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Can’t Silence A Nation, Mr Modi!

Can’t Silence A Nation, Mr Modi!

It was not an original sentence used by the Editor in Chief of the Indian Express against Indira Gandhi when he wrote in anger and exasperation against the excesses of her regime, “In the name of God, woman, go!”.  Oliver Cromwell had used them first in 1653, to the UK parliament “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, Go”

Many have been tempted to fling those words at Mr Narendra Modi, the prime minister, and his Bharatiya Janata Party which has a stifling majority in Parliament and two thirds of the state assemblies of in the Union.

Targeted Caste violence rages through the land, with scholars hanging themselves in anger and frustration, triggering protests not seen, some say, since the early Twentieth century. Religious minorities find themselves in the pincers of a multi-pronged attack. The continuing flanking manoeuvres by Hindutva intellectuals and politicians are now led by a recognisable corps of armed front-line commandoes in the guise of cow protectors, themselves shielded by politicians in the highest offices of the land. State impunity, thoroughly infiltrated bureaucracy and police, leave little avenue to escape the violence, or seek justice.

A new phase of gender violence with women, specially of Dalit communities, facing gang rape, often in the knowledge of the authorities, and no longer in the hinterlands but in metropolises and the national capital itself, makes mockery of India’s civilizational values.

But even in this encompassing dark scenario, there is a moral black hole that confronts the nation, and is mockingly shrugged off by the rulers. This is the savage suppression of the farmers, their coercion by usurious banks, their financial backbone broken by unthinking policies, the last of which is the ban on sale of cattle which upsets the life cycle of an agrarian economy that has meant life to the people over several millenniums in which old cattle are sold – everyone knows they go to the slaughter house – so that young animals can be bought to continue the economic cycle.

In the last two years, the government and the party had sought to divert attention away from this comprehensive and permeating crisis by using the media to whip up a nationalist and hysteric discourse. The threat of Dayesh, the increasing Wahhabization of sections of the local Islam, howsoever small, the radicalisation of some youth, and the infiltration from Pakistan had been gunpowder enough. 

The crisis has achieved critical mass. In the valley, the year of pellet shots fired at protesting youth segued into the recent much hyped and unapologetic use of a local person as a human shield tied to an army jeep by a Major -- who was later awarded a commendation by no less than the Chief of Army staff. This has generated fears of militarisation. A battalion of war-mongers, among them retired generals, police chiefs and the leaders of the uniformed Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, have kept hysteria at fever pitch. Major television channels have amplified the cacophony, neatly dividing the nation 

It is in this context that the recent raids by the central investigating agencies on Dr Pronnoy Roy and his wife, Radhika, founders of the NDTV [New Delhi Television, the pioneering private news channel in the subcontinent], must be seen.

At a primordial and gut level, it evokes memories of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s terrible suppression of the media during the 1975-77 State of Emergency when several editors and media owners were out in jail, and press censorship implemented.

At another level, it has sparked an investigation into the state of the media itself, with or without Mr Modi, where globalisation, control by crony capitalism, and the internal whittling away of editorial freedoms. Even very large media houses seem no more than extensions of the publicity army of the regime or the corporate houses, the distinction often vanishing in the give and take of commerce which covers every single natural resource from the ether’s band width, to forest lands and sea shores.

The globalised media’s hire and fire norms leave almost no professional job security for editorial staff at any level, making them absolute slaves to a cruel system. The seniors themselves end up becoming touts or liaising for their paymasters with politicians and bureaucrats in power.

The original reason for the raid seems silly in its detail. The case against the Roys has been filed by chartered accountant Sanjay Dutt who once worked with them, left for reasons not fully explained, and then moved the   income tax department, SEBI, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs and the Enforcement Directorate, alleging tax fraud, money laundering and FEMA violations. The CBI registered an FIR Radhika Roy and Pronnoy Roy, their company RRPR Holdings P Ltd and ICICI Bank, leading to raids on their premises. Dutt’s complaint accuses the Roys of criminal conspiracy to dupe ICICI of Rs 48 crore — an amount that he has calculated on the basis of an ICICI loan of Rs 350 crore to RRPR in 2008-09.

