STFU about Savarkar already

On the 4th and 5th of February, I was at the Vidharbha Literary Festival, held at the Chitnavis Centre in Nagpur — on the metaphorical doorstep of the RSS headquarters.

There was, I learned after reaching the city the night before, considerable right-wing angst about some of the invited speakers — people like Aakar Patel, Josy Joseph etc. Indirect pressure was applied on the organizers. Four speakers who were on the RSS shit list dropped out at the request of the organizers (which meant that I had to do a couple of impromptu sessions to fill gaps in the schedule, but that is a different story for another time).

More recently, I learned that the RSS had planted people at the event to monitor the sessions and report on the content. A contact sent me a smuggled copy of the report. It is an interesting document if only because it shows that the right wing does not want any discussion at all about almost anything at all — the report criticizes every single session from a right wing/Hindutva lens.

One line in the report jumped out at me:

Offensive and derogatory statements for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by Prem Panickar (my surname is spelt with an ‘e’, but never mind that) as he stated the term ‘Sanghi Chaddiwale’ for Swayamsewaks.

From a report submitted to RSS HQ on the Vidharba Lit Fest

As an example of how the right-wing ecosystem will twist anything to its own advantage, I’ve never seen a better. (Actually, I have, but I haven’t experienced it personally). Here’s what actually happened: There was a panel discussion on why the left and right have drifted so far apart, and whether we would ever be able to bridge the gap.

At one point, I said that we had to stop talking past each other and start talking to each other. And that becomes impossible if we stick labels on each other, call each other names.

I asked the audience for a show of hands: How many like jam on their toast? A few hands went up. I picked one and asked him whether he makes jam at home or buys it off the shelf. When he said he usually bought jam from the store and named his favorite flavor, I asked him if he could list all the ingredients. He couldn’t.

That, I argued, was the crux of the problem. Labels obviate the need for you to think for yourself. Thus, if you stick labels like ‘liberandu’ or ‘pseudo-intellectual’ or ‘commie’, whatever, on the left, or ‘sanghi’, ‘chaddiwala’ and such on the right, you don’t see an individual as a human being, but as a type; you put him or her in a box that suits you. And you can’t have a conversation with a ‘type’. So, I argued, the first step towards bridging the gap is to see each human being as an individual in his or her own right. (The audience — in Nagpur — applauded, to my considerable surprise and delight.)

That was what actually happened. In light of that, see how the report — written, my source tells me, by a ‘journalist’ — frames it.

In passing, think for a moment of the RSS plants in the audience, and the journalist who compiled that report. You know what the organization you work for wants and what its mindset is (In this case, lit fest equals right-bashing). So you provide what your org needs — reasons to take offense. And you pocket your two pieces of silver…

And all of that brings me to Savarkar, and to Rahul Gandhi’s recent press conference. “My name is not Savarkar, it is Gandhi — and a Gandhi does not apologize” might get him plaudits from the peanut gallery, but it is just bad strategy.

Firstly, to say you will never apologize smacks of arrogance — we are all human, prone to mistakes. When you make one, you apologize and, if possible, try to put it right.

More importantly from a realpolitik angle, you don’t go out of your way to give your opponent a chance to take back the conversation.

Throughout the 40-odd minutes that interaction lasted, RG kept turning every question back to his main point: Who gave Adani the Rs 20,000 crore. Perfect — that is what you do, stay on message. But he lapsed twice, and lost most of what he had gained.

The first was when he needled a reporter about being a BJP shill. He was right, as far as that goes — “insulted OBCs”, the BJP talking point, kept getting thrown at him. But what his irritated response did was give the media an excuse to take the high ground, such as it is. ‘Reporters will ask questions, you cannot insult them’ became the talking point — not merely for the captive sections of the media, but also for the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai, whose striving for “balance” only ends up with him doing awkward splits while straddling a barbed wire fence topped with broken glass.

The second was the Savarkar reference. What did he accomplish? The BJP latched on to it; sundry trolls with Cabinet posts hammered away at him over it; Eknath Shinde says the party will launch a state-wide yatra to celebrate ‘Maharashtra’s hero’; Savarkar’s grandson threatens to file an FIR… (Um, while on that, someone tell him it is the police that files FIRs.)

The net result is that in the days following the press conference, not a single media report or social media ‘influencer’ needed to mention the Adani question — they had two handy distractions handed to them, gift-wrapped. Pity.

The Opposition needs to keep the conversation in the here and now, stay focussed on the questions of today. Stay on message. And they need to decide what that message is that they all agree on, first.

PS: This Twitter thread is… everything.

The cult of the strongman

RECENT events had me thinking about Giulio Alberoni, who lived in the 18th century and who Wikipedia describes as an Italian cardinal and statesman.

To be honest, I had forgotten his name; I was reading Ramchandra Guha’s take on the Narendra Modi extravaganza at the Motera Stadium (and this conversation with Karan Thapar) when I tripped over a distant memory of some guy who had literally kissed arse to advance his own career. A few moments with a search engine and I found the story, which is originally sourced to the memoirs of Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, and has since been mined and reproduced in several essays and books. Here it is:

Louis Joseph, the Duke de Vendome, was a highly-rated French general who was one of the top commanders during the War of Spanish Succession. He was also unbelievably arrogant — one of his ‘idiosyncrasies’ being to take his portable toilet into the room where he usually held court, and to park himself bare-arsed on the potty while receiving official visits.

One day, a bishop deputed by Francesco Farnese, then Duke of Parma, came to meet Vendome to discuss some official business. The general was, as usual, on his potty; while the ducal ambassador was speaking he rose, turned his back to the bishop, and wiped his arse.

The disgusted bishop walked out and told the duke that he would never go to meet Vendome again, no matter how urgent the matter. The duke asked him to find a substitute; the bishop nominated Giulio Alberoni, who had through assiduous use of flattery and the other arts of sycophancy risen from the position of bellringer in a local church to a position in the household of the bishop.

Alberoni duly went to meet Vendome, who as per usual was on his potty. During the meeting, Vendome got up, turned his back to Alberoni, and ostentatiously wiped his arse. At which Alberoni exclaimed: ‘O culo d’angelo‘ (Oh, the arse of an angel), ran forward, and reportedly kissed Vendome’s arse.

