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.]