A Wave is a Dangerous Thing: R. Umamaheshwari

This is a guest post by R. Umamaheshwari

A wave, as in, something that engulfs, leaving you to suffocate and die, is a dangerous thing. It smothers to the point of numbness, listlessness, leaving the subject of that smothering out of synch with even a basic natural harmony of simple breathing. So, if at all, as the mainstream TV media brands are shouting at us to believe (all brands are included in this, with little difference in terms of projection of images or blaring of sounds couched in very urbane elite language of ‘dialogue’ that essentially means shouting down or politely stating the bias towards that so-called ‘wave’) that the idea of Modi is a ‘wave’, and if it indeed is a ‘wave’, then it is indeed dangerous. If the current spate of interviews with Modi are analysed, what I see is a man with the craftiness of a character playing with and teasing and flirting with the media, and making them hear just two words (to the exclusion of all else) – “good governance” and “development” (not necessarily value-less, non-problematic, opaque terms by themselves). He sits there pontificating to the journalists interviewing him about these two terms as if they existed in a vacuum; he is perpetually in a teaching mode to the journalist in question who is either listening in awe or seems to beam in a strange elite, urbane, civility and sometimes veneration and respectability even as he or she asks him questions on the Muslim massacres of Gujarat, almost empathising with him even as he plays ‘victim’ with such panache. This Modi cannot be a cruel perpetrator of crimes against humanity, it seems, from the image constructed through advertising and clever make-up and PR (obviously by industry that truly wants him to win for a never-before free-market loot that is expected from him as a token of appreciation post-elections, if at all he wins, which at the moment, is a mere idea, or a prediction based on the construct of the ‘wave’).

The journalists seem to be merely listening, and of course they do ask him a question or two occasionally about Muslims (though never, as far as I have seen, about the Ram temple at Ayodhya or Babri Masjid demolition nor about the very idea of Uniform Civil code nor about Kashmir). Modi sermonises and patronisingly tells them what questions they should be asking, what they should not be, what they should hear, what not, what they should see and what not. And all this is done with utmost civility and painfully scathing, benumbing objectivity that by the end of the interview the image of Modi is that of an Amitabh Bacchan of Hindi cinema of the ‘70’s, out to punish the guilty or ‘cleanse’ the system (cleansing, incidentally, may also mean, if we chose to look into the past for lessons, killing or making people disappear); and the cleansing may also mean removing from the arena anyone who opposes, or protests against his ideology or his idea of India or nation. Incidentally, in one of the channels (Zee) during a segment of the questioning of Modi by three male journalists, there was a flash of a black-out just when a difficult question (yes, indeed!) was posed to him regarding the Muslim question. And when the broadcast resumed, you had Modi asking the journalists not to fear, telling them that a media persons should be ‘strong’. But the truth of those moments could also be read this way – that Modi meant ‘beware’; that they were safe as long as they did not pose questions that broke the Gujarat ‘model’ myth, the myth of ‘development’-touting RSS-BJP-etc combine.

The journalists, for their part, seem to have no questions of their own to ask except to cite references from Congress Party’s Rahul-Priyanka-combine speeches. So much so that they do not even spend a moment doing research on the facts; none of them show any truth from the villages of Gujarat or from the Muslim families that faced the worst attack ever in Indian history post-independence. They pose Rahul’s claims as a question to which Modi has a smart counter question. And he urges the journalists to ‘come to Gujarat and do a story’, which, in effect and in reality must mean (in Modi language), dare you come to Gujarat and do a story on the land acquisition, or the Bt cotton propagation, or the killing of agriculture or even the massive waste of resources to build an iron structure for an icon suddenly part of the BJP’s nation myth-making (Sardar Patel). Modi is always seeming to impress upon the journalists who interview him (on TV channels) ‘my fact is the fact’, or, ‘believe in my truth, which is the truth’. And the BJP-Modi discourse is upset every time (as the TV channels speak for them) someone writes a letter or signs a petition or makes it clear through some means that they would not want Modi in power. So every filmmaker, artist, writer, academic, college principal or school teacher who even expresses her or his opinion on the current scenario in the wake of elections, is seen as harming democracy itself. Modi does not like it. And TV channels spend hours debating on the propriety, or lack of it, of these citizens in coming out with their opinions in public.

