Hindutva Propaganda Machinery At Work

As young journalists we learnt our basic lesson that when a dog bites a man it is not news, when a man bites a dog, it is. We also learnt that if a lie is told a thousand times, repeatedly and incessantly, as practiced by the Guderian Nazi propaganda machinery, it might indeed become an absolute truth. A lie becomes a truth. An organized web of lies, hence, turns into a grand bouquet of established legitimacy.

In contemporary India, this could truly be called the phenomena of post-truth of the new normal, though it might look like a theatre of the absurd at times. Or how fake news, pure propaganda, camouflaged as breaking news, or news repeated many times as partisan opinion, in a shrill, one-dimensional repeat-narrative on TV, sometimes with doctored videos, becomes the chronicle of a media prophecy foretold. Witness the demonization of JNU, its inherited intellectual, academic and progressive tradition, and the character assassination of its scholars and student leaders. (Ironically, this does not stop the huge rush of new students to the beautiful campus every new admission year.)

There is no dark irony here. This is exactly like in the Nazi times. That is the original template. It’s just that this entire mainline and fringe media apparatus, often operating as rabble-rousers, actually operate 24×7 to legitimize and reinforce the current power structure, its policies and programmes, its corporate lobbies and vested interests.

In the process, it reinforces the politics of a polarizing ideology and entrenched xenophobia, sectarian, anti-secular and hate rhetoric, and the hounding of dissenters, intellectuals, scholars, writers and journalists. So much so, the police version is most often the most sacrosanct and absolute version and status quo journalism is the only form they know and practice.

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Witness the demonization and hounding of the Tablighis, finally proved null and void by a court. So much so, it was viciously circulated that Muslims actually spread Corona in India. Thus, a large mass of people in India can be quickly condemned as anti-nationals, urban Naxals, Maoists, Pakistani agents, and tukde-tukde gang, often even before the Indian State led by the BJP, has just about given an ambiguous signal.

This is the role the Rightwing and assorted media plays in India these days. Thereby, it unabashedly backs the State apparatus, benefits from the economic and profit linkages, is backed by the corporates who are backing the BJP openly, and thereby legitimizes the dominant discourse of the ruling regime.

This was the standard tactic used against the mothers and sisters of Shaheen Bagh not only in Jamia but all over the country before and during the nation-wide anti-NRC-CAA protests. It became integral to the repeated branding of a huge mass of unidentified people as “termites” in Northeast India and in Bengal, once again, with no evidence or documentation. Like the Jews in Europe reduced to third class citizens with no rights by the Nazis, one community was yet again targeted in India.

However, once the final data came out of the official NRC survey, it was found that lakhs of Hindus were missing too, and other indigenous communities, from the final register of Indian citizens. That put the termite theory to rest for the time being, though, let us not forget that Jews too were branded as pests, cockroaches, termites, dirty, diabolical, anti-Christ, so that the denial of citizenship, or the Holocaust, was accepted by the ‘pure races’ for ‘national purification’. This was also the American propaganda during the Vietnam War against the ‘unwashed masses and peasants’ who were fighting a protracted and victorious guerilla war against the most powerful militarized nation in the world.

In India, it all seems to be following a predictable pattern. The Rightwing media and other media propaganda outfits working openly or tacitly for the cult glorification of Narendra Modi as a messiah, prophet and demi-god, propagates the ideology of hard Hindutva (which is different from Hinduism), and thereby debunks or demonizes individuals and ideologies which are in opposition, which stand for the values of the Indian freedom struggle, or, the pluralist, secular Indian Constitution.

The Shahen Bagh movement wanted the reassertion of the Indian Constitution. Its symbols enshrined on their public platforms were icons of the freedom movement and secular India: Ambedkar, Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, Sarojini Naidu, Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rabindranath Tagore, among others. However, they were constantly reduced to hate objects, implying that they are pro-Pakistan, jihadis, anti-nationals, and ‘gaddaars’, as a Union minister openly declared, asking them to be shot. This did not, however, help the BJP to win the Delhi state polls.

