A Lethal Combination
There is no denying that India has made tremendous strides over the last 20 years. Their economic growth and progress in IT has gained worldwide recognition as they have been very clever in marketing their success. India’s robust global reach has allowed them to project their success, which continues to produce adulation from the international community. Unlike Pakistan, India is more adept at using television and social media to its advantage.
India’s global recognition has also given them a new sense of pride. Their new-found confidence is evident in their sports, film, finance, and business. The professional Indian community seems to be more assured in its abilities and is confident about taking the world head-on. However, while we see a more patriotic India, unafraid to flaunt its success, it is now apparent in Indian media that their patriotism is morphing into a poisonous and self-destructive nationalism.
The problem with hyper-nationalism is that it inevitably becomes divisive, intolerant and hostile, both within and without. When the nationalist narrative took center stage under Prime Minister Modi, large sections of the Indian media decided to reinforce it. The media’s constant promotion of the nationalist narrative has created an even stronger hatred for Pakistan, and serious divisions within Indian society, turning the diehard nationalists against the liberals. These divisions are now being exposed to the outside world.
Vehemently accusing Pakistan for the Pulwama attack before a probe, followed by dropping bombs in Balakot, and then interpreting Prime Minister Imran Khan’s message for dialogue and peace as ‘begging’ reveals how unhinged the Indian leadership and media has become. The fact that the media has taken Prime Minister Imran Khan’s gesture of sending the captured Indian pilot back home as an act of ‘desperation’ means that they are now at a loss to even concoct a narrative.
“When you watch Arnab Goswami on Republic TV, he comes across like a peculiar child in desperate need of Ritalin”
It is clear the India media is determined to attract an audience who believe that ideology is more important than facts. Television channels like Republic TV and Times Now, both English channels, constantly resort to childish accusations and jingoistic exclusiveness. Hashtags such as #Pakfakeclaim and #NationFirst reveal that there is a serious and deliberate absence of nuance designed to embolden the nationalist narrative. For these channels, the Pulwama attack feeds right into their discourse- demonizing Pakistan and its army, Kashmir, and Indian liberals who are viewed as unpatriotic apologists, or ‘anti-nationalists.’
With a general election a few months away, the BJP mouthpieces are working overtime to promote the party’s propaganda. What we have in the mainstream Indian media, particularly the English language ones, is a very destructive jingoism from various anchors, who are calling for Pakistan to be ‘punished’ and are hellbent on pushing the hyper nationalist agenda. When you watch Arnab Goswami on Republic TV, he comes across like a peculiar child in desperate need of Ritalin. Many believe that he cannot possibly be taken seriously, but the fact is people are listening and absorbing the venom he and his lackies spew.
The fact that India has over 400 news channels means that the competition for ratings is fierce. To be noticed, many of these anchors make provocative and divisive statements. In one of Arnab Goswami’s hysterical soliloquies he said, “Either you are for or against the Nation, you will be marked out if you are against the Nation.” Hitler wept. The nature of these contentious statements has polarized political debate in India. The art of conversation seems to have disappeared. The discourse has become extremely reductionist, and downright hateful and is fueling this nationalist vs. anti-nationalist narrative and causing more problems for India than it is for its neighbors.
What makes matters worse is that this vicious rhetoric is going viral on social media. The BJP has been very effective in projecting their ideology through the internet. The pro-BJP messages online are designed to brainwash the public into believing that Pakistan, Kashmiris, and the liberals in India are the enemy. There is evidence that disturbing material is being spread on social media applications like WhatsApp and TikTok which call for violence against Kashmiris living in India. The symbiotic relationship between mainstream television channels and social media applications has further exacerbated the social and political issues in Indian society.
The worst aspect is that this narrative is polluting the mindset of the youth. Once the younger generation comes to the fore, it is imperative that they make a concerted effort to quash this venomous narrative. If the younger generation is consumed with hate, then I am afraid the future looks very bleak. Sane voices in Indian media must strongly speak out against this toxic media frenzy. It not only hinders regional peace as we have seen but creates serious and irreparable divisions in their own society. The good news is that India’s primetime networks are finally being exposed for their absurd and dangerous rhetoric. This is a classical case of small-time regional hegemons not being able to handle their power.
By: Ali Gauhar