Is Journalism Dead?

Journalism in India was once a profession, so we had heard. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the selling of pizza, a fast and convenient food item of suspicious nutritional value. Journalists and press no longer regard themselves as responsible advisers of the public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India as its first or foremost duty.

To anoint a hero, and worship him, has become the principal duty or mission of the journalists. Under this new configuration, news is replaced by sensation, reasoned opinion by unreasoning passion, and appeal to the minds of responsible people by appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible.

The script is written by drum-beaters to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become as blind as we see it today in India and may the rest of the world. There are some honourable exceptions, but they are too few and their voice is never heard.

Entrenched behind the plaudits of the Press, the spirit of domination exhibited by the politicians, has transgressed all limits. By their domination they have demoralised their followers and demoralised politics. By their domination they have made half their followers fools and the other half hypocrites. In establishing their supremacy they have taken the aid of “big business” and money magnates. For a long time now, in our country, money is taking the field as an organised power. The questions which, we, the people, are not willing to answer are:

WHO SHALL RULE – wealth or man?

WHICH SHALL LEAD – money or intellect?

WHO SHALL HOLD PUBLIC OFFICES – educated and patriotic free men or the feudal serfs of corporate Capital?

For the present, Indian politics, instead of being spiritualised, has become grossly commercialised, so much so that it has become a byword for corruption. Journalists and media have become willing accomplices. Politics and journalism have together constituted a kind of an intolerably insanitary sewage system.

Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. Media used to be a carrier – a carrier of news, journalistic opinion, entertainment and advertising. Today, media has become synonymous with press and journalism. Coupled with social-media, print, television, internet and other in-pocket-media makes news which the journalists follow and report. Journalist and newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, the “Father of Journalism” (born as Jozsef Politzer in Hungary in 1847) must be turning in his grave in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Where has this so called pillar of democracy gone – wo haben wir erreicht – donde hemos llegado – où avons-nous attaint – यह कहां आ गये हम…….?

(first published 23 Aug 2020)

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Prime Time TV in India

With more than 400 of the 900 or so TV channels being News and Current Affairs, prime-time entertainment on television in India is provided by the News channels and not the entertainment channels. The format for prime-time programming for a 60-minute slot is uniform (indicating commoditization) across all these channels and comprises of less than 5 minutes of News (mostly obtained from syndication agencies) and 40-50 minutes of “high pitched, abusing and slugging matches between the political adversaries and the balance for commercial breaks depending on the fancy of the illiterate media-planners.

The party-spokespersons of the NDA and the UPA appearing on such TV debates each evening are more similar than they might like to think. All of them exploit grievances, distort the truth, and undermine the values that hold India together; and they don’t hesitate to learn lessons from each other. Few of them can become the real show-stealers and then expect to be rewarded with Ministerial berths in the future Governments.

These debates have a brash and burly moderator, who rather than ensuring decorum, sanity or civility keeps fanning the profanity for maintaining the tempo of the show. Some of these moderators look forward to receiving the ‘Padma Awards’ over time. These shows lack substantive-content, depend on TRPs driven by sensationalism of the trivia and consequently lack audience engagement. These shows also fail to attract female audience. They are crass-entertainment with zilch day-after-recall.


 

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Supine Press, Burly Politics

Lets me begin with a disclaimer – It is extremely essential to separate the doctrine of INC from the followers and members of INC, otherwise, this post may be mistaken for BJP propaganda. The separation is necessary before one can analyse it openly and objectively. The analysis is important else it does more damage with brainwashed people going on rampage. The INC as a political party has been taken up from amongst so many mainly because, it has been the party in Government for most period of the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India. It is equally essential to state unequivocally and unconditionally that I am apolitical Indian nationalist who hates consumption of my fellow citizens as cannon-fodder in the bloody battle for one-upmanship in Indian politics.

