The elections are over, the official results are out as I sit down to write this. I wrote about the 1998 general elections and the coming to power of the BJP-led National Democratic coalition in a two-volume book that was published in 2001.
In a manner of speaking, the same set of actors, or their recruits, progeny, and students are the players, and the playbook is the same, with access to the “mainstream” media limited and confined to the “left/secular/progressive” writers and their network of academics, experts, and political ideologues. However, the internet and social media have changed the political and social dynamics, and we can therefore hear howls of protest from the entrenched propagandists – both Indian and their Western abettors.
In 1998, editors like N Ram of The Hindu Frontline collaborated with ideologues both in India and in the US to start a “watch group” called “BJP Watch”. They presented a biased selection of commentaries and reports that proclaimed the BJP was “communal and fascist” on arrival and remained “communal and fascist” when it was brought down by the machinations of Jayalalithaa and Sonia Gandhi in 1999.
The creation of this “watch group” was described benignly by an India Today report as “peculiar” and “adventurous” (“Conspiracy Theory: An NRI left-right battle may lead to an international group monitoring Vajpayee’s ministry,” India Today, April 13, 1998).
The India Today report went on to say that the “watch group” was “… planned as a committee of social scientists, journalists and assorted Marxist thinkers which will monitor Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government”. One of those academic/activists was S P Udayakumar, then a Research Associate and Co Director of Programs at the Institute on Race and Poverty, at the University of Minnesota.
This is the same Udayakumar, the anti-nuclear activist, propped up by the church, who sought to undermine the Kudankulam Nuclear Project. Udayakumar, in 1998, claimed that he had “at least 10 internationally acclaimed” scholars ready to back the “watch group” but did not want to reveal their names.
However, the list was a bit of an open secret – supposedly covering names such as Tanika Sarkar, Gyanendra Pandey, Praful Bidwai and Aijaz Ahmad. No doubt that N. Ram, editor and master ideologue of The Hindu group of newspapers/magazines who has converted the once staid and neutral newspaper to a version of a “party rag” was the instigator and prime architect of the “BJP Watch Group”.
In 1998, he claimed that, “Given the RSS’ semi-fascist origins, we are suspicious about the BJP’s attitude towards civil society and democracy.... The BJP threatens the institutions of civil society”. The same newspaper has been a front for the likes of Udayakumar, and thus we find that an interview of him in The Hindu claiming that he has no “official” connection with the church.
Frontline magazine became the platform for the watch-group’s members to vent their spleen against Vajpayee, the NDA government, and the RSS. That the BJP was leading a coalition government with socialists like George Fernandes, with regional parties like the Lok Shakti and the Telugu Desam Party, and with the support of the AIADMK and the DMK, was deliberately ignored by the organisers of the “BJP Watch”.
Udayakumar presented a paper on “BJP Government Watch” at the annual South Asia Conference in Madison (University of Wisconsin) in October 1998. In the question and answer session, he dismissed rudely those questioners who challenged both his data and his theories. He went on to accuse the BJP of being a party of rapists and murderers, because of the rape of four nuns in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh.
That the rape was perpetrated by local Christians/tribals and that the details were emerging in the police investigations were completely ignored by him. He ended up comparing Vajpayee to Zhirinovsky of Russia and Le Penn of France. He accused the Vajpayee government of nuclear brinkmanship. No mention was made that the Vajpayee government had Fernandes as the Defence Minister, and that Abdul Kalam, a Muslim, was the brains behind much of India’s rocketry - travelling all over India and lauding the success of the nuclear testing.
He also completely ignored the fact that Indian scientists had been working for decades fine-honing India’s nuclear capability and, therefore, were able to perform the complex nuclear testing within two months of the BJP-led government assuming office. He failed to mention too that there were reports that all the prime ministers, since Nehru, were involved in supporting the Indian nuclear programme.
The day the NDA government fell on 17 April 1999, the “BJP Government Watch” posted a message on the South Asian Journalists’ Association forum proclaiming:
The message made it seem that India had been unshackled from governance worse than that of India’s colonial masters, or that of the brutal Muslim marauders of medieval times. N. Ram continued to be the “BJP Government Watch” sponsor, and it was, therefore, rather strange when the President of India, K. N. Narayanan, a staunch Congressman, and a fierce opponent of the BJP, foregoing the traditional Independence Day eve address to the nation on 14 August 1998 allowed himself to be interviewed on Doordarshan by N. Ram.
That Ram was hand-selected for the interview by the President, who later played his part in hastening the demise of the Vajpayee government, was evidence enough for his ties to the Congress Party as he proposed the Vajpayee government seek a confidence vote, and when the government lost it by a margin of one vote, he waited more than two weeks to let Sonia Gandhi try and cobble together a majority.
