist Ashish Khetan, now the AAP candidate from New Delhi, actually challenged Sardesai and other TV channels to display the information on their websites of the financial assistance they have received from Modi and BJP-related sources (including advertisements). That was when Sardesai’s tone changed a bit and he turned his questioning to Nirmala Seetharaman. Rajdeep Sardesai’s interview of Kejriwal on the day he resigned from chief ministership of Delhi was also revealing – with Sardesai’s body language and his words reeking of arrogance as he hurled petty accusation after accusation at his guest, regardless of Kejriwal’s polite, low-key, hard hitting answers. Sardesai continuously talked down telling Kejriwal that his job was to govern – kaam karna padta hai!. He repeated, without any irony, BJP and Jaitley’s accusation that Kejriwal was an ‘urban naxalite’ – defending Ambani (the major stakeholder in his channel) in the process. The burden of his song too was that AAP should have stuck to ‘form’ and behaved responsibly. I doubt Sardesai will ever dare to adopt this tone with a Rahul Gandhi or a Narendra Modi or an Ambani – and I am prepared to wait for an occasion to be proved wrong
Ashish Khetan’s point is important not because of his defense of Kejriwal in the supposed ‘expose’ but because he raised a vital issue about media transparency. At Kafila, I have also argued, on an earlier occasion, that opinion makers who present their views as neutral often have their own interests tied up with powerful parties in the dispute. That is why we have demanded that editors and senior journalists too must declare their assets. If we can have politicians declare their assets and sources of funding before elections, the time has come to now ask media persons and media houses to also come clean with the different kinds of financial support they get from different quarters. It is also necessary to have television channels make public declaration of their own business interests, especially since they claim to be setting up public debates as neutral arbiters. Take for instance the following discussion on CNN-IBN, on the issue of gas prices and the FIRs filed by Arvind Kejriwal against Mukesh Ambani, Murli Deora and Veerappa Moily. Here Prashant Bhushan makes a point about how the actual business interests of the channel, owned largely by Reliance, are simply not brought up. The stakes and conflict of interests in debates like these need to be made public.
Both the Modi mask and the Modi myth are put in place by excising out crucial bits of information and past history. In attempting to produce a Modi who is a benefactor of Muslims, history is being re-written by roping in lapsed academics, propagandists and spin doctors. Apologists have stepped up their campaign to prove that Modi was innocent as far as the violence of 2002 was concerned. However, here is a video of the sting well known operation where Babu Bajrangi speaks of how he killed, sparing none, women and children included. He tells how his release from jail was managed by “Narendrabhai” by “changing the judges”. Haresh Bhatt talks of how weapons are being made, training being imparted and how the judicial system was made to dance to Modi’s tune. Bhatt also tells us that Narendrabhai has done what no chief minister could have done: “he gave us three days to do whatever we wanted” – and of course, ‘we’ did it!
How real and dangerous to Modi is Bajrangi’s claim? Well, judge for yourself – in the short while since this video was put up, it has been taken down. However, segments of the same video are still available elsewhere on the internet. Hopefully, enterprising readers will locate them. Try http://www.truthofgujarat.com at regular intervals!
Kejriwal in Gujarat and the Media
It is this overall strategy behind the crafting of the Modi figure that seems to determine the media coverage of Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign trip to Gujarat. The best indication of how the media acted in this respect can be seen in the following report from The Citizen:
The national media, according to journalists from Gujarat, is following him but not telecasting what actually is the big news of the day, as this is the first time since 2002 that an opposition leader has dared to take Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on in his home turf. Local journalists told The Citizen that the entire media, national and state, was present when Kejriwal’s vehicle was stoned but although the news was carried locally, it was barely mentioned on the so called ‘national’ television and print media. In fact, the Gujarat police has not initiated any proceedings against those who attacked the vehicle carrying the former chief minister of Delhi, describing them as “miscreants.”
Few political observers had expected the enormous support and cheers Arvind Kejriwal received in Gujarat and Ahmedabad in particular. In fact, most of the knowledgeable people expected Modi’s Gujarat to give a cold shoulder to Kejriwal and tell him that he is just a local Delhi phenomenon that rode over the anger of people against Congress corruption. The massive support of people in the Maninagar constituency of the CM Narendra Modi, during his road show and the huge turn out in the Bapunagar rally, proved all the critics of Kejriwal wrong. Interestingly, the intelligence bureau of the state had a harrowing time since they had sent a report earlier that not more than 2000 persons were expected in the Bapunagar meeting. As the crowd swelled to over 25 thousands, the IB officers were sweating to explain their low estimate.
The situation is classic as far as the IB is concerned. The IB tells you what you want to hear – though very often it does not itself have any clue of the ground situation. Hence its estimates that the turnout in Kejriwal’s rallies would not be more than 2000. But the media? Is it also playing the IB role in this case? It seems unlikely. More likely is the fact that its interests – business interests, to be more precise – are tied up with the rise of Modi. Its stakes are different. Anything that even appears to play spoiler for Modi and his architects has to be rejected with all the vehemence and viciousness at their command.
For those on the other side of the fence, the game this time will be very different. We do not know what the outcome of the elections will be but all forces need to be directed to stop Mission 272+ from succeeding. Away from all the noise – the cacophony – of television studios, a different set of debates and discussions is taking place. The old grammar of electoral politics that has been in operation from the early 1990s will no longer be the only game in town. A new set of issues, a new alignment of forces and fresh thinking on politics itself is taking place today. That is where the immediate battle will be fought – irrespective of the actual outcome of the election. Politics can no longer leave vital decisions to economists, planners and corporate interests. The fundamental issue before us today is that of the commons and they cannot be privatized under any circumstances. Corporations and private capital will have to adjust to the simple reality that they do not own India. They can exist and do business just as everybody else does. They or their pen pushers cannot demand special favours by presenting their pursuit of private profit as a pursuit of the common good.