The core binding glue of the INC establishment ever since Independence (and not prior to independence) has been ‘loyalty to the dynasty.’ History is replete with instances when any challenge to the dynasty from within the party has resulted in annihilation of the challengers. It is unbelievable to see the ‘educated and the intelligent’ within the INC to be completely and mindlessly subservient to the ‘illiterate and the stupid’ heirs of the dynasty in complete disregard to their inner-voice and national interest. They can pilot an impeachment motion against the Chief Justice of India for not being democratic but they cannot impeach their dynastic leadership. It is equally unfathomable how the party which has ruled the largest democracy in the world in the past, and also wishes to rule it in the future does not uphold any democratic principles inside its own home. Its dynastic leadership has not let the party conduct any internal elections since 1972.

The avalanche of propaganda and “fake news”, which the dynasty is unleashing upon the Indian masses through the screen of UPA/INC, is not only indicative of an astonishing contempt for established democratic principles and the freedom of expression and information. It also reveals how truly terrified the dynasty has gone after falling from power, and just how far they will go in compromising democratic principles in order to be able to return to power at all costs. The dynasty and the political establishment of INC which considers itself as the political elite cannot come to terms with their failure in clinging to power. They are going overboard in using the slippery slope of “disinformation” and “polarisation” of people on lines of religion and caste, to cover up their long and established history of failures and hypocrisy and concurrently fuelling of dissent and resistance against the government.

The most influential journalists and media persons have been the beneficiaries of the illegitimate largesse including government accommodation, foreign jaunts, funds, priority in access to public property including public information and even the “Padma” awards bestowed upon them by the UPA/INC governments at the behest of the dynasty. These journalists are good human beings and have not forgotten the “good” done to them by the dynasty/INC. In keeping with their being beholden to their benefactors, they are willing to ‘stand for’ and ‘stand by’ their benefactors in bad times which have fallen upon them. INC leaders are getting these “loyal (bought out)” journalists to do their bidding by invoking their loyalty. The unholy alliance of INC and media giants to fuel the criticism of policies of the Indian government and to push under the carpet, all the skeletons of the misrule and abuse of power by the UPA/INC governments which continue to tumble out of cupboards every other day, is simply a “return on investment.”

The national media in India is geographically centred in Delhi. An episodic investigation into the backgrounds of some of the leading journalists of present day threw up some very interesting information. Most of them have been activists during their days in college, most of them were at different colleges of Delhi University or JNU or Jamia and most of them were affiliated to or even active members of either the All India Students Federation (related to Communist Party of India) or National Students Union of India (related to Indian National Congress). Very few of them were with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (related to Bhartiya Janata Party). Student wings, though not normally considered as factions of a political party, are usually intended as student focused extensions of party policy and ideology. Interestingly, those who were not active in the student wings of these parties were otherwise active through their youth wings or women wings. Their leanings are obviously towards the left and more than their leaning towards the Congress or the Communist ideologies, they have been indoctrinated to be anti the Sangh idealogy.

With the media assuming the role of a commentator rather than a reporter, the biases of the media moguls against the rightist ideologies are only getting more vitriolic and caustic with each passing day. The media has been successful in throwing the challenge of “award-waapasi” “intolerance” “Ghar-waapasi” “azaadi” “beef” “surya-namaskar” “Vande mataram” and similar other buzz at the ruling party.

Media, considered as a pillar of democracy has not much to its credit in the post-independence era. But for a handful, the fragility of the spine of Indian media was exposed by the INC rule of Emergency in 1975. It is unfortunate for the country and for the profession of journalism that a few journalists are busy paying dividends out of their capital, in advance, in the expectation of NDA/BJP bestowing similar largesse on them now or soon and/or the INC providing replenishment to them in the future, in lieu of their current loss of capital.

The misfortune however does not end here. It rather begins from here. Given that the BJP was voted to power for whatever agenda that the voters perceived it to have been standing for, and news (truth or untruth) which shows its failure, troubles the voters. The educated and the moderate amongst the voters either exercise the discretion of separating the fake from the truth or sulk by saying “politicians are all similar” or even accepting their mistake in having voted for BJP. The trouble is with the ignorant and the belligerent supporters. It is these who are actually the slaves of their abysmal ignorance and indulge in all kinds of misadventures fuelled by their belligerent arrogance of being in power and the belief that their power is now perpetual.