Unsurprisingly, Vendome gave Alberoni a place on his staff as secretary. Alberoni helped push the claims of Philip V to the French throne; he became a Count and a royal favorite at court (History does not say whether he had to kiss Philip’s arse as well, but it does record that over the years he rose to a greater position of eminence than the bishop who had given him his initial assignment).

How many Alberonis can you count in, say, the Union Cabinet?

CHANGING the subject completely (Not!), the recent events at the Motera Stadium, where the Gujarat Cricket Association organized a cringe-inducing celebration of ’75 years of cricket friendship with Australia’, the climax of which was BCCI secretary Jay Shah presenting Narendra Modi with a picture of Narendra Modi, is the gift that goes on giving. I’d chronicled some of it in an earlier post; since then, Gideon Haigh apparently went on a treasure hunt and unearthed the vehicle in which the two prime ministers had been driven on a “lap of honour”, and the members of the Australian press had a ball. Like, so:

Geoff Lemon, in The Guardian, is the latest to pour vitriol — deservedly — on the bizarre event. Sample passage:

For a leader who refuses to do interviews or press conferences, governing by video broadcast and by public appearance is the alternative. Kirribilli does not offer the star power of the White House, but Albanese’s visit is still an opportunity to show Modi as a statesman, a taster ahead of the G20 summit to be held in New Delhi in September. Indian airports are full of posters advertising this, some of them describing India as “the mother of democracy”. The Ancient Greeks might file a copyright claim.

Geoff Lemon, The Guardian

I get the need for propaganda; I get why a party with nothing substantial to show for nine years in power and counting pulls out all the stops to peg its appeal on one man and why, therefore, that man has to be elevated from the status of soi disant ‘pradhan sewak’ to the latest and greatest entry in the pantheon of deities. (While on which, for someone who apparently has a visceral hatred of Nehru, it’s amazing how much he steals from India’s first prime minister — it was Nehru, during his first I-Day speech, who called himself the ‘pratham sewak’ of the country.)

So yeah, I get propaganda. And I get the regime’s modus operandi, which is straight out of the Joseph Goebbels playbook. The Nazi Minister for Propaganda, in his bullet-pointed masterplan, includes the following: (a) Ensure the constant visibility of the leader; and (b) Use rallies, slogans, symbols and icons (to which, add ‘inaugurations’ — as I write this, Modi is in Karnataka inaugurating a Mysuru-Bangalore highway, a section of which was already in use these last several months and other sections of which are still under construction).

The founding fathers of the RSS made no secret of their admiration for Hitler and the Nazi ideology; however, any reference to Nazis in the current context makes the BJP faithful see red. Why, though, when they so blatantly copy the Nazi propaganda playbook?

For example, take Modi’s deliberate avoidance of all open media interactions, and his refusal to utter a word about any of the real problems that plague the country. China? Not a yip. Adani? Mum’s the word. The economy, rising unemployment, skyrocketing cost of living, the country’s rapid fall in almost every single global index? Zip.

That is straight out of a well-documented Hitler tactic. Having elevated himself to the status of a deity, Hitler identified himself with his “miracles” (which, by the way, was a word regularly employed by the Goebbels propaganda machine to describe his successes). Thus, he strutted on stage during the spectacular reception organized in his honor in Berlin after the fall of France; but in the aftermath of Stalingrad, he kept himself well away from the public eye.

Or consider the ‘One Nation One Whatever’ slogans that have been proliferating of late — remember ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer? (Modi’s media managers have, in one of those rare moments of restraint, refrained from adding ‘One Leader’ to the many slogans beginning with ‘One Nation’, realizing that it goes without saying.)

Consider, also, Modi’s fondness for the cameras, and the innumerable pictures of him that pepper both mainstream and social media. Again, Hitler — who personally approved all paintings and photographs of his which made it to the public domain. In 1936, over 2.5 million copies of an album titled Adolf Hitler: Pictures of the Life of the Fuhrer were published, containing images of Hitler and tributes written by Nazi leaders (There was also The Hitler No One Knows, a collection of photographs of Hitler in his “private moments”, which reminds me of Modi with his mom, Modi meditating in a cave that contained only a palette bed and a photographer, Modi feeding peacocks…).

(In a precursor to the “interactivity” that is the holy grail in today’s social media age, those who bought the Life in Pictures album could add to it by collecting and pasting the Hitler images that were given away on every purchase of a packet of cigarettes — mercifully, Modi’s propaganda team appears to not have read that chapter yet).

Heck, the BJP even borrowed the Nazi idea of deifying the leader through motion pictures. Here, if you can stomach it, watch Leni Riefenstahl’s remarkable film that showcases the 1934 Nuremberg rally and then watch the Omung Kumar-helmed Vivek Oberoi movie titled, with a total absence of subtlety, PM Narendra Modi. (Oh, and the latest addition to a packed Evernote folder titled ‘sycophants’ is this entry from today)

What the Nazi party sold then, what the BJP is selling today, is a cult centered around an individual whose main characteristic is infallibility (Modi ne kiya hai toh sahi hoga). Hermann Goring, in a speech in 1941, said “We National Socialists declare with complete conviction that for us, the Fuhrer is infallible in all political and other matters that affect the people’s national and social interests.”

I used the word “cult” deliberately, because what we are witnessing is the creation of a cult centered around the myth of an infallible leader, a demigod. And that is no accident, but yet another page borrowed from the Nazi playbook. Speaking to party propagandists in 1926, Goebbels drove the message home about the need to create a messiah: “You will never find millions of people who will give their lives for an economic program. But millions of people are willing to die for a gospel – and our movement is increasingly becoming such a gospel.”

I’m indebted for some of these anecdotes to the book Bending Spines: The Propagandas of Nazi Germany and The German Democratic Republic, by Randall L Bytwerk. Alongside Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works and Edward Bernays’s Propaganda, Bytwerk’s book is a must-read if you want to understand what is happening in, and to, this country and its people.

And we are all willing (or, at best, unwitting) partners in this exercise. Bytwerk in his book draws on the earlier work of French philosopher, sociologist and professor Jacques Ellul, who made an extensive study of propaganda and who defined it thus:

Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization.

