Ide(a)s Of March

The Lok Sabha Election Circus is Back in Town! Amit Sengupta, cuts through the predictable, media-generated hype around the purported groundswell of support for Narendra Modi and his alleged ‘Gujarat Miracle’…


It is almost waiting at the next arid by lane, near the dirty sewage nullah in the next UP moffussil town with a hot jalebi cart buzzing with flies perched on its shores and everything seems to be right with the world. And yet, everything is in flux.

The predictably unpredictable cesspool of Indian politics is rapidly steaming up into an ancient and inevitable pressure cooker situation, especially with the television media shouting itself hoarse into a situation of perpetual no return. Indeed, among the cacophony of the ‘cooker whistles’, in this stark, cultivated limelight of fame and infamy, the solitary whistle in the dark seems to be eternally lost.

As usual, a bit of crude anti-catharsis also arrived on – where else? – live TV. Earlier in February, during one of those slanging matches on a live show in a Hindi news channel, where the classical symphony of rational discourse is overruled by the jarring orchestra of mindless and juvenile high decibel debating contests, a rather vociferous and compulsive woman, an AAP dissenter, slapped an equally belligerent AAP spokesperson inside the TV studio itself ! If this was a stunning slapstick and high TRP soap, then the box office curtains have not even fallen half-way. Hello 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the blockbuster to beat all blockbusters. All Near and Dear are invited. As spring mingles with the last hoary breath of winter, the great circus has yet again arrived, with the acidic nip of fascism in the air.

Hello 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the blockbuster to beat all blockbusters. All Near and Dear are invited. As spring mingles with the last hoary breath of winter, the great circus has yet again arrived, with the acidic nip of fascism in the air.

Meanwhile, the prototype of the famously brilliant and infamously fascist Leni Riefenstahl camera, which turned the ‘little man’ with a funny moustache called Adolf Hitler into a giant with innovative camera techniques across the kaleidoscope of multiple shots, seems to have yet again arrived in contemporary India. With multiple cameras and cranes, zooming in from the one-dimensional totalitarian image into a xenophobic multitude of mythical aura, power and charisma, with the crowd of fanatics multiplied into tens of thousands, and the entire docu-fiction of exaggeration seemed to have returned once again. Reporters on the ground are of the view that many of the ‘live’ rallies of the neo-Nazi messiah of the masses are also replicas of a Riefenstahl kind of fake encounter, whereby a bunch of whiz kids manipulate, manage and manufacture the TV ‘feed’, which literally creates one giant vulture, floating alone in this parasitic sky, riding upon the wings of cannibalism, at once a metaphor and a memory of the concentration camps and gas chambers of the Holocaust past of Europe.

The same feed, often, goes into the ‘cut and live’ monologues of the Great Helmsman which are showcased as objective news on some of the channels. Cynics and insiders call this ‘paid news’, but there is no real evidence to prove that. Truly, if the crowd is 50,000, as a hard-nosed reporter and the trained cop will quickly find out, hired and packed into buses from the hinterland, the camera moving on the crane will pan into a mythical camouflage where the same crowd seems like ten times more in numbers. And, thereby, finally, this fabulous camouflage itself turns into chest-thumping realism as ‘live news’ — as a grandstanding ovation to the Hindutva saviour, backed by the corporates.

Gujarat's CM Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in Gujarat

This is a unique historical phenomenon. Even Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, or Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, or even Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama, leaders with truly huge global and national popularity, never really got this kind of unprecedented ‘live’ coverage, day in, day out. It’s like ‘India Shining’ all over again. It is also a unique twist in the tallest tale of ‘ethical maximisation of profit at all costs’ that the same corporate media (and the billionaires and millionaires, and the upwardly mobile classes with deep pockets), who were the ultimate and sole beneficiaries of neo liberalism under the ‘Washington Cartel’ of Manmohan Singh, have ditched Mr. Singh so brazenly and crudely even while he remains the prime minister with all the powers of the market at his disposal.

This is a classic case of a sinister coup d’etat, like a ghost film of the silent era running in an empty auditorium. The irony is that the current PM has not even contested a single parliamentary election during the last ten years. And, pray, what has he done for the people of Assam or the Northeast from where he is cushioned as a Rajya Sabha MP? This betrayal by capitalism is obvious and ‘live’, and the panning of the camera is for all to see, even while the multitudes on the margins have been crushed by the blatantly pro-rich policies of the discredited Congress regime.

The sound of the jackboot and the drums of the neo-Nazi war machine only get louder and louder. At the precise moment the world seems to losing interest, the camera zooms in, like a doctored manuscript layered with a bitter realism. So, who doctors the scripts of much of the ‘free media’ in the world’s largest democracy? Who writes the prescription of sleeping pills when the world is so full of insomnia? Can there be other ‘ways of seeing’ apart from seeing the way they want us to see the future of democracy all the time? Indeed, do they really believe in Indian democracy, secular pluralism, or the directive principles in the Constitution of India?

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi meets martyr's family

Indeed, Arvind Kejriwal has asked the right question to Narendra Modi in a long love letter, which, I am told, he wants to reproduce into 10-crore-plus copies, considering the fact that most media outfits in India keep their eyes fully shut when it comes to a certain fat cat corporate honcho who seems to own even the air we breathe, and who once so famously called the Congress his ‘dukaan’ in those scintillating Nira Radia tapes which featured the most hallowed journalists of our profession. Truly, where does the Nazi messiah get all the crores to fly all over the country and steal the thunder inside Sunday drawing rooms?

