The recent order by the I&B Ministery to NDTV India to suspend broadcast for 24 hours drew a range of reactions from outrage to bewilderment. The supporters of the ruling party were of course triumphant – Subhash Chandra of Zoo, er sorry Zee News was so excited he wrote a whole article on this. But even outside the partisan responses, many well-meaning self-declared neutral janta declared that national security is not a matter to be trifled with, and that it was right for the government to admonish NDTV. Wait, ADMONISH?! Never mind that the government’s allegation of NDTV having compromised national security simply doesn’t survive a fact-check. Here is how the largest section of (English-speaking, online) popular opinion sees it.
This token punishment was good and important to show that someone is there who is monitoring the media who always thinks behind the mask of freedom of expression that they can do anything in the world. So it is important that the Government of the Day makes its presence felt otherwise there will more chaos and issues like the UPA government where everyone was going around like headless chicken and no one is bothered or cared if a Govt of Man Mohan Singh existed or NO. Even small timers like the Delhi CM AK and his Guru Anna were threatening and taking morcha in Ram leela Maidan every second day and doing expose every third day putting the Govt. of India on the back foot and in defensive mode running for shelter. Now Arvind Kejriwala and his team is running for shelter as every day a Delhi MLA is shown the door of the JAIL and Anna Hazare has been locked in a shell in his hometown watching the sunrise and the sunset. This means business, It is important that Govt of the India should show it exist otherwise human mentality is that then everyone shows that everyone exist and everyone is the BOSS. Cannot allow to happen like this MESS. PM Modi please keep it up and keep the heat on this reckless media, on AK and his gang, on others who are trying to show unnecessary activism and also the Judiciary, keep all the appointments on hold and let them slog day and night. Show who is the BOSS ! Show who is the BOSS !
Yes, Modi ji, show who is the BOSS!
Seriously, who would have thought that in a democracy fully grown adults (or channels) required admonishment?! As Firstpost put it regarding the NDTV ban, “For one, who the hell thought up this novel punishment more appropriate to nursery school?” But it appears that instead of taking adult steps further into an admittedly horrible world, we have fallen, like a billion grateful adolescents, back into the bosom of the Mother. It’s too much, this adulthood, with its conflicts and divisions and difficult decisions. Much better to stay safe within the parental embrace. It helps that the Mother takes her role seriously. Remember this?
This of course, is a screen grab from former HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s speech in Parliament this past February over questions over her Ministry’s role in abetting Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula’s tragic suicide. Irani’s speech, in which she lectured all and sundry on their national duty and her personal goodness, insulted Vemula’s memory and diminished his political challenge by referring to him as her child. The speech had all the horrific fascination of a car wreck, and we watched, oh we watched…we positively couldn’t help watching. There were comparisons made between Irani and the avenging goddess Kali, but what Irani had really marshalled in her speech by calling Vemula her child, was a maternal spirit. Specifically, a bourgeois middle-class maternal spirit which derives its power by standing proxy for the Father behind.
It is just as well that Irani’s pedagogic impulses were in full flow in her term as Minister. At a time when the education budget at all levels is being slashed with the enthusiasm of a puppy on sugar, at a time when classrooms are crumbling and universities on the boil, we should be grateful that the Minister herself, with her Godlike powers, steps in to fill the gap and educate us all. Of course, nobody knows what the course is, and the audience are all unregistered adults, but we are grateful. Welcome to the Cult of the Pointed Finger.
From the Board of Film Certification to the I&B Ministry, from the Home Ministry to the External Affairs Ministry, from the newsroom to the online troll army, this cult educates and admonishes, chides and remonstrates, threatens and pushes, bullies and insinuates. We are children, we are stupid, we compromise national security with such conceits as rights and rule of law. We need to be taught a lesson. We were anyway a nation which was has been teaching lessons to women, minorities, Dalits, and rebels from time immemorial. We have simply added a couple of lessons to the ever-changing syllabus. What an educative atmosphere! Sometimes however, despite all the admonishings and the fingers shaking at them, the children become forgetful. They start imagining they have rights, that there should be an independent judiciary and media, that the nation is not higher than human life. For those times there are the foot soldiers, the enthu cutlets, the national guards and citizens defence committees:
But fear not, this is not a scary place, and not all is lost. As Father and Mother chide, they also comfort. So after an evening of veiled threats and abuse of Ministerial prerogative at Delhi University, and after putting all the teachers and students in their tiny, tiny little places, Irani landed up the next morning at the hostel room of a visually challenged student to promise him the world. Her supporters nearly fell sick with gratitude.
Similarly, there is a growing myth about the Prime Minister – that his heart melts at the demands of children. Children from all over the country write to PM Modi, and sometimes in the midst of touring the globe, the PM responds. When a child in Madhya Pradesh asked for a shorter walking route across the railway tracks to his school, the PMO obliged. When a child asked for a flyover to be constructed faster in Bengaluru so he could get to school on time, the PMO recommended action.
This is the season of rich pickings for token gestures. Instead of expanding welfare, we have internally shuffled social service budgets. Instead of a sanitation budget (slashed by 25 percent, so fewer decently-paid sanitation workers and even more contractualisation) we have the idea of Swachh Bharat. Instead of lower prices due to global oil price deflation, we have…nothing. Instead of uniform implementation of OROP we have clever partial sops and a vanishing pension fund for most public service employees. Most laughably, instead of more money, we have more bank accounts! We do have some potentially beneficial ideas – the LPG scheme, if implemented well, could redistribute subsidies to those that most need them. But a scheme like that depends on the middle class to be charitable towards the poor. It is an extension of noblesse oblige – the feudal bond – only this is within the citizen body instead of between the state and citizens. The state, as a student of mine wrote memorably in her answer sheet many years ago, is rolling slowly out of society.
In the meanwhile, the government giveth and taketh away in the way it knows best – the feudal way. This is a universe in which you don’t have rights, you wait for grace. And grace as everybody knows, is not demanded; grace is granted. It is not enshrined in something as crude as a Constitution. It has the pure terror of arbitrary power and the melting beauty of noblesse oblige. So when a child wrote rudely demanding that Modi spend more time in the country so he could pay attention to the deaths in his village from encephalitis (the nerve!) he must have received not grace but the death stare, seen in the photo below being directed at Indian Express editor Raj Kamal Jha for his impertinent speech defending press freedom at the Ramnath Goenka Awards last week. And the regime doesn’t simply give the death stare. It gives out actual death as well, as hundreds of Kashmiris and the undertrials in Bhopal have re-discovered recently. I guess a family that slays together stays together.
The next time you are feeling insecure, irrelevant or plain bored, just find an anti-national and shake your finger at her. It is guaranteed to make you feel like a King. Go on, just do it. You may just save the country.