Jacques Ellul in Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes

Ellul made the point that propaganda is not only manifest in the obvious devices — rallies, posters, etc — but also in a wider social context that includes education and the arts. And this, he argues, would not be possible without the consent of the consumer, the propagandee.

The propagandee is by no means just an innocent victim. He provides the psychological action of propaganda, and not merely leads himself to it, but even derives satisfaction from it. Without this previous, implicit consent, without this need for propaganda experienced by practically every citizen of the technological age, propaganda could not spread. There is not just a wicket propagandist at work who sets up means to ensnare the innocent citizen. Rather, there is a citizen who craves propaganda from the bottom of his being and a propagandist who responds to this craving. In other words, propaganda fills needs both for the propagandists and the propagandees.

Jacques Ellul, quoted by Randall Bytwerk

Think back to late 2013-early 2014. Remember how we all moaned about how “weak” Dr Manmohan Singh was, how India in its hour of destiny needed a “strong leader” who could lead the country to its rightful place on the world stage? The fault, dear Brutus…

Tailpiece: For the second time in a row, this is not the post I originally intended to write (that one is on the upcoming Karnataka elections, and I’ll get to that sometime this coming week). The prompt for this one came while I was going through my collection of clippings, and saw two clips in fairly close proximity to one another.

The first is an analysis of the suspension of the FCRA license for the think-tank Centre for Policy Research. (By the way, for a party that keeps banging on about the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, the BJP is no slouch when it comes to using the tools Gandhi had forged — the FCRA came into being in 1976, as the then prime minister’s response to her apprehensions that the “foreign hand” was interfering in India’s internal affairs).

And the second clip is about a new think-tank that has suddenly sprung up from out of the blue. It is called The Centre for Narendra Modi Studies — and its website is well worth spending some time on. Its ‘About’ page begins with this promising gambit:

The sun gives light to the world without soliciting. The moon illuminates the lily without asking. No one asks, still the clouds produce rain. Similarly, a sage-hearted man is always ready to help others without show-off.

From The Centre for Narendra Modi Studies website

You don’t need to be told who the “sage-hearted man” is, right? Read on, if you have a strong stomach. Then go through the publications. Don’t bother with sections such as New India and Nation First — those pages are blank. The database and the Namo Kendra, though — go see for yourself, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Also noted — that the Delhi police recently denied permission to hold a seminar on fascism

I’ll leave you with a link, and a chart below (I found this in my Evernote folder, but I seem to have not noted down the attribution, sorry) which you will find useful as a lens to view contemporary headlines thru.

Nothing succeeds like excess

On 1 March 2021, ISRO launched the nanosatellite PSLV-C51 from Sriharikota.

Its payload included 18 Indian satellites and one — Amazonia-1 — from Brazil. Of the 17 Indian satellites, one — Satish Dhawan SAT or SDSAT — was built by Space Kidz India, a Chennai-based startup that aims to promote the study of space science among students. It had some special features.

SDSAT had some unique features. A digital copy of the Bhagawad Gita in an SD card was part of the payload. The names of ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan and scientific secretary Dr R Umamaheshwaran were engraved on the bottom panel.

And — this is where it gets really special — a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was engraved on the top panel, with his name engraved below the image for anyone out there in outer space who may not otherwise recognize the visage of the Vishwaguru.

“This,” an SKI statement at the time read, “is to show solidarity and gratitude for his (Modi’s) Aatmanirbhar initiative and space privatization.”

A few days prior, on February 24, the then President of India Ram Nath Kovind presided over the renaming of the refurbished Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium (more commonly referred to as the Motera Stadium) in Ahmedabad, which would henceforth be known as the Narendra Modi Stadium.

The Modi Stadium today witnessed India’s PM Modi and Australia’s PM Anthony Albanese taking a “lap of honor” — for what accomplishment, we have not been told — in a specially decorated vehicle before the start of the fourth and final Test of the ongoing series. Video embedded below, because why should I be the only one to squirm at the sight of those stumps and cricket bats? (Seriously, though, who designs the backdrops for Modi events — Vivek Agnihotri’s set designer?)

And then came this: A beaming Narendra Modi receiving a picture of Narendra Modi from a beaming BCCI secretary Jay Shah at a function organized in Narendra Modi Stadium. (According to the BCCI, Shah gave Modi the “artwork” to “celebrate 75 years of friendship with Australia through cricket”. I swear you can’t make this shit up!)

When I pointed this out to my camera-shy wife earlier this morning, she tried devil’s advocacy. “Modi wouldn’t have asked for this, no?” she said, arguing the case that this was the over-the-top work of a more than ordinarily zealous sycophant.

Maybe. Then again, maybe not — prime ministerial events are planned down to the last detail and all appropriate approvals are obtained ahead of time, and that is particularly true of this prime minister. And I do mean every last detail. Remember this?:

So, no, I don’t think this was Jay Shah being overly obsequious. But even if that were the case, my wife’s argument misses the point while making the point: sycophants do what they know will please their authoritarian overlord.

So having suggested just the other day that Modi suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, am I now diagnosing him as an authoritarian?

Given the times we live in, there is a book that should be mandatory reading: How Democracies Die, by Harvard professors Steven Levistky and Daniel Ziblatt. Published in 2019, the book argues that democracies don’t always get extinguished by coups; that in modern times, a democracy is more likely to die the death of the thousand cuts, beginning with the election of an authoritarian leader who goes on to abuse governmental power and to use the instruments of the state to totally decimate the opposition.

In the first chapter, the authors refer to German-born political scientist Juan Linz, who as Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale made a name for his seminal work on authoritarian political regimes.

Linz in his book The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes proposed a litmus test to identify authoritarians but never got down to actually creating that test. Levitsky and Ziblatt fill that gap and, in their book, provide a chart to help identify authoritarian behavior. Here it is:

Keep the chart handy as you trawl your go-to news sources, and decide for yourself how many of these boxes the Modi-led government ticks, or not.