When ignorance and bigotry is allied with power, it becomes a dangerous force. When a sense of having been looted hurts the self-esteem, even the mightiest British regime can be brought down to their knees. INC also has its own share of ignorant and the belligerent supporters. Unfortunately, the supporters of INC are not interested in understanding. They are ignorantly convinced that they only need to believe that only one family which rules their party has the right to rule their country. They also don’t let go any opportunity of a misadventure just to refresh their memory of having been in power and the idea of salvaging the lost pride which they believe BJP has unfairly looted from them.

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret in tyranny is in keeping them ignorant. It is in this arena that both the Leaders of the BJP and the INC are equal tyrants. So what do they want, one might ask? My fellow citizens, they want you and they want me! They want to own you and me! They think they already do. They do not. But if you believe they do and you accept their conventions and their twisted philosophies, well that’s good enough for them. Leaders of the BJP and the INC are equally complicit.

 


 

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Weird Ways of Indian Secularism

No secular nation can segregate and discriminate its people based on their religion. Indian Constitution does not define the word Minority, but under Article 30, it has provided fundamental rights to religious minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and right to equality of such institutions in the matter of receiving aid from the State.

The National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 defines “minority” as a notified community. Through a notification of 22 October 1993, government notified Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikhs, and Parsis (Jains were added later on) as “Minority Communities.” Of the six, 3 are Indic-religions while other 3 are from foreign lands. The most interesting ‘act of commission’ by the government was in notifying “Minority Communities” in place of communities which are “Minority” thereby very surreptitiously creating a ‘legal basis’ for religious affirmation and appeasement in a secular country. Followers of every other religion other than Hindu religion have been granted a legal status of a religious minority.

Caste and class are inherited. Is religion inherited? Can a citizen change ones inheritance? Can one convert from one religion to other? Then why would one not convert from one caste/class to other?

Can one become an atheist? Would it be possible to add Atheists to the list of already notified minority communities? Should some of us who are Hindus but not from any SC/ST/OBC attempt to become atheists to partake the joys of support provided by the Ministry of Minority Affairs?

Would the respected leaders and the intelligentsia, or any other Bharateeya be so kind to guide and advise?

 

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Freedom of Media is Not Liberty to Bitch

Use of embedded TV reporters and Camera-crew by CNN in the coverage of 1990-91 Gulf war changed the consumption of TV content for all times to come. Bringing real war and often live war to people’s drawing rooms numbed the audience reactions to horrors of war, blurred the lines which would be differentiating reality and fiction, news and entertainment, reporting and commenting, observation and opinion, and even between war and peace. The change was nearly global limited only by the limits of TV penetration.

The visual feeds of broad daylight attack on New York twin-towers in September 2001 and on gunmen attack on Indian Parliament of December 2001 affected the Indian audience and Indian Public in similar ways.  Reporting of Gujarat riots in 2002 was a true mixing of reporting and commenting and the audience could no longer separate facts on the ground from the opinions of the reporters and editors. News was no longer news. Emotions, rationale, opinions, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, creative camera work, glib scripting, all blended up with selective facts were doled out to the audience as a heady mixture. Working on the strength of “seeing is believing” TV media became the propaganda maker and advocate of a “right” opinion for the audience.

3-days of round the clock live telecast by multiple cameras and from multiple locations and on multiple news channels of Mumbai attacks of November 2008 brought to the fore some very bizarre characteristics of the Indian people. Public outburst can be fuelled by the voyeuristic politico-journalism and video melodrama bordering between News and entertainment, something which started with the reporting of the Gulf war, was a new lesson which was going to be used soon by the likes of Anna and Ramdev.

The Baba Ramdev hunger strike against corruption and black money event of June 2011 and the Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement in August 2011 was as much a TV driven event if not less as it was driven by the faith of citizens in the principle behind the agitations.

Notwithstanding the heinous and macabre gravity of the Nirbhaya Rape Incident in December 2012, the resulting surge in the public outburst was unprecedented. While the incident triggered an outburst of welled up emotions and frustrations against failing governance of the day, the decibel levels of public voice were kept amplified by the relentless reporting and commenting by TV channels. TV News channels had by then mastered the craft of using social media and armchair activists as force multipliers by trending new ‘hash tags’ and setting up new slugging matches and orchestrated discussions on their broadcasts every day.