Surely, even as the Congress pumps in a flood of ‘sarkari’ ads on TV, ad-gurus Prasoon Joshi and Piyush Pandey, who have reportedly joined a Rs. 400-crore BJP ad-blitz club as creative masterminds, might have to answer a few non-lyrical questions. Where does all the money come from, to promote the campaign of a legendary chaiwallah? Surely, a canteen contractor is different from a humble street-corner chaiwallah with no social security umbrella, bank balance or corporate backing? Or is it yet again the case of Feku going berserk with manufactured PR lies, as was the case with the Great Rescue Operation during the devastating Uttarakhand floods, even while the Indian Army and Air Force found themselves so helpless in the ravaged landscape? Or, is it like the fake statistics of the fake ‘Gujarat model’, debunked so decisively by all concerned who know their numbers, including Amartya Sen.)

Intentionally, or with strategic intent, there is no doubt that Kejriwal’s AAP has put a spanner in the juggernaut that has been so decisively created around the Hindutva Hriday Samrat. The Modi buzz has grown stronger only to become more confusing and inarticulate. With the high-moralground, middle-class electorate and the floating-Rightwing vote bank moving between the AAP and BJP, with the Congress totally discredited (even while the anti-Congress wave becomes a simmering storm), and the ‘third front’ positing a cognitive challenge in the regions, this show’s post-interval movie’s climax is still hazy and without contours.

AAP leaders are lying through their teeth when they say that only a miniscule section who voted for them in Delhi will also vote for Modi. The fact is, as certain internal surveys have proven, the majority of those who voted for AAP might also turn out to be the voters for Modi. The BJP only gained in Delhi, even while the AAP ate into the vote bank of the Congress and almost the entire support base of the BSP. So what is really the guarantee that they will make a dent into the core BJP support base? Or, will they yet again eat up the vote shares of other opposition/secular parties, giving advantage to BJP?

March 14-28

That is why AAP leaders are eternally treading the dubious middle ground, almost like the earlier Congress’s ‘soft Hindutva’ election campaigns in Gujarat, where all Congress leaders were decisively told not to utter a single word against Modi or the Gujarat genocide of 2002; that is why their entire anti-corruption campaign avoided the names of Modi or Yeduyurappa or the Bellary mining mafia and the series of fake encounters in Gujarat; that is why almost the entire top police brass of Modi is in jail or under the shadow of charge sheets, and why the ‘snoopgate’ and extra-constitutional surveillance of a woman under Amit Shah and ‘Saheb’ across several states of India means nothing to them. Did a single AAP leader take up cudgels against the organised communal violence in Muzzaffarnagar, socially engineered by the BJP-RSS with the Samajwadi Party regime as tacit accomplices to turn the bloody sugarcane fields of western UP into polarised vote-banks?

If they stand for Purna Swaraj, then what about the Swaraj of the people of Kashmir or the Northeast? And if they are so strongly against police repression in Delhi, how come they are such jolly good fellows when it comes to backing ‘internal security’ in Kashmir or the AFSPA?

In a sense, they share the same tactical dilemmas, opportunism, compromises and silences as the Congress, because they want to fly with the fascists, the floaters, and the secularists all at the same time, even while chest-thumping that they are the purest of the pure in a world full of sin. That is why, when asked by Barkha Dutt as to what is his position on communalism, Kejriwal said, “Imaandari”.

And yet, despite the best intentions of Rahul Gandhi, the thick-skinned Congress leadership has already lost the election in their minds. Do they care, after making hay all these 10 years in power? Do they care that they will be remembered as singularly responsible for the creating the grounds for the emergence of totalitarian fascism in the country?

In any case, while the Hindi heartland might not be a cakewalk for Modi, the south and east are totally out of his reach, with a chunk of Lok Sabha seats. In Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Assam, and the Northeast, the BJP supports hovers around zero. And if the ‘secular third front’ is intelligent enough to tie up tacit alliances on the ground, the vote shift can decisively go against the BJP even in Bihar and UP.

And yet, despite the best intentions of Rahul Gandhi, the thick-skinned Congress leadership has already lost the election in their minds. Do they care, after making hay all these 10 years in power? Do they care that they will be remembered as singularly responsible for the creating the grounds for the emergence of totalitarian fascism in the country? Ask any Congress leader about why they are so reluctant to take on the ‘mass murders’ of Gujarat, or get after Amit Shah, or dismantle the fake Gujarat model? They will instantly move into denial mode and blame public perception for their plight. Blame it on people, the final cliché. Truly, despite the Modi buzz, the ground beneath the earth might not be facing great tectonic shifts. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s rally in Gorakhpur, for instance, was as big as that of Modi, but the media downplayed it. Yadav’s rally in Varanasi on the day Modi was all over TV in Gorakhpur, Riefenstahl style, was bigger than the Gorakhpur rally. Mayawati’s Lucknow rally was equally huge. Jayalalitha is going to be a winner in Tamil Nadu; to name just a few examples.

Hence, as of now, the poll chess game is wide open. All we have to do is to hear the sounds of silence amidst the cacophony, even while the Nazi drum beats grow louder.

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students' Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people's movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

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