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This is the pattern they have again chosen, and abysmally failed, in handling the farmers’ protests. The sheer resilience of the farmers’ movement right now in lakhs from across several states in north and western India (and not only from Punjab and Haryana) on the various borders of Delhi, preparing for a Republic Day showdown, has debunked the BJP propaganda machinery. Even while one Union minister joined in the branding of farmers as Khalistanis, Maoists, Leftists and Urban (Turban!) Naxals, it just did not work.

The theory that the Sangh Parivar operates in multiple synthesis in a smooth orchestra like a hydra-headed octopus of a joint family, is true. Though, it sometimes gets jarring.

At one time, it was the symphony between the moderate and hard line of Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani. Journalists would then claim that the Hindutva fringe is different from mainstream, political BJP — so let’s not blur the lines. However, clearly, this theory has all but collapsed in the current one-dimensional scenario with Modi as the one and only supremo commanding over the entire Hindutva machinery, and the power structure of the partisan State apparatus, with Amit Shah as his trouble-shooter, and the RSS as his ally.

So much so, the line between the fringe and mainstream in the party and Sangh Parivar has totally merged. This has been witnessed by the rise of an extreme hardliner like Yogi Adityanath, who is now being followed as a role model by ‘moderates’ like Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh.

This paradigm shift in power has been lucidly translated between the fringe and mainstream media backing Modi like an eternal and only monarch of all that he surveys. One of these portals actually calls itself liberal and right of center. Others post stories which are like regular stories in a mainline English daily. However, it is the content, or the opinion between the lines, which is often insidious and tells us who is actually biting — the man or the dog!

For instance, one of them dug out other critical tweets of the former Group Captain of the Indian Air Force flying Go Air lines, who has been suspended for calling an anonymous PM ‘an idiot’. The portal is tacitly saying, look, this man has a bad record, etc!

In a spoofy irony, these pro-BJP portals are now going full blast against what they call the ‘Big Tech’ conspiracy, especially in America. They claim that these global, big money conglomerates are basically Left flunkeys. Why – because Donald Trump has been banned by Twitter and Facebook! This is censorship, not acceptable!

Their lament is heartbreaking. Suddenly, it seems that the Hindutva media has now opened yet another front against Big Tech American Capitalism, even while Modi has been called as the best buddy of two big Gujarati capitalists in India by the protesting farmers. Trump, surely, has his Proud Boys, even in India.

Hum Dekhenge poem has inspired anti-CAA protesters

‘Hum Dekhenge’ – A Lyrical Ode To Resistance By Faiz

Poets and poetry are boundless and eternal. India’s ongoing turmoil has people, particularly the young, from all classes and communities, giving vent to their anger and aspirations through words and verses, reviving some old and long-forgotten, and creating new ones.

Grannies and mothers with babies in arms braving biting cold have come out in this winter of discontent.

Media last week captured a diminutive Sociology student, Gayatri Borkar, sitting amidst the protestors at Mumbai’s Gateway of India, feverishly churning out copies on an old typewriter of poets old and new — Varun Grover, Nagarjun, Dushyant Kumar and Habib Jaleeb. And Rahat Indori who defiantly asks: “Kisi ke Baap Ka Hindustan Thodi Hi Hai? (Is India anyone’s paternal property?)”.

Among them was “Hum Dekhenge”, the iconic poem of Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’. It is doubtful if this Marathi girl would understand Faiz’s Persianized-Urdu, its words and certainly, their import. But to judge her and thousands protesting for their ignorance would be downright unfair.

Restricted to the Urdu-speaking literate classes, Faiz has returned to India, in a manner of speaking, long after he left for Pakistan and died in 1986. And long after impact of the ideology he espoused has steeply declined. But Faiz, like others, is about sentiment, not substance.

This reminds of Subhas Chandra Bose’s “Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja” of the1940s and “We shall Overcome” Indianized as “Hum Honge Kaamyaab” of the 1970s. Those were different eras in the last century.

Faiz inspired. My interview with him during his last India visit was actually a non-interview. In the 25 minutes or so that we set across, he was on telephone for over 22. Barely one question was answered. When the next visitor came, he waved me off, endearingly: “Oh, yaar kuchhbhi likh dena.” It became a cook-up job.