PostScript: This is not the column I intended to write today, but it will do while I do some digging to unearth the dots I mean to connect. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with two reads. The first is by Shankarshan Thakur, and fits the ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ theme of this post. Here is a clip:

Modi is the master of populist subterfuge; we often behave like a slavish confederacy of dunces. He has amplified a routine turn at a multilateral table into a thing of rare recognition and reward and we have allowed ourselves to turn even headier in Modi worship. The official theme of India’s presidency year is: ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. The way we are meant to read it is: ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future, One Leader — Vishwaguru Modiji’. Onward to 2024 on a new global high! Who cares that the G20 is a torn and tattered entity in India’s presidency year? What matters is who chairs those tatters. Internationally, G20 lies torpedoed by differences; domestically, it has been turned into a cracker of a campaign slogan for Modi and we are in the throes of celebration.

Shankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

The other is a piece in The Australian by premier cricket writer Gideon Haigh (unfortunately, behind a paywall) titled Why Are We Tolerating The Intolerant? Clips:

India’s Gujarat being a dry state, you won’t be able to avail yourself of a beer at the fourth Test in Ahmedabad. But if you like your cricket with a side serve of fascistic ostentation, the climax of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Ahmedabad will be right up your alley.

Passing through the atrium of Modi Stadium, one gazes up at giant images of Modi and Shah, in their familiar double act as narcissist and enabler. They are quite the partnership, and this Test, and this stadium, play to their strengths in staging spectacles of power.

The pair have also honed the time-honored repertoire of political strongmen everywhere: intimidation of rivals, subversion of institutions, falsifications of history, manufacture of conspiracies, and the pretence that criticism of their rule is a wound to national pride…

Needless to say, Modi takes the same attitude to the media as Tommy Docherty: “There’s a place for the press but they haven’t dug it yet.”

I’m not sure I should have quoted from a just-published piece at such length, but this is a piece I wish everyone could read. In it, Haigh asks a simple question: Why is Australia pandering to the ego of a narcisstic authoritarian? (The simple answer is, of course, trade — where the balance is heavily weighted in favour of Australia. But then, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that the champions of freedom and democracy in the West turn a blind eye to Modi’s more reprehensible actions because it suits their self-interest — Haigh, I suspect, was asking the question rhetorically.

Gideon Haigh, in The Australian

Right, see you back here in a couple of days.

PPS: Shortly after I posted this, I noticed that several folks have shared screenshots of Haigh’s full article on Twitter. So, here:

Amit Shah and the big lies

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Joseph Goebbels said that. Supposedly. In the recesses of the internet you find sites dedicated to disputing whether the Reich’s Minister for Propaganda actually said or wrote the words ascribed to him.

Leaving aside the provenance of the quote for the moment, the words themselves are an apt, extended summation of the tools and tactics of state propaganda. Here it is, in action at the TimesNow “summit” yesterday (By the way, these “summits” are just another tool by which the government rewards friendly media outlets — big-wig participation is the carrot, withholding it the stick — but that is a subject for another day). Listen:

No such comment was made, says Amit Shah when asked about campaign speeches where the speaker said the protestors of Shaheen Bagh will enter your homes and rape your mothers, sisters and daughters.

Shah was, of course, lying. BJP MP Parvesh Verma, the most offensive campaigner in a criminally offensive BJP campaign, said exactly that:

Having lied about one of the most offensive statements heard during the campaign, Shah then puffs out a word salad about different hierarchical levels within the party, to suggest that some lower level functionaries may have made certain objectionable statements, but the party had distanced itself from such remarks. (This business of the BJP “distancing itself” is beyond ridiculous — I’d done a post on this three years ago; it has only gotten worse since).

Shah was lying, on both counts. Firstly, it was not some low-level functionaries who were responsible for such incendiary statements, but the likes of MP Parvesh Verma, Union Minister Anurag Thakur, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP CM Ajay Singh Bisht, who began his campaign with this:

Shah also deftly avoids mentioning that Kapil Mishra, who takes the “credit” for coming up with the goli maro saalon ko slogan, was given a party ticket after he had premiered that slogan at a pro-CAA rally.

Shah was also lying when he said the party had distanced itself from the more extreme comments: Neither he, nor the Prime Minister, nor BJP’s titular president JP Nadda, had made a single statement condemning those statements. In fact, when Parvesh Verma was banned by the EC for his “rape your mothers…” comment, the BJP gave him a speaking slot during the Lok Sabha’s vote of thanks for the President’s pre-budget speech.

While on the BJP distancing itself from intemperate comments, it is worth noting that OP Sharma, the newly-elected BJP MLA from Vishwas Nagar, continues to claim that Kejriwal is a terrorist. It is also worth mentioning that the media continues to dutifully report and amplify comments that are clearly, and criminally, libellous.

What is noteworthy about the Shah segment is the way the event was used to give Shah — who had gone silent after the announcement of the Delhi results — an opportunity to minimise the fallout of his party’s toxic campaign, and to walk back the more incendiary of the statements.

As you watch that video, keep an eye on TimesNow’s Rahul Shivshankar, in the front row, nodding along in agreement with Shah. See this tweet from Sunil Jain, Managing Editor of the Financial Express, approving Shah’s “maturity” and hoping that this is a “new dawn”; listen to the applause when Shah says maybe the party paid a price for incendiary slogans, but adds that since no one writes down the reasons for their vote on the voting slip, it is hard to tell.

Note also that a vicious communal campaign is being analysed not in terms of the harm it has done to the nation, to the way it has vitiated public discourse and vilified one community — the whole discussion is cynically, solely around the calculus of electoral gains and losses.

In course of the session, Shah also produced jaw-dropping statements such as: (1) Everyone has the right to protest — which of course explains why he has used the full might of his police to unleash violence against protestors at various venues across the national capital while his henchman Bisht has raised state brutality to a whole new level in neighbouring UP; and, (2) That there is no bar on Indian politicians visiting Kashmir and that his ministry will give permission to anyone who wants to go (The obvious question — why is there a situation where an Indian citizen requires official permission to visit Kashmir was neither asked, nor answered).

While Shah used a convenient platform to normalise the abnormal, other worthies continued to sow the seeds of propaganda elsewhere. Thus Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Advisor to the government, was concerned with the question of why Gandhi had done nothing to save Bhagat Singh — the absolutely most important discussion to have at a time when the economy is imploding across every conceivable sector.

