Behind BBC’s Skewed Coverage Of Ram Nath Kovind’s Presidential Election Win

Behind BBC’s Skewed Coverage Of Ram Nath Kovind’s Presidential Election WinPresident of India Ram Nath Kovind (Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • What BBC chose to tell about the presidential election win of Ram Nath Kovind speaks volumes about the India narrative it has been pursuing.

Hardly a week goes by without the taxpayer-funded BBC trotting out an atrocity tale or two, centred on cows, caste and conflict in India. The Asian Network radio channel survives almost exclusively on such fare, packaging it around inanities from Bollywood.

Despite its highbrow image, Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’, a weekly broadcast on religion, is no exception. A couple of weeks ago, it showcased the terror attack in Amarnath as simply being “pilgrims caught in a gun battle between police and militants”.

Naturally, the BBC’s Rahul Tandon, safely ensconced in Kolkata’s Howrah station, was on hand to educate listeners about “Kashmiriyat as a sense of tolerance for Hindus” and inform that “pilgrims were always safe … militants in the area would not attack pilgrims”. He also told us that civilised politicians had taken a stand against those who would wish to “divide us”, whoever the “us” may have been, but failed to entertain that “Kashmiriyat” is nothing other than cultural genocide under a closeted sharia.

Last weekend, the flagship religious programme wantonly and wittingly indulged in communalising the entirely secular election of the President of India.

It was an exhibition of which every Indian secularist would be proud.

Before that, it is apt to reflect on the nature of this radio programme using one example from the same broadcast. This was an extended item on the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which is currently rolling silently within the crumbling bastions of European Protestantism.

Martin Luther, a seminal figure in the Reformation, enjoyed several minutes of populist, pro-protestant coverage in what amounted to a dose of religious fervour by an otherwise-secular BBC.

Luther’s acrimonious public disputes with the Catholic authorities were likened to modern TV debates; his use of the then recently adopted printing press as a publicity machine was piously projected as the vehicle of attack against anti-Reformation enemies. Business support from Luther’s contemporaries in making and marketing woodcuts, portraits, sermons and songs was celebrated as an act of the sixteenth-century “Reformation going viral”.

Protestant cartoons mocking the then established Church, showing devils excreting monks as populist propaganda of the movement, were jokingly conjoined in “theses and faeces”. Luther’s virulent anti-semitism, which still endures as a poisonous remnant in Western society, as vocalised in his calls to burn synagogues, take Jews into forced labour and eradicate Jewish culture, was presented in a matter-of-fact fashion with passing aplomb.

All this may not be a tricky legacy for some Protestants today since the BBC was eager to share with us that “Luther Still Sells” in the form of noodles, fluffy toys and even Reformation beer and bread rolls. It was remarked that, if Luther were operating today, he’d be big on Twitter and YouTube. Apparently, it was the sixteenth-century media revolution that made the Reformation happen and, by the sound of things, the BBC would have been proud to be a part of it then, as it seems to be today.

Back to the BBC’s coverage of the Indian President: here’s the transcript of the broadcast, with no additions, the only edits made to present it in readable form. Those interested can listen between 4:35 and 8:03 minutes.

Presenter: “India has a new president, and he’s a Dalit, a member of India’s lowest caste. We have on the line Michael Safi, SE Asia correspondent with the Guardian. Ram Nath Kovind: tell us a bit about him”.

MS: “Ram Nath Kovind is 71 years old, a former governor of Bihar, one of NE India’s largest states and also one of the poorest. The most notable thing about Mr Kovind is that he belongs to the Kohli sub-caste in the Dalit broader caste and as you’ve said, this is the caste, who up to 1947, were not even included in Hinduism formally. They were considered outcastes, and they suffered thousands of years of discrimination, oppression and exclusion to an extreme degree. Its notable that this gentleman is now effectively the head of state of the entire country.

Presenter: “But in the main, are they still very much discriminated against?”

MS: “Yes indeed. This is India’s 70th year of independence. Despite years of affirmative actions and programs attempting to bring Dalits into the mainstream by reservations in jobs, colleges and so on, it is going to take a fairly long time to erase what amounts to many thousands of years of discrimination.

One of the most notable Dalit leaders was a man called BR Ambedkar. He rose to a point where he was even a drafter of India’s constitution. In one of his famous speeches called “The annihilation of caste”, he talked about examples where Dalits in some villages were forced to wear spittoons from their necks because their saliva was considered impure and people from the village didn’t want to be supposedly infecting the environment around them. In another village, they were forced to wear brooms from their belts so that they could sweep away their footprints as they were considered to be dirty, infecting and polluting. It was really a visceral type of discrimination that persisted for thousands of years, so it can’t be erased in a mere 70 years.

Presenter: “And how does this development fit in with the broader political picture in India?”

MS: “It’s really interesting! The ruling party in India, the BJP, is the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Traditionally the party has been regarded as a party of the upper castes, of the traders, of rich Hindus. One of the phenomena we are seeing in India today is the broadening of this appeal of the party by Modi and his allies. One of the things they have tried to do is to change the perception of the BJP from the party of the rich people to a party of the masses.

“I think what they are hoping to do with this selection (of Kovind), is to send a message to Dalits in India to say: You may not have trusted us before but now we are on your side, and you know, we should have your votes for the next election which is less than two years away”.

Presenter: “We should of course point out that the job of President is not an executive one, is it?”

MS: “That’s correct. It has very minor executive functions. It plays the role similar to that of the governor general in Australia or, I suppose, even the queen in the UK. It’s a ceremonial role and on paper it is quite powerful but in practice, in the way it’s actually played out, the president defers to whatever the PM wants”

Presenter: “Thank you”.

