What The Big Media Won't Tell

“Nine Wonderful Modi Years”

Pamela Philipose

Self-congratulations come easily to the Modi government. On May 30, the prime minister tweeted thus on his government having completed nine years: “Today, as we complete 9 years in service to the nation, I am filled with humility and gratitude. Every decision made, every action taken, has been guided by the desire to improve the lives of people. We will keep working even harder to build a developed India. #9YearsOfSeva.”

Congratulating the prime minister comes easily to the Big Media, as they enthusiastically expound on the “nine wonderful Modi years” theme. Telly thespian-turned-minister, Smriti Irani, seemed to have appointed herself director of this pageant, appearing on channel after channel to glorify these nine years. Anand Narasimhan, the anchor of ‘The Right Stand’ (CNBC-TV18), allowed the Minister of Women and Child Development a full four breathless minutes on how proud she was about the National Education Policy, PPE production, vaccines, free food grains, toilets for 11 crore families, Ayushman Bharat cards…. As she went on and on, Narasimhan appeared stunned at the exceptional display of lung power, his face frozen in a half-smile.

When it came to Times Now’s ‘Newshour’, Navika Kumar slyly slung a 2024 general election suggestion into the mix, ‘Nine years of Modi Govt, stage set for PM Modi in 2024?’ She then launched forth with some “hard facts” carefully cherry-picked from the garden of government propaganda, to demonstrate how the nine years of Modi rule delivered so much more than did the UPA’s laggard decade… Highway infrastructure: UPA: 9128 km-NDA 1,41,000 km; Under UPA, India was the tenth largest economy-Under NDA, it became the fifth largest; FDI inflows UPA 45 billion dollars-NDA 8483 billion. In this litany that included universities, digital transactions, etc., etc., the UPA was framed as a loser in every respect. Short of telling her audience to vote for Narendra Modi in 2024, Kumar did all she could to further the ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’ pitch.

What the Big Media scrupulously avoided telling you about these nine years of Modi rule is that the legacy of communal hatred which had manifested itself very early on, in concepts like the “pink revolution” furthered by the prospective prime minister in his 2014 election campaign, has borne strange fruit… “blood on the leaves and blood at the root”.

Today, almost a decade later, people are witnessing a civil war-like situation in one state and ethnic cleansing drives in another.

What is distinctive about the Manipur situation is the manner in which the age-old ethnic tensions between the Kukis in the hills and the Meiteis in the valley have now come to be undergirded by religious communalism. Burned down churches had never been part of Manipur’s political landscape so far, even when economic blockades and intermittent violence shut down the state in the December of 2016. Today they are very much in evidence. An estimated 130 people have already lost their lives in the state and hundreds of thousands have been left injured in body and mind.

The Wire did something that most mainstream media organisa-tions did not bother to do–visit a series of relief camps (‘Manipur: Across Relief Camps, Divided Survivors Are United by the Same Anger Towards the Govt’, June 12). It discovered that the ethnic-communal divides at ground zero ran through even relief operations: “All the relief camps The Wire visited are being run by local clubs or organisations and cater to just one community.”

Meanwhile, in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand, people are witnessing scenes that recall the Polish ghetto under Nazi occupation with markings of black crosses emerging on establishments owned by Muslims (‘Cross Marks on Doors, Cries of Extermination: How Uttarakhand Became Our Hate Speech Capital’, June 12). The state has been under the grip of a campaign to drive out Muslims, who have been living for generations in this region, for a while now.

The calculated silence of the prime minister to all these developments speaks loudly of his legacy of nine years. As for contemporary media, they have been so preoccupied with counting digital start-ups that they have neglected to count the human bodies left behind by cow vigilantes and religio-ethnic outfits in these nine years of Modi rule.

When Jack Dorsey, the former head of Twitter, stirred a hornet’s nest by claiming that India requested Twitter to remove tweets and accounts linked to the farmers’ protest in 2020 and censor journalists who critiqued the Modi government in their work, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, responded by calling the statement an “outright”.

Nearly a decade of Modi’s rule has nurtured a wide and spreading impunity in his juniors ensconced within the safe confines of power. On all major issues, they mimic the prime minister and make sure they don’t deviate from the line laid down. It is in the smaller, more localised situations that they feel entitled to their own demonstrations of power. Smriti Irani’s berating of a Dainik Bhaskar stringer and his associate is a classic instance of localised tinpot dictatorship. Her parting threat that she would complain to the “malik”–a threat she actually carried out–is totally in keeping with this sense of entitlement. The consequences for the journalists were dire.

Many journalist bodies felt impelled by her abrasive behaviour to condemn Irani (‘DIGIPUB and Editors Guild Also Condemn Smriti Irani’s ‘Threats’ to Journalist in Amethi’, June 13). The Press Club of India, as well as the Mumbai Press Club, also issued statements. The promptness with which these statements are issued is something new and to be welcomed at a time when journalists everywhere in the country are facing insecurities of all kinds, ranging from job losses to surveillance. It is significant that even a supposedly progressive state like Kerala has been witness to the state police seeking to intimidate journalist Akhila Nandakumar, for having reported allegations made against PM.

Perhaps no other news entity unpacked as thoroughly as did The Wire, the curious story of how some best-known artists helped further the prime minister’s pre-election propaganda when they undertook to contribute their work to capture 100 episodes of Narendra Modi’s Mann ki Baat (‘Modi’s Mann Ki Baat and Its Many Themes, as Rendered by Some Well Known Artists of the Country’, June 6). Among those who participated were the prominent artist couple, Manu and Madhavi Parekh, Paresh Maity, Manjunath Kamath, and G R Iranna.

Art partnering with authoritarian politics is nothing new. Hitler’s chosen filmmaker Leni Riefensthal demonstrated its unique power to the world in 1934.

Despite regular protest, the aggrieved wrestlers have failed to get justice. Now, under the veiled threats presumably by the rulers, the oppressed wrestlers have virtually ended their protest, although in a feeble voice, they say the protest will continue.

 [abridged] [Courtesy: the wire]

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Vol 56, No. 5, Jul 30 - Aug 5, 2023