While no single rape is condonable or passable, India has one of the lowest per-capita incidence of rapes in the world (lower than Canada, France, Germany and the UK) and one of the highest conviction rates for a rape-case in the world (better than the likes of Sweden, France and the UK). With over 90 percent of the rapes in India being perpetrated by such accused who are known and familiar to the victim, rapes are more of a social issue than a policing issue. Factually therefore, while India like any other country also has rapes as a crime, a woman is quite unlikely to get raped in India by an unknown aggressor as compared to most other countries in the world.

The selective and differential weight allocated to the recent heinous rape incidents of Kathua, Unnao and Ghaziabad by the TV media and the resulting differences in people’s outburst is the evidence how TV succeeds in shaping and mobilising people’s opinion and action. They are directing the public discourse around the Code of Hammurabi (Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia, dated back to about 1754 BC) “Eye for an Eye and a tooth for a tooth” in the name of justice for the victim but no-one is traversing the tougher path of taking the crime by its horns and simultaneously being fair to the accused. As they say, “power corrupts” the reporters and editors of TV news channels have gone overboard either in ignorance or have been pursuing some covert agenda of harming the nation by painting India as the ‘rape country’ and the ‘women-unfriendly country’ of the world.

There is nothing like “Freedom” in some absolute sense. Absolute freedom may mean a social order with no order. Freedom is always contextual and signifies the sense of “Free From.” Freedom therefore usually connotes “free from” the persecution of the government or that the government does not have the liberty to persecute or restrict the rights. Freedom differs from liberty as control differs from discipline.

Press is free to report what it chooses to; but it does not have the liberty to indulge in false reporting, partisan reporting, coloured reporting or unsubstantiated reporting. Freedom of Press or freedom of speech is not a licence to malign the nation or to propagate any anti-national tirade. The content and tone of communication needs to pass the filter of our conscience which in many cases has been dimmed already to such an extent due to the constant bombardment of fake news, disinformation and the general public discourse that we hardly hear our conscience any longer and have forgotten how to listen. Rogue reporting in the name of freedom overwhelms the listeners and takes away their freedom of carrying free opinion.

India is not a perfect country – no country is – and no country is above criticism when that criticism is just and based on fact. The United States is not perfect and is the subject of daily criticism, especially from within. The UK and Europe are not perfect either. All of that is normal if we bear in mind that democracies are, by their very nature, subject to changes and shifts. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech is a central value in all genuine democracies, and that is being dangerously eroded in the India but by irresponsible conduct of the press and media.

Running a 24-hour News Channel is a very expensive proposition. Gathering on site information is difficult and needs large investments in setting up news gathering machinery. It is for this reason that most countries have only 2-3 news channels. India is an exception with over 400 news and current affairs channels out of a total of nearly 900 TV channels approved by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. Reruns of programs and analysis or opinion programming are played throughout the day, with the exception of some news obtained from free syndicated sources. Surely, they depend on other sources of programming content and revenue streams then just the news business.

Unfortunately for Indian democracy, media is turning out to be a propaganda machine of suspicious and coloured motives rather than a pillar of strength. Serving the National interest through placing the right media weight and remaining objective without succumbing to pressures and prejudices is a price that Media should willingly pay for its Freedom.

 


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Greetings on Indian Independence Day

My Brothers and Sisters of Hindustan,

Greeting on the festive occasion of the National Day, 72nd Independence Day!

Being a Hindustani means knowing the deep insights of the sages of Hindustan, giving importance to them and following their recommendations in our own life. Being Hindustani means keeping the welfare of all creatures including animals and plants in our heart. Being Hindustani means following our discretion and using our intellect. Fanaticism gives the same pain to Hindustanis as much as it gives to others. Being Hindustani means to be intelligent – not confused or foolish or gullible. Trumpeting religion or religious fervour is not the proof of being Hindustani.