By these simple means, in a little over 200 seconds, the British taxpayer and anyone else in the universe listening, is now informed of all there is to know about the Head of State of 1.3 billion people.

Very nice and simple for the BBC: get someone from the Guardian to parrot a much-hackneyed speech from nearly a century ago and regurgitate his piece as if it were revelatory. Why bother with someone who may have worked with and knows President Ram Nath Kovind to inform the listener about the values that the first citizen stands for?

Leave aside ignorance of Hinduism and India. Why would any journalist or news outlet be concerned with the Constitutional details that the post of President of India carries formal powers including those of signing or vetoing all legislation and as Commander in Chief of the Armed forces, and that the elected position is decided in a closed ballot of the elected representatives of the Indian people, and not, as in the case of Australia, an appointment by the British queen on the recommendation of a prime minister or, more pointedly, a job for life that is kept in the family, as has happened in the United Kingdom for centuries?

So, that’s India and Hindu religion as covered by the BBC Religion department, with a little help from the Guardian. Done and dusted for another week: news about perfidious pagans in desperate need of converting, succinctly communicated to the middle classes in the Shires just as they awake to get ready for their Sunday, ever dwindling numbers of them, to sit in cold, musty, dilapidated, church pews.

How easy was that?

Joe Public can rest easy in the knowledge that his tax monies are well spent, and the BBC can take pride in its charter to “inform, educate and entertain”.

Nothing could be better.

Except that …

The BBC did not deign it important to inform us of trivialities like: President Ram Nath Kovind was born in poverty in a mud hut in a part of India where Hindus have for centuries been under the cosh of iconoclastic invaders and Christian colonists; a man who rose from humble beginnings to get an education, to practice law, to serve as personal assistant to a former prime minister, and be a quiet yet living, active social activist.

Here is a man who has achieved in law, politics and public life in advancement of social welfare and justice for a broad and aspiring constituency. In short, President Kovind is different from the disruptive, non-productive India and Hindu-hating activists so popular with Western media.

Indeed, it is precisely this portraiture that the BBC has simultaneously manifested on their web portal.

Execute a simple ploy: find “Dalit activists” who can proclaim ignorance about Kovind – "I go to seminars on Dalits. I write opinion pieces. I appear on TV debates. My job is to work around the subject. But I don't know anything about him," or this one – "He seems to be an educated, conscientious person but I have never heard him take a stand on Dalit issues. It could be my ignorance”, or this gem – "(it) seems only two people knew about his candidature. PM Narendra Modi and God".

It is well known that Dalit is not a “caste”, although the BBC's interlocutors in India consider the BBC so stupid as to buy anything these local “Dalit activists” inform them of, as long as it fits the existing permitted narrative on India.

The allegation that Dalits, however defined, were not considered to be Hindu is multiply false. For, logically, as per Protestant discourse and British colonial wisdom, there being no Hindu religion, how could Dalits have fitted or not fitted into something that did not exist?

But all this is only minor inconvenience in the big, civilising picture. Behind Christian attempts to separate Hindus and Dalits, which the “Dalit activists” in India have aped so well, is the idea that Dalits are a separate people who forcibly or otherwise had to submit to “Brahmanism” as the dominant, exclusionary religious order. This is the basis upon which the Aryan invasion thesis took root.

Conjuring two distinct peoples, one dominant, who must have invaded and imposed their laws, institutions and religion upon the other, subservient, and who are now lionised as the perpetual victims, is a nice narrative in the cause of conversions.

Hindus, it seems, must suffer perpetual shame for a conjured Aryan invasion whilst at the same time have to live in denial of the real, multiple, rapacious invasions of their sacred spaces over the last millennium.

Neither did the BBC seem to think it worthwhile to tell us that, unlike UK Inc. and the BBC itself, both of which suffer trenchant identity politics, institutionalised class divisions, and gender and race discrimination, it is the irredeemable pagan Hindu, the common constituency of the Indian Republic, that has continued to offer Kovind and millions of fellow citizens like him of similar background the opportunity to rise.

Why, for one thing, does it still remain entirely unnoticed by the BBC that, despite regular promotion of anti-India and “minorities under threat” propaganda as “news”, there is little evidence of boatloads of “persecuted Indian minorities” floating to European shores seeking safety and succour away from the Hindus?

Even of the sanctimonious, it is too much to ask: When can the world expect the BBC to appoint a leader born in a hut?

So, instead, being practical: If the BBC had an ounce of integrity, the producers and presenters might be driven to introspect and ask: If a gay protestant priest (whose story was also covered in the same episode) can be presented in touching and human terms, why does President Ram Nath Kovind not deserve the same dignity?

If the priest’s struggle with his sexual identity and his triumph over church bigotry and, as his proud sister said, “… he was not a single-issue priest, he didn’t want to be known just as gay”, can be a religiously uplifting story, why can’t President Ram Nath Kovind’s story be similarly human and touching?

But then, we better not go there. The untermenchen have to simply accept that such luxuries are strictly prohibited to pagans and women.

Or, it could be that broadcaster and journalist Nick Ferrari is right when he commented: “What is utterly appalling is that such a snooty, vainglorious, preaching organisation that revels in sneering about so many others is guilty of treating female employees in the most appallingly discriminatory fashion by paying them so much less than male counterparts”.

Jay Jina is a UK-based third generation NRI. Besides pursuing a professional career as a European IT Director with a multinational and a part time university academic, Jay’s interests span history, current affairs, the Indian Diaspora and the history and politcs of Science.

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