The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.
As the country celebrates three years of the NDA government, certain hard questions need to be asked(questioning though is being discouraged in the country today as never before). For a government that came to power with the promise of zero tolerance to violence against women and the twin plank of development and ending corruption.
There has been however little to celebrate. Acts of violence against women, atrocities against minorities and inter-caste conflicts are on the rise. Economic growth is slow ,joblessness is growing and the agrarian crisis is deepening. Furthermore,in the absence of institutional checks and balances a formidable opposition and a free media, the government ( read the Sangh Parivar) and its band of vigilantes are stifling democracy and spreading intolerance towards the ‘Other’ view with impunity.
The nexus between the neo-liberal market forces and the right-wing nationalists needs to be probed. Discursive hyper-nationalism pandered by the BJP strives to create enemies through media constructions and manipulation of historical facts.
Social media is another platform where anonymity allows the quick speared of rumours. The sexist language and the deep hatred of the ‘other’ and venom vented on social media are a cause of serious to the country.
Democracy is fast losing its sheen in this ‘New India’ as citizens are being made into subjects consuming the state propaganda . Significantly, rather than taking the accountably route of press conferences where questions might be troubling, the PM chooses not give press conferences, as he thrives on one sided goebbelsian monologue – Mann Ki Baat, where, the radio is used as a tool of propaganda.
In ‘New India’ asking questions is considered to be anti-national and the shrill caused by hyper-nationalist voices( through fake news and trolls) are silencing voices of reason. In this ‘New India’ the right wing trolls and vigilantes are masquerading as nationalists, the real conscience keepers of the country have been silenced and marginalised .
However, when this Ideological State Apparatus working through trolls and the Hindutva brigade affiliates is not successful in silencing ‘some’ dissenting voices( like certain sections of the media and academia, students and activists) who still dare to speak ‘truth to power’, the Repressive State Apparatus steps in, by threatening the fourth pillar and the academia with notices and raids .
The CBI raids on the residence of Pranoy Roy (one of the most respected and finest journalist of our country) , the promoter and founder of NDTV and the earlier notice to NDTV India threatening it with a ban, don’t auger well for democracy , as in ‘New India’ freedom of speech is under a deep threat.
This kind of interference of the government with the freedom of the media is a violation of constitutional norms of freedom of speech and also of standards set by international human rights law to which India is a party . Hate mongering and propaganda for war are also strictly prohibited in International Human Rights law.
There are several other such instances in which the government is stifling the democratic spirit through- interference in educational institutions and institutions of democratic accountability like the National Human Rights Commission , by clamping down on human rights advocates and NGOs , through blatant interference in the research institutions like ICSSR and ICHR.
Today we live in a media driven world where perceptions are more important than reality. The growing joblessness and the deepening agrarian crisis might have proven to be the BJP’s Achilles heel. But as the land slide victory of the party in the UP elections has shown this has not happened .
One of the major reasons for this acceptance by the masses was the communal polarization deftly managed by the BJP though its goebbelsian propaganda machine. UP 2017 was an election of perceptions rather than facts and reality. (As the BSP harped on the Muslim vote and SP-Congress cobbled a so called ‘secular’ coalition, both these stands aided in the construction of the myth of Muslim appeasement , thereby, exacerbating majoritarian fears of the Muslim ‘other’ – hence, the economic slowdown caused due to demonetization, the rising poverty , inflation and malnutrition are no longer important issues ) .
The media is pandering to the whims of the present government. Corporate owned and state controlled media plays the role of weapon of mass deception, creating distrust between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority by ‘ othering’ of the Muslims ( this is very similar to the anti- Semitism propagated by the propaganda machines in Nazi Germany) and thus distracting the youth away from the real causes of concern in this neo- liberal economy .
A false consciousness of nationalism is deliberately being created by the nexus of the neo-liberals and the right wing BJP government in order to distract the masses form being questioning citizens to submissive subjects.
In this war of perception the strategy of diverting the nation- through weapons of mass deception(read the media ) away -from issues of national concern , as media management is the mantra that the BJP has mastered . While the country is slipping into anarchy, the corporate-politician -owned media chooses to move away from grave issues of national concern , and focus instead on ‘the external enemy Pakistan ’, global Islamic terror and ‘triple talaq’, thereby creating fears and constructing enemies.
Thus the jobless youth and the middle classes and lower middleclass are made to consume fears and threats, that were, often deliberately constructed and exaggerated though fake news by jihadi anchors who whip up macho- nationalism, thereby, diverting public attention from issues of national significance .
Furthermore, global Islamophobia and the terror attacks are helping divert attention from the economic crisis and the huge disparities in income created by the neoliberal model of development , as the world’s richest 1% own more than half of the world’s wealth .
Significantly in the 1990’s, as India adopted neoliberal policies, there was a simultaneous rise of identity politics, coupled with a spike in communal violence in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid .
It was at this time that India shed its socialist avtaar and the welfare state started being displaced by privatization of the economy. This corporate and government nexus needs to be probed, as a healthy democracy with questioning minds doesn’t suit the interests of the private players and the neoliberal state. Hence most of the journalists with a conscience are today either out of a job or are forced to be silent, and the major media houses are being taken over by big business houses as the government’s mantra is: tow our line or perish.
As is well known, before the advent of the Enlightenment age, Europe was steeped in the ‘dark ages’, as an institutionalized and non-representative religion acted as the sole basis of authority in a society. Ordinary peoples were not allowed to question the Church or the monarchs, whose ‘divine right to rule’ was propagated by the clergy(who in exchange enjoyed economic security).
Today, in India, following the example of some of our neighbours, we seem to be in the midst of descending into a similar society with authoritarian rule mobilizing regressive and narrow nationalism and sectarianism. The question is whether we, the people, really want to live in such a ‘dark’ society in which the illumination of questioning public reason has been extinguished.
(Huma Hasan is Assistant Professor at the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies , Aligarh Muslim University)