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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 31 New Delhi July 25, 2015

Modi and the Naive Western Media

Sunday 26 July 2015, by Dipak Malik


The enterprise of the post-Independence nation-building in India was given a short shrift right after 1991 with Manmohan Singh changing the essentials of the Nehruvian model of nation-building. The only residual element of the post-independence agenda, which though taken by the Congress party, was secularism in 2004 after a full-blown regime of soft Hindutva under Rajiv Gandhi, who initiated also the early phase of the globalisation-liberalisation move. From 1985 to 2014, about 30 years of journey in the gradual demolition of the post-Nehruvian nation-building has now come full circle by the Modi Government’s accession to power. The residual secularism managed to give the Congress a chance of revival in 2004 but at the same time the political apparatus of the Congress got heavily depoliticised and corrupt giving the Sangh Parivar an instant opportunity to move in the empty space with an easily manageable polity of communalism. In the meantime at the onset of the 2014 election, the hype about policy paralysis in the realm of the economy was more a sustained campaign by the big business lobby and its media, though the Modi Government is as much paralysed on the questions of the so-called reforms legitimised by the Washington Consensus except in some instances. Even then the media is largely silent about it in the Modi regime whereas sometime back during the tenure of the previous government they were agog with a vengeance. The media is of course honky dory over Narendra Modi’s conquering the world in the style of Chakravarti Samrats (World conquering Emperors) of ancient India with the loud chanting of the ‘Make in India’ slogan.

The perception that the PR-minded PM Narendra Modi wants the world to believe is that he is focused on revival of the economy and has nothing to do with the RSS initiated and at times inspired initiatives like Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, attack on churches, revival of the anti-cow slaughter movement with the Sangh Parivar State governments legislating on it, constant statements of his Ministers smacking of raw communalism. He manages to say a few sugar-coated words for minorities while touring abroad so as to show an innocent face to the international capital. The same pattern is adopted by his aggressively vocal Finance Minister but only when he is in Washington. The Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, announces that controlling communalism is exclusively the task of the State governments, not his. As if the only task of the Sangh Parivar with the overt and covert support of the Modi-led Central Government, was to supervise the spread of communalism and it was the duty of those States which are not in the Sangh Parivar camp to deal with it.

This variety of Machiavellian and Chanakyian overture is indeed very much the “dharma” of the Sangh Parivar. One of the finest pieces of fiction that has been fed to the international as well as national audience is that there is no contact or linkage and coordinated work between the BJP, the government, the RSS, the VHP and the honourable members of the Modi Cabinet and BJP MPs. It has been quite successfully projected that Modi is completely unaware and clean as well as critically opposed to the stridently communal comments and vetting of the moves expressed from different corners of the big sprawling Sangh Parivar, which in fact is a large single entity where things do not happen spon-taneously or on personal initiatives but come out well-orchestrated by the top leadership of the Sangh Parivar vigorously led by Narendra Modi. The Sangh Parivar is the most well-organised singular entity where nothing is done on the whims of individuals, every move is well planned by the top leadership with Modi as the supremo.

But Modi has definitely given a new style and elan to the Sangh Parivar’s politics. He has brought to Delhi his inimitable Gujarat experience and style. The Gujarat model was the extreme concentration of power in the government’s chief executive with a drive for propping up big business, some with extremely tainted records in Gujarat accompanied by a dose of raw communalism. But since he does not find anything wrong with the 2002 genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, he holds that it was due to his public relations failure. He has taken care of the public relations affairs in Delhi by installing a captive media on a big scale. The kind of captive media that was pushed into service in the 2014 elections will perhaps shame even the all-pervasive likes of the propaganda machinery run by Kim Il Sung and Joseph Goebbels of the past or the totalitarian regimes all over the world. A totalitarian state is built on the premises of centralisation of power with a captive or completely controlled media and Modi has brought India to this pass.

It is either sheer innocence or gullibility of the Western media which leads it to produce a full cover story of Modi as exercise in sycophancy in the Time magazine (May 18, 2015) or academics like Andersen and Berland from John Hopkins University (in TOI, March 8, 2015) seeing in Modi streak of “pragmatism”, a typical lexicon of North American politics. Surprisingly, they find Modi and RSS chief Bhagwat working in unison for an inclusive India while sensitive watchers in India are well aware of the Sangh Parivar’s entrenched strategies and commitment to communalism. This sort of conclusion is drawn by such so-called scholars of South Asian studies who are neither into history of the Sangh Parivar nor are mindful of the ground realities and want to live in their ‘Make Believe World’ in buying Modi’s rhetoric at face value.

Many Western analysts play deliberate and strike gullible postures on many accounts. About China they forgot all the tales of the totalitarian Maoist state lately evolving into a Neo-Confucian state and polity. They turned into great admirers overnight of the high growth rate of the People’s Republic of China with greedy eyes on the huge market potentiality and also in turn becoming consumers of cheap Chinese goods. The entire gamut of literature created between 1948 and the 1980s on China was discarded and worshipping of the new Mammon from the Orient started. This reduced issues like Tibet, Chinese minorities, environ-mental cauldron and emergence of the largest totalitarian state capitalist society in world history to mere foot-notes. In the meanwhile Western commentators in their own national domain never stopped abhorring statism, which however did not stop them from adoring the Chinese story of ascendency.

The same seems to be holding for reporting on India. The frontpage photograph and the longish interview of Modi by three reporters, two of them of Indian origin, in the Time magazine (May 18, 2015) could easily be swapped for an article with marginal editing in the Organiser or Panchjanya, the mouthpieces of the RSS and the final ideological arbiter. The article in The Economist (May 23-29, 2015) is of course one notch better as they have put questions about Modi with hardly any cogent answer resonating. The laboured write-up has some outlandish propositions like privatisation of railways, which has failed even in the West. Their reportage about fundamentalist anti-minority politics of the RSS also contradicts the assumption about the liberal pretensions of Modi. Modi’s capacity to make the media a captive enclave goes understated in the write-up; in fact Modi has made a new record of maiming and mesmerising the democratic media. However, in the melee of media and scholarship hype it is a matter of some relief that a fairly good number of the European academics and journalists seem to be skeptical of the so-called Modi phenomenon.

The author is Director Emeritus, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi.

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