A “protest poem” against an intolerant military order running in the name of religion, “Hum Dekhenge” has remained the most popular poem in Pakistan’s underground society, and for some very good reasons. But do those reasons apply to the present-day India?

Frequently in exile for protesting oppressive regimes, Faiz had written it in 1979 against military dictator Ziaul Haq. It was promptly banned. All copies were destroyed, till on Faiz’s death in 1986, Iqbal Bano, dressed in a black saree that Zia had outlawed, sang it in a small auditorium in Lahore. It brought the house down with excitement. The police seized all recording of this poem save one that was smuggled out of Pakistan and it is now available on Youtube. It is indeed inspiring.

But can it be adopted in India? The language is alien to most Indians today. Then, Faiz is identified with Communism. Although he belonged to both India and Pakistan, Faiz’s nationality and ideology are anathema to India’s current ruling classes and large sections of populace they have successfully seduced.

There is bound to be hostility to Faiz’s invocation of Islamic symbols and imageries. He was an atheist and his deliberate use of them only infuriated the conservatives. And conservatives, aggressive and intolerant, are ruling all across the world today.

These classes are worried about spread of culture they do not approve of. Saare Jahan Se Achha of Muhammad Iqbal is arguably third-most popular Indian song, both as a lyric and a martial tune, after Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s “Vande Maataram”. Indian conservatives, Hindu and Muslim, have had problems with all three through the long years of the freedom movement and thereafter.

Hum Dekhenge comes in more complex times that are less ideological and more ‘pragmatic’.  They are more difficult judging from the way words “Inquilab’ and “Azadi” that were part and parcel of India’s freedom movement have, ironically, come to mean ‘secession’ and are thus, “anti-India”.    

The extent to which the current ethos has over-whelmed ideas that have been inclusive and pluralist is evident from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, one of the country’s best institution of higher technological learning, forming a committee to judge if “Hum Dekhenge”, sung at a campus rally, has “anti-Indian” content. Elsewhere, the song has been declared “anti-Hindu.”

Writers-poets Gulzar and Javed Akhtar have stressed that a song written against Pakistan’s military junta couldn’t have ‘Indian’ or ‘Hindu’ context.  Javed termed the controversy “absurd and funny”.

The verse that gave offence was: Jab arz-e-khuda ke ka’abe se, sab buut uthwaae jaayenge / Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram, masnad pe bithaaye jaayenge / Sab taaj uchhale jaayenge, sab takht giraaye jaayenge/ Bas naam rahega Allah ka… (From the abode of God, when the idols of falsehood will be removed/ When we, the faithful, who have been barred from sacred places, will be seated on a high pedestal/ When crowns will be tossed, when thrones will be brought down, only Allah’s name will remain.)

The objection was to the word “buut” (idol) which was taken as a reference to idols of deities that Hindus worship and to Allah and was therefore, a communal insult. India, it would seem, is not offended by Faiz’s “communalism”, but by his pluralist message in 2020.

Pakistani writer Khaled Ahmed laments India’s “decline into religion” when saner Pakistanis are looking up to an India that they have known and admired for its all-in socio-political ethos.

This reminds of Pakistani poetess, late Fehmida Riaz, who chided Indians with her poem “tum bilkul hum jaise nikle, ab tak kahan they bhai?” (You turned out to be like us, brother. Where were you all this while?)  Will this indignation go unrealized, un-responded in India?

This Pakistani ‘sedition’ is not aimed only at India. A video of students chanting Sarfaroshi ki tamanna at the recent Faiz International Festival in Lahore is on the Internet. The lines were written by Ram Prasad Bismil, who fought and died along with Shaheed Bhagat Singh. This is new India. And perhaps, a new Pakistan (not to be confused with Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan promise).

Let this be said, whatever be the outcome of the protests over the present government’s two controversial moves  — adding to the  accumulated angst on many other issues — this combined muse of the old and the new, even if it falls silent for now, shall revive another day. 

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com