NDTV in its statement after the raids described Dutt as a “disgruntled former consultant” and his complaint as “shoddy”. It said he “has been making false allegations and filing cases in courts of law with these false allegations. So far, he has not obtained a single order from any of these courts.” Dutt seems to have the support of a phalanx of Sangh members, supporters and sympathisers in the world of politics and academics, including Madhu Purnima Ishwar, now a national professor, and Dr. Subramanian Swami.

Supreme Court lawyer Rebecca Mammen John in her Facebook post hinted at the complex reaction the raids had generated. “Today when NDTV defends itself (and rightly so) by saying "we repaid the loan taken from ICICI ", there are sceptics who are waiting to see if there is something more. Because that is the treatment the media gives to everyone else. After all, so many reputations have been tarnished on unsubstantiated allegations. I stand with NDTV but that is not enough. 

Mammen says “To defend constitutional values and freedoms , we have to stand together and lend support to poor Adivasis in Chhattisgarh , to journalists who report from far flung corners of India without the support of a parent organisation and for whom the Editor's guild will issue no statement , to lawyers hounded out of Bastar for whom the Bar Council of India will issue no statement , to Kashmiris whom we vilify on a daily basis , to Ex-servicemen who were part of the OROP movement but today have several frivolous cases registered against them , to Dalits and Muslims who face everyone's wrath for being Dalits and Muslims , to students who are being prosecuted because they do what students do all over the world - question and debate and challenge and dissent , to farmers who commit suicide because they are poor and are getting poorer and are now being shot dead , to our right to ask difficult questions and our right to hold people and institutions accountable , to our right to make our own choices - because that is the essence of any democracy . Otherwise raids and arrests will become a daily way of life and Article 21 will be rendered redundant.”

Jawed Naqvi, perhaps the only Indian journalist with a popular column in the very large Pakistani newspaper Dawn, writes “There are not too many media houses left in India that will stand up to Prime Minister Modi’s insidious dismantling of freedoms. Universities are being destroyed by pseudo nationalist bigots, the judiciary is being subverted — how else would a high court judge feel emboldened to pontificate that peacocks are India’s national birds because they live a celibate life and have asexual reproduction? Parliament is being undermined and ordinary people are getting pitted against each other in the name of religion and caste, where Dalits are being torn away from each other to be co-opted as Hindutva’s useful fodder against their own. NDTV is one of a handful of channels that has the potential to help stall a Hindutva victory in 2019, not unlike the mobile phone-wielding journalist who helped Turkey’s Erdogan avert a military coup.

“There is no reason to disbelieve Roy’s claim that the raids are politically motivated. CBI — which was conceived as a neutral investigating body like the FBI — is being unleashed on Modi’s most potent political adversaries, not least being Laloo Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, several southern parties and, of course, Arvind Kejriwal.”

Mr Modi will not be able to silence NDTV. The channel has found support from the biggest media houses of the world, with the New York Times, itself in a skirmish with US President Donald Trump. Global social media acts as force multiplier, even as the troll armies financed and supported by the BJP also join battle.

But at the end of the day, Mr. Modi and the   Sangh do not really care what the Media, the Intelligentsia, Academia and the world of Arts and Letters thinks of him and his government.   They are using this faux nationalism debate to pound and pulverise the Opposition. The Congress particularly finds itself in the cleft stick trying to defend the cow and the politicians' general, while also pretending to defend Freedom of Expression.   It is trapped in   Soft-nationalism, as it is in soft Hindutva. 

However, the Opposition’s survival, as it has realised in the recent farmers’ agitation, lies in not succumbing to the Sangh and Mr Modi’s pressure. It has to align with the people. And the Dalits and the Farmers have shown that the people will not be silenced.

Therein lies hope. 

#(Published on 12th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 24)