Hindustaniyat is Insaaniyat, a ‘Dharma‘ (much larger than the connotation of a religion) which is the rapid flow of the seven rivers (Sapta Sindhu), one which has absorbed all the attacking foreign invaders and insurgents in its might and forced them to either flow with the current, or to turn their backs and run away. All those who came from foreign lands, religiosities and cultures were either forced to go back or get assimilated in Hindustan. What is ironic is that foreigners have become Hindi, Hindu and Hindustani, but whatever Hindus, under duress or other compulsion, but not under a free will, converted to the religion of foreign invaders, are opposing their ancestral religion and talking about defending foreign religions adopted by them in due course.

In 1857, in the fight to gain independence from the British, Hindustan got independence from the rule of Mughals and the British, but the British crown snatched this freedom away. After 90 years of struggle, 71 years ago, Hindustan got independence from the British rule in 1947 and the Swarajya was established.

The top band in the national Flag of India is of Kesaria or Saffron colour, which reflects the strength, valour and courage of the country. The white band with the blue ‘Dharma Chakra’ indicates movement, progress, strength in unity, peace and truth. The lower band, green in colour, shows the fertility of the land, the development and displays auspiciousness. Saffron is a colour that is most associated with ‘Sanatan‘ and Hinduism. Islam has many traditional associations with green colour. White and blue colour is associated with Christianity. How easily, the Hindustani flag has soaked everybody!

Rather than treating the wounds inflicted on the pride and the suzerainty of Hindustan by the Mughal and the British Monarchies, we have let them remain like the wretched oozing wound on the forehead of Ashwathama, the son of Guru Dronacharya the nephew of Rajguru Krupacharya of Kuru Dynasty in the Hindustani epic ‘Mahabharat.’ All Hindustanis have yet to get free of this irritating disability by treating this gangrenous wound.

I think it was Voltaire who said, “God gave me intelligence. I think HE wants me to use it…”

From a Hindustani, to all my Hindustani brothers and sisters, greetings and salutations on August 15, 2018, the Independence day …

Jai Hind !!

Vande Mataram!!


 

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Are We Spreading Fake News?

WhatsApp is used by millions of people in India to make calls, chat and share information. But the service is also providing an unfiltered platform for fake news and religious hatred. The difficulty with WhatsApp is that it’s impossible to know how this information is spreading. It’s very easy for a political party or for anyone else to spread misinformation and no one can trace it back to them. So many of its users are new to the Internet and not digitally literate; and because conversations happen within private groups, it can be difficult for the broader public to correct false information. WhatsApp’s largest market is India, where it has more than 20 crore (200 million) users who had sent 2000 crore (20 billion) New Year’s Eve greetings via WhatsApp this year. Almost from the beginning, WhatsApp messages have been used to incite mob violence in India. Indian officials, feeling helpless to stop the spread of WhatsApp content, have resorted to shutting the Internet down in tension-filled places, with more than 70 stoppages during 2017 as compared with six in 2014.

Karnataka Elections 2018 whose results came out on May 15, 2018 are being dubbed as India’s “WhatsApp First” election. Most well-meaning people may be aware of the recent allegations about complicity of Facebook in data-breach for use/abuse in Indian politics besides undermining democracy by failing to control hate speech, Russian disinformation and inaccurate news; but they may not be aware of Facebook having bought WhatsApp in 2014. Facebook executives have clashed with WhatsApp’s leadership on a host of issues, including privacy and how to profit off WhatsApp’s broad base of users. Its co-founder, Jan Koum, resigned last month in part over Facebook’s attempts to collect more detailed information.

Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an EMOTIONAL rather than a RATIONAL response to the information that is presented. Propaganda is associated with governments, activist groups, companies and the media. Identifying propaganda has always been a problem. The main difficulties have involved differentiating propaganda from other types of persuasion, and avoiding a biased approach.

“Fake news” was not a term many people used 18 months ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to democracy, free debate and the World order. “Fake news” was also named 2017’s word of the year, raising tensions between nations, and may lead to regulation of social media.

Social networks are a very potent platform for spreading propaganda. With people spending more time on these sites as a way to get the latest news and information, their importance in spreading fake news cannot be underestimated. However, there’s a difference between simply posting propaganda and actually turning it into something that the target audience consumes. Propaganda and Fake News campaign are designed to “dumb us down” in order to turn people into material suitable to work for or against a political cause. Propaganda and Fake News campaigns are motivated at times, simply by a desire for monetary gain via advertising. In other cases, the goals can vary from the criminal to the political. Regardless of the motive, the success of any such campaign is ultimately based on how much it affects the real world.