At the other, deeper level, one wonders as to how soon people forget. And how soon they forget everything! At a Software company in Bengaluru / Bangalore, Rajdeep Sardesai passes his microphone to ‘young techies’, including women, who laugh, scream in euphoria, “Modi!”, that they would vote for Modi. They have forgotten: the attack on women going to a pub in Bangalore, or the attack on women attending a friend’s birthday party in Bangalore, or the attack on Valentine’s Day celebrations in Bangalore, the rapes, the molestations, everything. They have forgotten. They are singing the “development and good governance” mantra. The wave, indeed, is a dangerous thing.

Nearly everyone on electronic media has forgotten Gujarat’s mass murders of Muslims. Everyone or nearly every journalist or management of TV channels in India has forgotten Babri Masjid. Nobody even speaks of the artist M.F. Husain’s predicament anymore, or the vandalism that his art faced long years ago. Nobody speaks of the Ramayana exhibitions and the vandalism that faced. Or the attacks on media organisations at different points in time. Forget about that. Not a single journalist files a worthwhile, well-researched story on TV, even remotely debating the very idea of ‘development’ or of the idea of free market that BJP is going all out to promote. Nobody seems to be interested in the numbers of those displaced by the same development model (which Congress is no less guilty of). In fact, people seem to have forgotten Hitler, and his Germany and his idea of economy merged with idea of race and the definitions of insider and outsider; instead, people are suddenly finding ‘equality’ versus ‘appeasement’ enough of a discourse at the moment. They have forgotten of the horrors on every occasion in the past when free market, blended with an ideology of religious fundamentalism led to mass graves and perpetual scars. But at this point in time, the idea of ‘mass graves’ may be replaced by other far more invisible and insidious ideas that will not evince either basic human sympathy nor mass protests, for these will happen in the development language that essentially works on numbing all sensations.

Most Modi interviews on TV channels, whenever they do ask questions of 2002 to Modi, find him acting the ‘victim’ who is always seeming to say, ‘oh, believe me, how long will you lash at me for the little pups that came under me car by accident? Oh, how long? Don’t you know I spoke to every single “top journalist” from 2002 to 2007? Did I not say all that I have had to say [which was what, by the way??!]. Oh, spare me the Gujarat (murders) question.’ And when the question comes about the woman being under surveillance under his regime, he cries victim again. Oh, yes, he even plays the Buddha who left his family for the welfare of the world (vis-à-vis his relationship with his long forgotten wife). And yes, he suddenly invokes Baba Saheb Ambedkar and invokes his OBC status (and people do not find that at odds with everything that the BJP was born out of and the very idea of its Hindutva being completely antithetical to the idea that Ambedkar represented for the dalits in India). But none of the TV channels ever spend time on these anomalies or the serious questions. Nobody wants to know Modi’s idea on adivasis or on dalits or on minorities. But of course, he cleverly invokes the ‘equality’ idea time and again. When asked why he did not wear the topi offered by the Muslim clergy at one of the rallies he can cleverly speak of respecting his own “parampara” (tradition) , which he will do. Nobody realises the inner meaning of this answer – that he will remain a die-hard Hindu, first, and foremost. He will cleverly talk of India, and the need to move forward.

What is the point of discussing Modi when he will never say anything substantial but give every journalist on TV the feeling that the cat has been belled, after all, in a TV studio! But for the real Modi questions and the truly BJP ideas, you have to go to the Togadias, the Giriraj Singhs, and the Amit Shahs, who will make it clear what the BJP agenda truly is. Modi is just a heavily made-up face for what continues to be sinister in the party’s manifesto and larger programme for India. Modi will never apologise for the hate statements of his party mates, but gently chide them on Twitter. The true BJP and Modi agenda consists in these statements that dare Muslims to buy homes in so called Hindu localities, or dare people to speak against Modi and live in India. The true BJP – Modi agenda is to look towards America as the role model (even if Modi was not allowed to visit there, but is suddenly being hailed by the American right-wing conservatives as the Reagan of India) with free market and free loot and everything free, except the mind. Unbridled capitalism, growth of the select few industrialists, and ‘governance’ that might even end up tweaking information out from the UPA-II’s bizarre UID (Aadhar) experiment and gradually silencing the liberals, the Communists, the intellectuals, journalists, activists who question, increased surveillance through social media monitoring (which is happening even now – the BJP has software professionals in place who monitor all that is said on Modi, for or against); basically, tweaking out from a namesake democracy of all those who do not speak Hindutva or Hindi (note that Modi does not speak in English even on English TV channels; in fact there is a Hindi-isation of even English news channels ever since they started this ‘wave’ idea.) or those who do not celebrate free market fundamentalism. TV mainstream media will survive and also those that remain silent now and forever. The Modi ‘wave’ will mean little else than being penalised if you remember Gujarat, or protest against bans on books or films or even personalities.