And the Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar took time off to peddle the old fable that Nehru did not want Patel in his Cabinet — a statement that led to an online spat between him and historian Ramchandra Guha. Jaishankar was, of course, lying, as Jairam Ramesh (thread) and others were quick to point out:

Think of all this, and then go back and read that possibly apocryphal Goebbels quote, and this actual passage from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (in the James Murphy translation):, where he accuses the Jews of inventing the “big lie” (projecting onto the “other” that which you yourself are guilty of is yet another tried and tested weapon of propaganda):

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Finally, ask yourself why a government, with an unprecedented mandate and facing unparalleled crises across multiple fronts, finds the need to spend so much of its time lying about things big and small.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in our country:

In Goa, a district magistrate imposed Section 144 citing intelligence inputs of possible terrorist threats, only for the baffled police to respond that there was no such intelligence. Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court ruled yesterday that the imposition of Section 144 in Bangalore was illegal. The section was imposed, for three days, on December 18. It took till February 13 to correct that injustice — and that is precisely what the government counts on when it acts in draconian fashion.

In UP, a 15-year-old was raped by a 30 year old man last August. Since then, her family has reportedly been facing threats and harassment, asking that they “compromise”. Her father had been threatened; the family had filed an official complaint to the office of the CM, which was ignored. Two days ago, the father was shot dead.

AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan, in the wake of his stunning victory from the Okhla constituency, asked his supporters not to celebrate his victory because of the ongoing protests against the CAA/NRC/NPR at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere. Meanwhile in UP, his family alleged that police had entered their home, abused and assaulted family members, and misbehaved with the women. And the troll factory continues to demonise the MLA — the most recent items in the vilification campaign include an allegation that Khan said Islam will triumph all across India, which maps to Sambit Patra’s earlier allegation that Khan wants to “create Shariya“, whatever that means. Remember Shah talking about party hierarchy, and how the party has official leaders and spokespersons while suggesting that the statements of others don’t count? Sambit Patra is the official spokesperson for the BJP, and the party is yet to “distance itself” from him.

Also in UP, Dr Kafeel Khan, who was arrested for making a speech during an anti-CAA rally at Aligarh Muslim University and subsequently given bail, had not been released as of last night in a clear case of contempt of court. The chief judicial magistrate has therefore sent the bail order to the jail by special messenger, with orders to the authorities to expedite the release. Khan, you will recall, had been arrested and charged with neglect of duty by the Bisht government in the wake of the death of dozens of children in a Gorakhpur hospital, only for the courts to find no evidence against him.

Still in UP, “An air of despondency hung over the defence manufacturers expo in Lucknow last week,” says a Bloomberg report on the defence expo in Lucknow last week, and mapping this despondency to a crippling funding crunch that has impacted the government’s $250 billion defense modernization program.

In the wake of the BJP’s defeat in the Delhi elections, the GoI has decided to step up its ad blitz highlighting its achievements, such as they are. As of December 2018, when this question was last raised in Parliament, the government in a written response said it had spent over Rs 5000 crore in the period 2014-2018. Note that this is government money — to wit, taxpayer money — spent to aid the political party’s campaigning. Note too that giving or withholding advertisements is how the government both entices and coerces the media into toeing its line.

Which reminds me: Donald Trump is coming to India, and expects to see between five and seven million people lining the road from the airport to receive him in Ahmedabad. Where the civic body is busy building a high wall to ensure that Trump and Modi will not see slums en route. That is the Gujarat Model in action — remember what happened earlier, when Xi Jinping visited Gujarat’s capital city, which under Modi is the preferred destination for all visiting dignitaries?

It was tarpaulin then; it is a wall now, which is appropriate since it is Trump who is visiting this time, and Trump is a big fan of walls that someone else pays for. The entire city is getting a makeover — Indian Express has an entire image gallery devoted to this, while ANI has images of the wall being built. Imagine the money being spent, and ask yourself why similar urgency and similar amounts of money never seem to be expended on improving the actual living conditions of the poor, rather than on hiding their plight from VIP eyes.

The irony is that the single biggest sticking point between the two countries is the trade deal, which has been the subject of much backstage diplomacy for close to two years now. The deal was supposed to be — hyped to be — signed during the earlier Howdy Modi event in Houston; now Trump is coming and the hypemeisters are holding out hope that the deal will be signed this time.

It won’t. Here is just one more indication why:

In a notice issued by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) earlier this week, India has been removed from the list of ‘developing’ countries and instead will now be considered a ‘developed’ nation.

Ram Madhav of the BJP was among the first to tweet out the news, to a chorus of congratulatory chest-thumping by the faithful. Neither Madhav nor his chorus appear to have realised that in actual fact, this means India is no longer eligible for benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) governing US trade deals. Elsewhere, in the build-up to the Trump visit, four US Senators have written to the US Secretary of State expressing their concerns about the situation in Kashmir, and also on the CAA/NRC. A resolution on similar lines, moved by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, is meanwhile gathering steam and at last count had 49 co-sponsors.

None of this will impact the Trump-Modi love fest, episode 2, because Trump is way too dumb to grasp such issues, and way too narcissistic to care. But it is still worth noting, because for all the hype that is being drummed up around the Trump visit, India’s international image is taking a godawful beating.

In this connection, I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the book A Very Stable Genius, by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker (emphasis mine):

The second week of November, President Trump took his first trip to Asia, a five-country, ten-day journey that concluded in the Philippines, where he attended a global summit of leaders.

On November 13, Trump sat down with Modi in Manila on the sidelines of the summit. Tillerson had high hopes for the meeting—even though, back at the White House, Trump was known to have affected an Indian accent to imitate Modi, a sign of disrespect for the prime minister.

As with most of his foreign leader meetings, Trump had been briefed but didn’t appear to have retained the material and instead tried to wing it. He took a hard right turn into a nitpicky complaint about trade imbalances. Modi tried to refocus on the threats India faced from Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan. His mention of Afghanistan led Trump off into a lengthy tangent about how stupid it had been for the United States to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan for so many years.

When Modi mentioned his concern about China’s ambitions and aggression in the region, Trump revealed a stunning ignorance about geography. “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border,” Trump said, seeming to dismiss the threat to India. Modi’s eyes bulged out in surprise. Aides noticed him giving a sidelong glance at Tillerson, who accompanied Trump as part of the U.S. delegation.

