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This article was first published 1 year ago  » News » Why Is It An Attack On India?

Why Is It An Attack On India?

February 07, 2023 16:09 IST
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India's Right-wing has sought to own our democracy by making itself appear the stuff of majority, and sometimes, a national ethos older than the Constitution on which our democracy is based, argues Shyam G Menon.

IMAGE: All India Students Association activists at Jadavpur University at the screening of the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question. Photograph: ANI Photo

Projecting itself as the national standard is second nature to India's political Right-wing.

In January 2023, a BBC documentary on the Gujarat riots of 2002, angered the Indian government. Indian authorities banned it.

On January 19, the Deccan Herald newspaper quoted Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, on the documentary: 'Let me just make it very clear that we think this is a propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative.

'The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, are blatantly visible.'

The BJP, which is in power at the Centre, has always highlighted the Supreme Court upholding in June 2022, the Special Investigation Team's clean chit to then Gujarat chief minister N D Modi (now India's prime minister), and 63 others.

It is against this backdrop that the BBC documentary has delved into Modi's alleged role in the riots, which it did using a previously undisclosed British diplomatic communique.

In turn, this has meant glare on India's political Right-wing.

Viewed so, those who could be aggrieved by the documentary are essentially two -- the administrators of Gujarat during the riots and given the state government then was BJP's; by extension, the political Right-wing.

Can't own the flowers? Then claim the soil

The ban imposed by the current central government, however, pointed to a different treatment of the issue.

The finger of blame in the documentary leveled against the state government and Modi, was pitchforked into the league of a finger of blame on India as a whole, by a former colonial ruler to boot.

It was sufficient to get Right-wing loyalists working in support of the ban. But it didn't cut ice with those Indians who saw our diverse and inclusive country as more important and enduring than the political Right or Modi.

Banning also made the act of rebelling against the government move fashionable as proved by the instances of the banned documentary screened.

India's Right-wing has sought to own our democracy by making itself appear the stuff of majority, and sometimes, a national ethos older than the Constitution on which our democracy is based.

A sort of if you can't own the flowers, then claim the soil-approach. Such proclivity was betrayed in how the BBC documentary was handled.

For no more than a documentary film critical of key functionaries, the government unilaterally decided for all Indians and then used its emergency powers to ban the film.

Its move was then justified by Right-wing supporters. The idea that Indians would be able to watch the documentary (if they wanted to) and draw their own conclusions was overlooked.

IMAGE: Police personnel confiscate a laptop from National Students Union of India supporters as they try to screen the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question at the Faculty of the Arts, Delhi University, January 27, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

This is when reviewers other than the government, have assessed the film for the film it is, and come off unimpressed.

Some have bemoaned the documentary's lack of punch and a clear take away because it sought to balance both sides.

Meanwhile, as an extension of the India under attack-theme, speculative theories around the BBC documentary grew.

On January 31, The Times of India wrote of BJP Rajya Sabha MP and senior lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani linking the BBC's approach to India, to funds the broadcaster received from Chinese company, Huawei.

News18 citing a military source in Qatar, claimed Pakistan's Inter Services Public Relations media cell provided 'all proofs and propaganda content' to the BBC for its documentary.

Russia, criticised in the West for the war in Ukraine but of late important to India as a supplier of oil, accused the BBC of waging an information war.

Setting an example

Days after the controversy around the BBC documentary, the report by the Hindenburg Research on the Adani Group, was a hot topic in the media.

A few angles engaged. The report was by a known activist short-seller from the US and the business under scrutiny represented the fortunes of one of India's wealthiest businessmen who was also widely perceived as close to the current government.

Further, the report's appearance coincided with a round of fund-raising by the Adani Group's flag ship company.

At the same time, just like India was never completely about the hydra-headed political Right-wing and its apex leadership, the Indian stock market was never all about Adani.

Even without the Hindenburg Research report around, there were those who elected not to invest in Adani companies because they couldn't understand the group's meteoric rise or felt that the group's reported proximity to the political leadership of the country was a potential risk.

On the other hand, many of India's currently big businesses have benefited from proximity to various governments of the past and with the early lot of such DNA since settled in as much respected stocks in the market, there is the view that this is how business is done in India.

To invest in Adani stocks or not -- that was always a call for the investor to take.

What the government sets as example, others emulate.

In the days following the Hindenburg Research report, the pattern seen with the BBC documentary ban, repeated.

On January 30, Bloomberg quoted from Adani's 413-page rebuttal to allegations raised by Hindenburg: 'This is not merely an unwarranted attack on any specific company, but a calculated attack on India, the independence, integrity and quality of Indian institutions, and the growth story and ambition of India.'

As with the documentary preceding the Hindenburg episode, nobody asked if the rest of us constituting country, wished to be pitchforked into the fray as nameless justification for the defence adopted.

It is remarkable how stands-offs of the sort cited above, easily transform from a dispute involving clearly identifiable parties to one involving / leveraging India.

In the case of the BBC documentary, it should be for the British broadcaster and the BJP to slug it out; as regards the Hindenburg Research report, it is for Adani and the US-based short seller to slug it out.

Why are we all in it like a whole nation hurt when there have always been people here who imagined life differently from both the BJP and Adani?

IMAGE: Police personnel detain an National Students Union of India activist as the NSUI attempts to screen the BBC documentary India: The Modi Question at the Faculty of the Arts, Delhi University, January 27, 2023. Photograph: ANI

The mechanics of majoritarianism

In the name of everyone has its advantages.

An emergent asset in the field of mass communication, has been India's giant population including its sizable Diaspora.

By leveraging it, many Indian fads and trends have turned viral on social media, become unignorable for the world and journeyed far.

The logic is simple -- the world cannot ignore a billion people.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of this method in India, has been the Right-wing.

Courtesy slingshots availed in the name of everyone, we may ephemerally seem on par with the biggest and the best but such short cuts to glory speak poorly of the standards we set for ourselves and the means we take.

This is the mechanics of majoritarianism; it is also why majoritarianism sucks.

One wishes the Right-wing stopped including all of us in its support base, for there are those who wish to have nothing to do with Right-wing politics and worldview.

And they do so because they like India.

The emergent problem is -- as the Right-wing drags everything about everyone, from the mythological figures we worship (on January 30, the media reported India's foreign minister lauding two Gods as the best diplomats ever) to our idea of country, into a grand validation of their worldview, the convenient peace in shutting up and putting up, progressively dries out.

On February 2, The Telegraph newspaper reported: 'Gautam Adani has decided to cancel the Rs 20,000-crore follow-on public offer that barely scraped through on Tuesday after a gaggle of local tycoons chipped in with their own money to take it over the line.'

According to The Indian Express newspaper, the Reserve Bank of India has sought details from banks about their exposure to Adani group companies.

Same time, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported that the Supreme Court was set to hear a PIL challenging the central government's decision to ban the BBC documentary.

About the developments of January, one couldn't help noticing how the hurt seemed all about who was wearing the boot delivering the kick.

For example, take the quote from the MEA spokesperson about the BBC documentary, mentioned at the start of this column.

'Propaganda piece', 'bias', 'lack of objectivity' -- in a different context, this would be fitting description for how Right-wing lectures seem, to those not towing their line.

Shyam G Menon is a Mumbai-based columnist.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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