Are We Spreading Fake News

Of all the potential targets for providing voluntary and unquestioned assistance in the last link connectivity to the target audience of propaganda and fake news, children and the professionals are the most vulnerable. While children lack the strength of critical reasoning, professionals, given the depth of their expertise, usually lack the width of the context and are readily willing to accept propaganda as pure information and knowledge. There is enough evidence that only the children or the highly educated absorb propaganda indiscriminately and get indoctrinated.

Both children and the professionals have the relentless need for “phatic communication” where what is important is not the content of what is being said but the ritual of affirming and maintaining social bonds through routine communicative exchange. Professionals also have a sense of “Competitive Collegialities” wherein competing professionals need a collaborative social bonding and therefore a need to exchange information.

These vulnerabilities are used by the propaganda and fake news masters. They plant the “information” in the social media and then keep affirming and amplifying key messages by strategists and influencers through likes and shares, thus creating “illusions of engagement”. Community-level fake account operators are tasked to post a prescribed number of posts or comments on Facebook community groups, news sites, or rival’s pages. By actively posting content from generic greetings to political messages within Facebook community groups, they are often responsible for maintaining activity and initiating bandwagon effects that would drive real grassroots supporters (children and professionals) to come out and openly express their enthusiasm for a particular message. The “Shares” on social networks like ‘Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter’ and “copy and paste” into ‘WhatsApp Groups’ are measures of “Influence Maximization” and “Information Diffusion” and “Epidemiological Models” are used for “Impact Measurement.”

Are we aware that the Madras High Court on May 10, 2018 observed that a message forwarded on social media amounted to accepting and endorsing it? Are we naively complicit in making a fake or a false message going “VIRAL” thereby spreading an epidemic?

 


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A RAPE is a RAPE is a RAPE is a RAPE….

Indian Law does not think so. The law discriminates on the basis of age and the gender of the victim and the offender. Younger the victim, higher is the gravity of crime. Younger the offender, more lenient is the punishment. If the victim happens to be a male, the gravity of the crime reduces. Isn’t rape a culpable slaughter of the self-worth and self-esteem of the victim, much more grievous than homicide?

The issue does not seem to move the politicians, media, judiciary or the government. They are all otherwise occupied. The BJP/NDA and the INC/UPA are too busy, lunging at each other’s throats in demolishing the three organs of a democratic government, to pay much attention to people’s real issues in the country. Their political battle-cries respectively are “Congress Mukt Bharat” and “BJP Mukt Bharat” rather than “Bharat First” or “Disease Mukt Bharat” or “Poverty Mukt Bharat” or “Crime Mukt Bharat.” Media is covertly busy working as architects of networked disinformation. Judiciary is busy defending its own institution and its credibility. The government has gone into hiding to protect itself from the avalanches of vandalism triggered by politicians and the adventurism of the gullible citizens involved in vandalism.

Even the society does not consider all rapes as rape. Rape of a child by a Maulavi in a Madarasa is apparently of no interest to those who pretend to champion Rapes around the country. However, Hindu-Apologists go berserk if the child happens to be a Muslim and the offender a Hindu. Unlike the West, there are no Muslim-Apologists in India to condone the rape of a Hindu child by a Muslim.

 


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Fatwa, FaceBook and Films

The Darul Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur had issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslim men and women from posting photographs of themselves and their families on social media sites on 18 October 2017. Just for reference, fatwa was issued against tennis player Sania Mirza in 2005 and Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman in 2015.

Posters and cut-outs of “bollywood Khans” are on display in nook and corner of the country. Their statues are attractions at Madam Tussauds.  They are all idolised and worshiped. Same is true for cricketers who are also demi-gods for Indians. As an extension, the audio-visual media, be it TV, films, social media thrives on pictures and images. Fatwa department of the seminary and Islamic scholars associated with “madrasas” may like to remove the confusion and ambiguity.

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P.S.:

In Sansad Bhawan, a portrait of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is on display in the Central Hall while his statue/bust is installed in the courtyard.  Portraits of Late Zakir Hussain, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, APJ Abdul Kalam used to adorn every government office while they were Presidents of India.