The Indian prime minister considered Tillerson among the best-versed Americans on the region’s security challenges, and together they had been plotting a new partnership. Tillerson’s eyes flashed open wide at Trump’s comment, but he quickly put his hand to his brow, appearing to the Indian delegation to attempt not to offend the president as well as to signal to Modi that he knew this statement was nuts.

Trump did not appear to notice their silent exchange. He just kept rolling, droning on about unrelated topics. Modi tried to keep the conversation on an elevated plane, hoping to follow the path Tillerson had laid out for them in the previous weeks to work together to protect India and fend off China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

But each time Modi tried to get Trump to engage on the substance of U.S.-India relations, the American president veered off on another non sequitur about trade deficits and the endless war in Afghanistan. Those who witnessed the meeting that day in Manila were disheartened.

Modi’s expression gradually shifted, from shock and concern to resignation. “I think he left that meeting and said, ‘This is not a serious man. I cannot count on this man as a partner,’ ” one Trump aide recalled. After that meeting, the Indians took a step back” in their diplomatic relations with the United States.

Sure, let’s hide our slums and smooth out our roads and truck in “millions” of people to give Trump (and Modi) a right royal photo-op.

PS: In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the BJP had secured 36 million votes in Delhi. The actual number is around 3.6 million; my apologies for mistyping. (Just another reminder to myself that I either need an editor to go through my copy, or I need to be a whole lot more careful and do a re-read before posting.) Thanks to the readers who pointed this out.

Update, 2.30 PM: Refer to the Dr Kafeel Khan segment earlier in this post. Now this: Even as the chief judicial magistrate personally intervenes to secure Khan’s release, the UP government has charged him under the draconian provisions of the NSA. What exactly did he say?:

That is it. That is the case.

One incident in which you have it all: Total contempt for the rule of law and of the courts; absolute intolerance for any form of dissent; brazen misuse of power in the firm belief that there will be no retribution — all totalling up into a state, larger than many nations, that has totally, possibly irrevocably, failed.

The evil that men do…

On January 6, the day after a masked, armed mob ran riot in the JNU campus while its VC instructed the police to stand outside the gates, Arnab Goswami conducted his usual evening debate. This is what he said in his opener — and when reading that, remember that these are merely words on screen; to understand what he chose to emphasise, how he chose to escalate, you have to listen to him via the link above. I have, for convenience, underlined certain statements to more easily catch your eye. Here:

Many of you have been calling Republic and asking to know what my position is on what happened or what has been happening at JNU. And I am glad that I took my time to come up with my view. And ladies and gentlemen, while it is and it was extremely worrying to see the visuals of the masked goons in JNU yesterday, and what happened was terrible, without a doubt, most of the media once again came to a wrong and premature conclusion once again. And now that we have the proof, and now that we have visuals which show the extreme brutality of the Left, and now that we have videographed evidence of the barbaric, monstrous attack by Left student leaders, by Left student unions, leading bloody masked mobs a few days back, and now that we have the truth before us, pictures, of Left student leaders physically assaulting fellow students, whose only fault was that they wanted to appear in the examination, whose only fault is that they had entrance exams to give and they needed to qualify and sit for the examinations, we have pictures of how they were brutalised by the Left student leaders, and now that we have the evidence of how any student in JNU who wanted to be registered for the examination was the subject of bloody attacks by the Left, and now that all this evidence is out, and now that it is absolutely clear that it is the left which has not just been starting, but unleashing relentless violence on all those who want to follow the academic schedule in JNU, and now, now, tonight, this Monday evening, that those coming out in the JNU protests in Mumbai for example, with their own placards have been identified not as students but the pro-Pakistan groups, and now that these groups are also asking at the Gateway of India in Mumbai for Independence for Kashmir, and now that all this evidence is out, I am not just narrating it, I am going to show you the pictures, and now that all this hard-coded evidence is being broadcast on the Republic Media Network, the nation wants to know whether the idle mind called Anurag Kashyap will bother to tweet tonight, or whether once again he and his ilk will pretend like cowards to look the other way.

There it is, the art (if you can call it that) of the demagogue, in one easy lesson. Goswami suggests that the contemporary narrative in the media is wrong; that he has evidence to the contrary, and smoothly segues into a condemnation of the Left students and their unions, accusing them of barbarous physical assault. And not just accusing — he makes you believe that it is proven beyond doubt.

He then seamlessly links it to a Free Kashmir placard held up in Mumbai to drag in that never-failing red herring, Pakistan; from there he targets by name an individual who has been speaking out against the serial atrocities being committed across the nation.

Remember the date of this broadcast: January 6. The day after the murderous attacks on JNU. The day after the nation, in a state of shock, watched an officially-sanctioned and protected mob at work. 24 hours later, Goswami flips the story — while the attack is “extremely worrying, without a doubt”, the Left students and their unions are guilty of … “extreme brutality“… “barbarous, monstrous attack“… “leading bloody masked mobs“… “physically assaulting”… “brutalised“…

Listen to that monologue as a viewer of that channel would — passively, just taking in what is said. And think of what you would take away, what you would conclude:

That while a “worrying” incident did take place, too bad, so sad, the fault, dear Brutus, lies with the barbaric “Left”…

Remember that after Goswami “proved” that the Left had indulged in unimaginable violence prior to the January 5 attack — which was his way of amplifying the then official line that the attacks of January 5 were in response to acts of vandalism by the Left union on January 1 and January 4, an RTI inquiry revealed that in fact there was absolutely no instance of vandalism, by the Left or anyone else, on either of those days.

The RTI story appeared on January 20 — 14 days after Goswami had sowed the fertile minds of his listeners with his own patented brand of poison and moved on. That is how this works — plant the lie, move rapidly on to other things before the truth has a chance to catch up.

In passing, this is your periodic reminder that the police have CCTV footage of the violence (though they claimed otherwise), that leaders of the armed assault have been identified, and the identification acknowledged by the police themselves, and yet there has not been a single arrest in the case thus far.