This ‘wave’ that is finding our media spinning super speed, in delirium most times, or in arrogance of being objective to the degree of fault, shouting down (literally) any debate other than the one staged and rehearsed. Sometimes, even a little boy serving tea to a crowd of BJP supporters waving flags with the woman journalist in question and the supporters oblivious to the fact of child labour working in their midst so that they may go on with the debate uninterrupted. Nothing matters anymore. Only the World Bank’s idea of “good governance and development” and a politics and media funded by corporate giants, cinema and writings funded by corporate giants thrives and will thrive, sucking up to this ‘wave’, or sucked up by it. We may remember that Hitler too, managed to mesmerise. Germany under his regime did not prosper but left history with mass graves built on a monolithic idea of nation and past. Some waves leave permanent marks of their visitation. Waves can be dangerous things. Either you cry out hoarse and refuse to be drowned in it, or you silently drown.

[The author is currently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.]

8 thoughts on “A Wave is a Dangerous Thing: R. Umamaheshwari”

  1. There is certainly a wave. Whether we like it or not, we have to face it. Except, it is not a Modi wave as mentioned in the media. It is the wave of mindless automatons lapping up the stories without pause.
    The questions that are being asked now should have been asked a year ago, even six months ago. What is the point in crying hoarse when it does not matter anymore?
    Hindi-isation of English channels is something that did not start with Modi. Murli Manohar Joshi, Vajpayee, Bal Thackeray made it so, even before this current semi-literate man started fumbling in English interviews and then went back to speaking in a language he uses like a foolish weapon.
    His interviews are cleverly crafted dialogues, with both sides using stock phrases, queries and answers. Even in the public fora, the questions are almost always asked in admiration, with the obvious answers clearly known to the questioner. A bunch of Industry idiots sitting with the PM-in-waiting will not ask tough questions either. But then, how do you engage someone in a debate unless you are permitted to. I still think that all those pompous announcements and challenges for open debates should have been taken up by the opposition. But, no, they were afraid that it might end up like the Kennedy Nixon debates. That his charisma would be greater. Utter nonsense. The best way to deflate his balloon is to challenge him on every count. Let him play the martyr, let him play to the gallery. But his total ineptness could be exposed in a few minutes. These chaddi types have an eloquence that is ostensibly admirable. But if they are cross-questioned, their mantra somehow fails.
    He speaks of development, let an economist question his ideas and plans/methods. Let us dissect each one of those. Let him show his views openly on hindutva and on curbing the moral brigade. Let us see how he responds.
    It did not happen, will not happen.
    If at all he became the PM, it would be to our eternal embarrassment. His sneering speeches, his puns, his sarcasm, his arrogant declarations – all mask the simple fact that he is a rather poorly educated bumpkin – and something that works in the heat of an election campaign, but is bound to lead to cringing despair in sober moments of peace and tranquility.
    As Santayana said, ‘Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it’. And none of our people remember. It should have been clear from the beginning that we should have begun this battle in earnest and taken it to the streets quite early. Not now. Not that it is too late, but that it does not matter anymore. It will not change minds, it will not result in a real wave of revulsion in the opposite direction. Too late…

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  2. Good article. The unsaid point which must have been said clearly is having life is important than improvement in life quality. IN congress rule people have the life if not he life quality. India will prefer to live like this forever rather than having to sacrifice people and have a “Economic development”. Looking forward for more articles like this.

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  3. I note that the author is currently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study which is more the pity. I would have, at least expected him to have undertaken extensive research before embarking on writing this article. Clearly he has done no such thing and was hell bent on scripting a biased and one sided article and by default or other wise toe the Congress line! Indeed, by making reference to Hitler and Germany, he is insulting the intellengence of the Indian mind. Let the voters decide. I am confident that should the NDA prevail then India will experience attack on corruption which is the root of the country’s many problems. I am equally confident that communal harmony will also persist – albeit vested interests will undoubtly do its utmost to ensure the new government falters its quest to ensure that its development/economic policies benefit the entire population irrespective of colour, cast or faith!!!

