Sunday, October 16, 2016

Saffron light - Editorial - The Telegraph, Calcutta, India

The Telegraph, Calcutta, India

Saffron light

The term, "anti-national", has become an ever-expanding hold-all. All that the government and its promoters, stretching from Nagpur to other parts of India, do not like or approve of is branded as anti-national. It is an ineradicable stigma and the saffron parivar's worst form of abuse. Any criticism of the government, its motives, policies and actions, is open to this branding. It is an instrument for isolating individuals and groups and then to direct official wrath or non-official violence against them. Nothing whets the Indian appetite for vengeance more than patriotism. The most telling and appalling display of this has been in the wake of the "surgical strike" by the Indian army against some terrorist camps deep inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It has become impossible even to ask for more details of this action, let alone query its motives and its necessity. To do either of these would be to invite the stigma of being "anti-national". Even the free flow of information is being regulated by the tap of nationalism. Who defines what is national or its opposite?

The people in power, of course. 

Nationalism has become the monopoly of the government, and from this entirely unfounded premise the next step is that the army is above question and criticism. To the Hindu pantheon a new holy cow has now been added.

Very recently, the prime minister's principal cup-bearer, Amit Shah, has complimented the Indian media for being patriotic. 

Sections of the media might lap this up as praise but in reality there could be nothing more patronizing and therefore humiliating. Why should the media be patriotic or otherwise? 

The responsibility of the media is to bring information and fact-based analysis before the public without fear or prejudice. If some facts or perspectives do not fit into the cosy boxes of patriotism or nationalism that should not daunt the media. But such is the government's power to manufacture consensus that one well-known television channel has unashamedly announced that it will not show anything that can remotely be construed as being against the armed forces or branded as anti-national. The rest of the media have not been quite so craven but there is a noticeable decline in the number of stories and comments that are critical of the government and of the ideology it represents.

The government of Narendra Modi, even though it professes commitment to the process of liberalization, has significantly enhanced the purview of the State. It has done so directly and implicitly. By remaining silent on various forms of vigilantism - from what people should eat or sell to attacks on minorities and Dalits - Mr Modi has given his tacit consent to various forms of Hindu fundamentalism. He and his supporters have brought into play a most insidious kind of majoritarianism that is slowly strangling dissent. India has entered, without fanfare, an era of undeclared emergency.

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