But Goswami says it was the Left, Goswami says he has proof, and Goswami is an honourable man…

Two Davids, Edwards and Cromwell, founded and run the site Media Lens, which is dedicated to tilting at the Goliath of propaganda in mainstream media (You can follow the site on Twitter). In 2018, they released their third book, Propaganda Blitz, to break down the tools and techniques used by media to sell the official line. They set up the premise of the book thus:

A regular feature of corporate media manipulation involves the launching of what we call a propaganda blitz, attacking and discrediting the ‘Official Enemies’, often preparing the way for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ of some kind. Propaganda blitzes are fast-moving attacks intended to inflict maximum damage in minimum time.

Here, watch the various stages of a propaganda blitz, as laid out by David Edwards and David Cromwell, in action. The sequential images are courtesy this excellent thread by Vasundhara Singh Sirnate, co-founder and director of research at The Polis Project:

Step 1: A propaganda blitz begins with the propagation of some dramatic new “evidence” to support an oft-touted conclusion. In this instance, the government and its water-carriers in the media have been touting the line that the protests in Jamia, in JNU and Shaheen Bagh are violent and must be ended. Republic starts off with this: a dramatic picture, circling the perpetrator with an arrow ominously pointing to him, and states as fact that a Jamia protestor turned violent, and “uses gun”. Think also of the Goswami “debate” linked to at the start of this post, and how it opens with full-throated claims of new evidence that is going to be shown to prove a falsehood.

Step 2: The tone adopted during a propaganda blitz is always vehement, even hysterical. “Claims of dramatic new evidence of alleged horrors committed by ‘Official Enemies’ are invariably followed by deep moral outrage,” say the authors. “The rationale is clear enough: in ordinary life, outrage of this kind is usually a sign that someone has good reason to be angry. People do not get angry in the presence of significant doubt. So the message to the public is that there is no doubt. Listen to Aishwarya Kapoor, political editor of the Republic TV channel, in the clip above. Below, the text:

“Will they fire gun? Will they brandish illegal weapons on the streets of the national capital of India? It cannot be allowed and it should not be allowed. That is why I ask those political leaders in this democracy… in this democracy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal should answer how they are supporting. Under which condition, under which kind of pressure are they supporting this kind of violent people? Because in the name of CAA, this is happening….”

There is more, in the same barely literate, hyperventilating vein, including a repeat invoking of Gandhi and Kejriwal, but you get the idea: The ‘Official Enemies’ are called out, to the accompaniment of deep moral outrage, and there is no ambivalence about what the evidence on screen shows.

On similar lines, listen to Goswami’s opener the same evening, where he opens by blaming the “over 40 days of provocation in Shaheen Bagh” for the terrorist’s actions. This is a journalist (allegedly), a man with a powerful megaphone, setting out his evening “debate” program with the suggestion that women peacefully protesting in a corner of Delhi is justification for attempted mass murder. In the interests of “balance” he says he has questions for both sides but then makes clear which side is right:

“Let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation.”

Those are the words that justify murder.

There are other tropes that are used to fan the propaganda fire. As the authors list them, these are: (3) The appearance of informed consensus (Note how convenient sound bytes from friendly politicians are used to further the various conspiracy theories); (4) Damning condemnation of anyone daring to question this consensus (Where is Rahul Gandhi? Will the tukde tukde gang speak up? Anurag Kashyap? Lutyens? The Lobby?); (5) Often generated with fortuitous timing (Remember that a few days before this incident, “dramatic new evidence” had surfaced that the PFI is funding the anti-CAA protests — an evidence, and accusation, that has quietly been buried since, but only after the damage was done); (6) Accompanied by tragi-comic moral dissonance — as, for instance:

See the chyron? “They wanted this to happen”. This is at the start of the “debate”, the screen is frozen at the point where Goswami says “We have questions for both sides tonight, but let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation”

See the whole package. In what is ostensibly the scene-setting for a debate, Goswami starts with his prefabricated conclusion: It is not about the terrorist, it is about the provocateurs — which, by the way, is a vast grab-bag that includes but is not restricted to Shaheen Bagh alone.

In his worldview, the terrorist has no agency — “They”, the ‘official enemies’, wanted this to happen, the terrorist was a helpless leaf swept along in the murky currents of a deep conspiracy.

The authors refer to this as “tragi-comic moral dissonance” — but when weaponised to the extent that Goswami and his ilk have done, it is neither comic nor even tragic; it is, pure and simple, the criminally irresponsible, deadly dangerous language of genocide.

The whole is overlaid with calculated cynicism; with the belief, based on the channel’s experience, that people can be fooled all the time. Having run with their prefabricated storyline for most of the evening (Vasundhara Srinate meticulously tracks the channel’s criminal distortions here), they then reclaim the high moral ground with an apology (Except there is no suggestion of an apology, merely a claim that it was “immediately” corrected):

In the heat of the moment, anyone can make a mistake, no? Anyone can, in the rush of events, mistake a terrorist for a protestor. Anyone can, when the adrenalin is flowing and lives are at risk, mistake the terrorist for someone who was sent on the mission with the personal blessings of Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, no? Oops!

The terrorist named himself as he was being taken into custody. Within minutes of that, his full identity was revealed. Yet, as Vasundhara Srinate outlines, Republic continued with their tissue of lies for over two hours before issuing an “apology”, the effect of which is nullified by the continued insistence — repeated in both header and chyron — that the terrorist was operating under extreme provocation.

In a thoughtful piece on Goswami, Kunal Kamra, and what contemporary incidents are telling us, Pragya Tiwari (follow) cites the German writer and playwright Bertolt Brecht — who, it is worth noting, had fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution for his views — on art and propaganda:

“Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away, captivated, impressed, uplifted, horrified, moved, kept in suspense, released, diverted, set free, set going, transplanted from their own time, and supplied with illusions” and warned against the dangers of art that enables this…”

“Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” said Brecht.

That is what Goswami’s dark arts of demagoguery are all about — a hammer he wields every night to shape reality to the needs of his political masters. Here is the sad part, though: The damage he has done, and continues to do each night, is not restricted to the effect his diatribes have on his audience, but reaches far deeper.

An editor sets the tone of the newsroom he heads; whether they admit it or not, the rest of the editorial staff take their cues from the editor and, consciously or unconsciously, shape their work to fit the editor’s worldview. (It is one of the biggest challenges for an editor — to free the staff of this Pavlovian reflex, to ensure that individuality is not erased, because you have to fight human nature, the worker’s basic survival instinct).