Photo credit: REUTERS/AFP

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGED4-QCwPE


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In Modi, We Trust! Why?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, nearly four years after coming to power remains “by far the most popular national figure in Indian politics.” Multiple Opinion surveys (latest being survey by ABP News-Lokniti-CSDS and India Today-Karvy survey, both conducted in January 2018) say people are satisfied with the direction in which the country is being steered and the state of the economy under Modi despite the controversial decision to ban high currency notes, shoddy implementation of GST, Cow vigilantism, Doklam, Dalit agitation and a bleak employment situation.  Why are we in love with Narendra Modi?

A very simple, intuitive and rational answer to the question is because we, the citizens, believe that his ideas work or promise to do so. In the latter case, his ideas can still be evaluated subsequently and adopted more widely or discarded as inappropriate. We, the citizens, believe that Modi is working towards a purpose, is methodical in his approach and has the cognitive capabilities to understand the problems of the people. This is in spite of the ground reality that specifying the nature of the problems and objectives is difficult and the impact/success of practices or interventions by Modi are notoriously difficult to isolate.

A completely different point of view also offers an equally plausible explanation for the triumph of Modi’s discourse. Modi and his ideas epitomise the underlying anxieties and yearnings and a corresponding ‘need’ for a potentially comforting sense of order and identity and/or control of the citizens. This notwithstanding the fact that Modi’s perspective is typically associated with emotionally charged, sometimes impulsive, decisions to adopt, often simplistic and rational ideas without serious attention being given to their likely effectiveness for such a complex country.

None from his party or from any other political party is challenging Modi to be the Prime Minister of India save and except a feeble claim by Rahul Gandhi. All political parties are adopting similar practices to catch the fancy of the voters.  Practices like — dressing up, head-gears, temple-visits are being adopted for symbolic reasons — seeking electorate legitimacy— rather than, or even regardless of, efficiency or control outcomes.

Cultural (social identity) plurality and fluidity across such large and spread out country like India are both an advantage and a challenge.  In giving primacy to social context, such approaches are concerned with variety as well as homogeneity in being shaped by factors such as the ‘mentality’ of local political elites; role of local media and professional groups and religious networks. There is a distinction between the ideologies and techniques associated with individual approaches and either is adopted independently. For example, Rahul claimed being a ‘Janeu-Dhari-Shiv-Bhakt’ (technique) in Gujarat without overtly supporting Hinduism (ideology), something which did not resonate culturally with the electorate.

Modi exudes the persuasive powers of a political guru through his charisma and verbal and nonverbal presentation techniques thereby connecting with the citizens who have been starving for such relationship over the long years of UPA government. He has the key of impression management, not content, although ‘the content (i.e. packaging) is itself part of the performance.’

Modi is often active and tactical in the production and transformation of ideas into rhetoric. ‘Rhetoric’ is rarely appropriate or necessary in governance though it is an essential ingredient to politicking and politics. ‘Mere rhetoric’ should be typically contrasted with reality or truth. The underlying problem with such narratives is in ‘fight/ flight’ where survival rests on destroying or evading the ‘enemy’ (“Congress Mukt Bharat”) and ‘dependency’ on an all-powerful leader (Modi himself) who is beyond criticism.

Demand for new ideas in political discourse is shaped by a competition between ‘techno-economic forces’ and ‘socio-psychological vulnerabilities.’ Modi is successful in supplying ideas to fuel Current Political Discourse, some of which are faddish, others fashionable and few substantive.

At the risk of simplification, different factors that are making Modi successful with the citizens are — his effectiveness in the party and in the government; his relieving anxiety and securing identity for an ordinary person cutting across age, gender and religion;  his successful rhetoric; his cultural resonance or meaning; and securing legitimacy to his ideas through electoral victories.

A lesson that Modi has scripted for all – be they journalists, opinion-makers, intellectuals, drawing-room debaters, civil-society activists, tv-hosts or the so called ‘Architects of Networked Disinformation’- rationality is necessarily political, emotional, cultural, institutional and rhetorical, but not reducible to any of them.

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