By Don Aguiar
Mumbai: My friend who is part of this government’s right wing political ideology machinery recently came over for a chat or “gappa” as is his take for time pass but actually to get secular feedback on various topics.
Our conversation covered politics, technology, society, faith and other topics close to those leaning on right wing ideology that wants India to be a Hindu Rashtra (nation).
The topics got alarm bells ringing for me. I dismissed the so called ‘development dream’ that this party had promised to gain power. Many Indians still believe in that promise, I am sure.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the government is rampantly converting India to a Hindu nation. It has become a state sponsored agenda implemented with the help of party workers, who are mostly unemployed, as well as by spreading fake news. People tend to believe the fake news because it is repeated several times without anyone contradicting it.
My friend told me that he too had received a slew of fake news items, making them almost believable – for him as well as many Indians.
One thing is certain. Something has gone horribly wrong in our nation since the last couple of years. A campaign is on to spread hate and fear, especially through social media. Little thought is being given to verify those messages and even less time to reflect on the consequences of sharing them.
Recent years have seen fake news is being repeated to make it viral. This worries and frightens the secular-minded.
It is Nazi official, Joseph Goebbels who asked his people to repeat a lie a thousand times so that it becomes the truth. He was notorious for spreading hate and fear that led to the extermination of more than a million Jews. All that began with a campaign that first rode on whispers behind closed doors. When the Nazis came to power, the campaign became state sponsored. When the seeds of hate are sown, the harvest of that hate happens swiftly and without warning. It has already happened across the world and it is happening in India now.
Vested interests, for their political gain, perpetuate lies and hate against minorities and never change their understanding from history to culture. They often use the state machinery to meet their devious ends. Such persons can never lay claim to nationalism for they are truly anti-national.
The government has not fulfilled any of those so-called promises it made before the last general election. Instead, it is compromising the laws of the country to suit its ideology. The prime minister and his ministers maintain a deafening silence or at times. At times, they issue diluted statements without firmness or truthfulness just to please the public.
The promise of development is a lie and a mask of promoting right wing political ideology. The propaganda machine that promotes these goals permanently scars the nation.
Our press presently faces intimidation if it runs stories critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration. It is another matter that our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech to our media industry, the biggest and most diverse in the world.
At least three senior editors have reported to have left their jobs with influential media outlets in the past six months after reports they published angered the government or supporters of the ruling party.
Some reporters, as well as television anchors, have told Reuters about being threatened with physical harm, abused on social media and ostracized by the administration.
“Reporters Without Borders” said that “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals. Hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies.”
“Reporters Without Borders” counted instances of Indian journalists being killed because of what they wrote.
“At least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work,” it said.
Among them was editor and publisher Gauri Lankesh, a vocal advocate of secularism and critic of right-wing political ideology. A member of a hardline Hindu group has been arrested for the murder of Lankesh, who was gunned down outside her home.
Some journalists in India say they believe media freedoms are now under greater threat as the country gears up for general election next year. Restrictions on reporting are likely to intensify. The government will use every resource in its command to pressurize, manipulate, misguide media or to tame voices which seek to be independent, says Harish Khare, who resigned as editor-in-chief of the Tribune newspaper in April.
Government ministers have coined a term “presstitute” to describe journalists, who do not do their bidding.
Ravish Kumar, a news anchor who critiques the government in his program for NDTV’s Hindi-language channel, said he has been constantly harassed and threatened by pro-government activists. “This is very organized, they follow me. When I go out to report, a crowd gathers in 10 minutes,” he told Reuters.
Journalists say that media proprietors, who often have multiple kinds of businesses, are risk averse and can be leaned on by the government. Media proprietors are notorious for reading the tea leaves; they get a clear sense of the tolerance level of politicians in power.
With the right wing government actively pursuing the promotion of their policies with little secular or media opposition, my friend is happy that his group’s dreams will materialize soon.