Consider that piece-to-camera where Aishwarya Kapoor rants about the Jamia protestor having a gun, and drags in Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal — what is that but a manifestation of the Goswami influence on the next generation of newsroom leaders?

Consider Deepti (I am not sure of her surname; Goswami introduces her as his news editor at the start of the clip above), and her behaviour with Tejaswi Yadav. What is that but a direct consequence of the hectoring, heckling, privacy-invading, obnoxious style of “journalism” Goswami has instituted as the gold standard?

Consider too that in the intro Goswami refers to a politician as “Lalu’s brat”, and imagine the influence on impressionable young journalists when a newsroom leader institutionalises such language, not only in the privacy of the newsroom where it would be bad enough, but when facing the camera.

Consider the pressures on other channels — as, for instance, TimesNow. When Republic surged ahead in the ratings immediately after launch, TN was forced (not in the journalistic sense so much as in the financial sense) to follow suit, to mimic Goswami’s motormouth hectoring. And then to try and go one better: Thus, they split Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar, giving them individual, back to back slots and thus managing to extend the chosen propaganda of the day; then they elevated Padmaja Joshi to get a third bite of the cherry.

See how the virus spreads?

Finally, consider this: Sooner or later (and it looks like it will be later), this circle has to end. This bigoted government will come to the end of its life cycle. And these channels and their reprehensible anchors will have to reshape themselves to fit whatever the new political ethos turns out to be. But it is not going to be easy to turn this ship around. A whole generation of young men and women are growing up in newsrooms shaped by the venomous propagandists who lead them; a generation that thinks this is the way journalism is done; a generation that knows no better.

They will in turn grow into the next lot of newsroom leaders and, knowing no better, will pass on this poison to the young ones who come to work with them.

That, in the ultimate analysis, is the damage the bigot, the fascist, does: He poisons not merely the air he breathes, but the atmosphere future generations have to grow up in; the damage he inflicts is lasting, and well nigh irreversible.

That damage, this image: A young man, part of a group of students commemorating the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, wounded by a terrorist empowered and egged on by the hate-spewing men who run this country and by apologists and enablers like Goswami, having to clamber over a police barricade so that he can get a gunshot wound treated.

Via a Faye D’Souza tweet

What do they — Modi, Shah, Thakur, Bisht and others of this hate-filled lot, and the likes of Goswami, Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Sudhir Chaudhary, hope to gain? What in this world do they think is worth infecting a nation, particularly its young, with murderous hate?

The nation wants to know.

Republic of Spin

“The Titanic had an iceberg problem. It did not have a communications problem.”

I was reminded of that pithy take by political consultant Paul Begala when I woke up to the news that the GoI, stung by the opposition to the CAA, has planned a “fresh multimedia campaign“. From the story:

A top source in the government said a need was felt for a fresh round of publicity because the government has received a lot of bad press due to the nationwide protests against the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens, and the attacks on students at two central universities in the capital — Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University. …

Although a name for the campaign has not been finalised yet, one of the suggestions is to call it ‘Har kaam desh ke naam’ (all work in the country’s name).

I also happened to see this: The GoI has apparently brought out a booklet telling the stories of Hindus etc who have come over from Pakistan because of religious persecution. Only, it turns out that at least some of the stories are faked.

‘Fake news’, ‘propaganda’, ‘spin’ — call it what you will, it is big business today. Then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore told the Lok Sabha that between 2014, when Modi took over as Prime Minister for his first term, and December 2018, when Rathore was responding to a question, the government had spent over Rs 5,200 crore on advertisements. Another official response gave a different figure.

Rs 5,200 crore. Imagine what you could do with that money. When the Statue of Unity was being inaugurated, IndiaSpend had done a piece comparing the cost of the statue with what else the same amount could have been used for:

We could have had two new IITs or AIIMS campuses; or five new IIMs, or five new solar power plants each producing 75 megawatts of power; the amount expended on the statue could have funded, twice over, the schemes the government had grandiosely announced for the relief of farming communities. And when reading this, remember that the cost of the statue is half of what the government says it spent on advertising and publicity.

In a nutshell: We could have done so much with the money; instead we spent the money to say we have done so much.

All of this is why I was reminded of Begala’s words. The government does not have a communication problem; what it has is a bigotry problem; it has a problem of rising, multiplying dissatisfactions across a wide spectrum of society. And the only response it knows is more advertising, more publicity, more propaganda.

Late evening yesterday I saw a Twitter post that, in reference to the GoI’s attempts to browbeat Jeff Bezos into getting his Washington Post to back off on criticism of the government, said India needs its own version of the First Amendment which, in the US, specifically prohibits (among other things) the imposition of any restrictions on the media’s right to speak, report, freely.

India does not have provisions in its Constitution that specifically uphold the freedom of the press; that freedom is implicit in a sub-set of Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Do we need a Constitutional amendment that expressly protects the media’s right to free expression? Is the absence of that law the reason why so much of the media today is suspect, why the credibility of the media is eroding? I’ve been a full-time journalist since 1990, and a freelance journalist for five years before that — and in all that time, I don’t recall an instance where the lack of such a specific law hindered our reporting. And I certainly don’t think that is the reason today’s media is so compromised.

I started with a Begala quote, so it seems appropriate to bring in something the man Begala advised, then US President Bill Clinton, said during his presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

That is what it boils down to — the press is hamstrung financially, and its various egregious acts of commission and omission stems from that simple fact. Couple it with the vast amounts the government is spending on publicity, and what do you get? This. (A small Twitter thread I wrote last night to explain why the media has become an instrument of propaganda).

I’ll leave you with this for the day (I have places to be, things to do) unless something really urgent breaks. And on my way out, here are two little items worth your notice. The first is a thread by journalist M Rajshekhar collating all the protests happening in India across a period of approximately one day:

And the second is a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

Really? That explains why the PM has, in little over a month, refrained from uttering a single word on the ongoing, widespread protests, on the resulting deaths, on the dozens who have been incarcerated for little or no reason, on his refusal to meet with a single one of those protesting groups, on his almost comical avoidance of going anyplace where he might be forced to confront protests?

This cannot be said too forcefully: The man is a fraud. And a coward.