That was the establishment/deep state then, and that establishment/deep state is still very much in place though seriously threatened by Narendra Modi’s careful and strategic approach in starving them of access to him and his cabinet members, and in denying them of the goodies they were so used to under the Congress regime.
It is 2019, and India is on the cusp of ushering in a second term of the BJP-led NDA government, headed by Narendra Modi. We do not have a designated “BJP Watch Group” but we have other combinations and coalitions seeking to do the same that they did in 1998: undermine a duly elected government.
Thus, in the lead up to the election results, for over two weeks now, there has been a coordinated effort by the elite media in India, and their abettors and collaborators in the West, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, the BBC, the Guardian, etc., to ratchet up the attacks on Modi and the BJP knowing that the people of India have cast their votes and they have cast them in favour of the BJP and its allies.
Here is a list of the articles in The New York Times over the past week on the Indian elections, and while the headlines can be benign or seemingly non-partisan, the reporting and commentary are willfully anti-Modi and anti-BJP:
• “In India’s Elections, Female Candidates Still Need Men’s Blessings” – May 14, 2019
• “Modi Promised Better Days and Bridges. India’s Voters Are Still Waiting” – May 16, 2019
• “Women in India, Tell Us How You Voted in This Election and Why” – May 17, 2019
• “As India’s Elections End, Warring Parties Burn a Village” – May 18, 2019
• “Polls are Closed in India’s Elections: What Happens Next?” – May 19, 2019
• “India’s Narendra Modi Headed for Re-election, Exit Polls Show” – May 19, 2019
• “The Choice in India: ‘Our Trump’ or a Messier Democracy” – May 20, 2019
• “In India, a Dispute Over Women’s Access to a Hindu Temple Plays in Modi’s Favor” – May 21, 2019
• “How a Controversy Over Women Entering This Temple Is Shaping India’s Election” – May 21, 2019
• “In India’s Election, Ailing Congress Party Is Unlikely to Find Its Miracle” – May 21, 2019
In the same period, the following commentaries were published in The New York Times, and here we see, more clearly, the slant in the commentary, and the choice of commentators viscerally opposed to Hindu interests, the BJP, and Narendra Modi:
• “India’s Most Oppressed Get Their Revenge” – May 15, 2019 – by Meena Kandasamy, in which the author claims that, “The Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule came with an attack on Dalits and the minorities. Now Dalit leaders are fighting back to defeat the Hindu nationalists”.
• “They Peddle Myths and Call it History” – May 17, 2019 – by Romila Thapar, in which the author claims that, “India’s governing party rewrites the country’s history to justify its Hindu nationalist ideology”.
• “How My Hometown Became the Epicenter of India’s Religious Politics” – May 18, 2019 – by Pragya Tiwari, in which the author claims that, “Hindu nationalists rose to electoral significance from the debris of the mosque they demolished in 1992”.
• “I Wanted Ronald Reagan. India Kept Electing Bernie Sanders” – May 19, 2019 – by Ruchir Sharma, in which the author claims that, “Government programs, not economic freedom, are what win elections in my home country”. This may be the only non-partisan commentary on Indian matters in recent memory.
We will have to leave it to scholars and other forums to publish thorough content analyses of Western newspapers’ and media outlets’ commentaries and reporting on India leading up to the elections, and during the seven phase, five-week election period, but suffice it to say that the elite Indian press, and Indian academics teaching in the humanities and social sciences, and writing in English, are in cahoots with Western media in peddling a version of India that is Hinduphobic, anti-Modi, anti-BJP, and anti-RSS.
Anyone seeking balance in the reporting and in the analyses, let alone writing in favour of Hindus and of the BJP is denied an opportunity to present their views, and such commentators who do get published elsewhere are tarred and feathered as “fascists, Hindu nationalists, bigots, anti-Muslim,” et cetera.
It is time, therefore, as the BJP-led NDA government assumes office for the second consecutive term, efforts are made to rejig the lop-sided media and education systems that have been commandeered by Hinduphobic elements in India. It is imperative that expert committees are immediately set up to revamp school textbooks on history, culture, art, and government, and that India’s higher education institutions are audited to identify those ideologues and activists masquerading as scholars and challenge their lopsided work.
The Indian media are a different matter and a different species, and it will be left to concerned readers and activists to help strengthen the hands of those seeking to balance the reporting and commentary in newspapers and magazines, and on television and radio.
Leveraging social media is important in this task, and the government should wield its stick sharply to discipline errant social media behemoths. As to the anti-Hindu Western media and academe, we will have to be consistent in calling out their Hinduphobic reporting, commentary, and analyses of Indian matters, and we have to encourage young scholars to take up the study of Indian art, culture, politics, and society, applying Indian ways of knowing and meaning-making to challenge the entrenched academics and commentators.
Let us hope that the next five years will indeed usher in an Indian renaissance and resurgence.
Ramesh N Rao is Professor, Department of Communication, Columbus State University
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