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  4. Are you suggesting that Modi believes in or follows the World Bank’s idea of ” good governance and development”? That’s interesting – haven’t seen the World Bank endorsing crony capitalism or saying that growth should come with lower human development indicators. As far as I know they are the ones who push the MDGs. Please do provide citations, I would love to bring it up with my friends who work there. I’m guessing the ones who read Kafila will probably see it for themselves – if you care to share your sources.

    Come to think of it what is the World Bank’s idea of good governance? Do let me know if you know what it is. Or is this a reaction akin to the book banners in our midst – you haven’t bothered to find out what they actually do at present but believe it is harmful – like the people you are criticizing who have no logic or evidence to back them up.
    Sorry, I had to laugh …

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    1. I think you will find that people do have an idea of what the World Bank/IMF does. It is not a state secret. They exist to create instability (See Ukraine, Greece, Argentina for examples), forge a neo-liberal consensus amongst policy makers and elites, and formulate policies that make the rich richer at the expense of the poor. It should not surprise anyone then that all our policy makers, whether they be the RBI governor Rajan, economists like Kaushik Basu, Montek, Chidambaram, Manmohan, are all World Bank or IMF alumni.
      PS: The World Bank’s idea of good governance is privatizing all resources, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few and ending welfare for the poor.

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      1. This Response is very similar to that of Modi’s fans- full of generalities which explain nothing as in “everyone knows what the secularists actually want”. Just assume I’m one of the minority who doesn’t know precisely what the IMF and the World Bank do. I do know that they are not synonymous, do not work on the same countries or necessarily hold the same views. For starters, the World Bank does not work on Greece. But let’s go along with your generalization ( again a la book banners and Modi supporters). The IMF did what precisely in Greece that created instability. A bankrupt government that lied for years to their own people and their creditors about their debt statistics, lived way beyond their means and once they inevitable happened, set in motion the instability that resulted. Greece is a country where all citizens tried their best to not to pay taxes ( included both rich and poor – although the rich by definition benefitted more) and expected the state to provide them with services that the countries who were legitimate members of the European Union did.

        Forget about my friends who are German, my French friends kept us in splits during get- tog ethers, while this was going on, by gnashing their teeth and fulminating against the Greeks. The retirement age in Germany has been raised to 67, whereas in Greece, a much poorer country it is around 61. The IMF bailed them out by going beyond the limit set by their own Board, a limit that had been applied in Argentina’s case – which makes them racist, if you ask me, and saved their butt temporarily. Perhaps they shouldn’t have – then you would have seen what instability actually is.

        Kaushik Basu joined the World Bank after his stint in India recently. Chidambaram has never worked in either. Privatizing Loss making enterprises means money freed up for public health, programs for the poor.
        Now thanks to my friends who work I these institutions and read Kafila, I now have all sorts of information on the World Bank helping developing countries to set up safety nets.

        What is truly disappointing is that you and your ilk don’t stop to actually find out what these institutions do – show me a document that states any of the above. Saying it is not a state secret is the same response that Modi lovers and book banners provide. I mean everyone KNOWS and we need to provide evidence? Talk about laziness. No wonder those awful people get away saying that the liberal/left whatever make things up. And this is how people like you undermine precisely what you set out to do.

        May I click my tongue now.

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    2. World bank, imf, usaid, are all the arms of america. what one cannot achieve, other org might.

      the goal is to privatize profits. losses, well the sucker ublic can pay.

      do you know how much your government borrowed in your name [without your permission]?? Would you let anyone else borrow the same way?

      some nations have kicked out these bodies, and have prospered, after a short term pain. India, well, india is in for a long road ahead, given that most of the people in power subscribe to the policies and philosophy of the same said orgs. Most of them are alumni of the said orgs.

      interesting that you are now going to get a usaid person as an ambassador.

      good luck india.

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  5. NDA….along with whole brigade of Yedurappa,Babubhai Bokadia etc will surely attack on corruption…. Yes you are very much right …..

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