Unless we have a repeat of 2000 when George W Bush was handed over an infamous win by the Supreme Court of the United States of America against Al Gore, or the mail ballots themselves transform from blue to red, a Joe Biden presidency looks all but certain.
Donald Trump, however, can be credited for sustaining the positive opinion for himself in the traditionally red states and the ones he won in 2016, given the clueless handling of the coronavirus pandemic where the citizens of the land of the free and home of the brave were hurriedly scouting for masks, ventilators, PPE kits, and of course, toilet paper.
Trump also deserves accolades for proving the high-headed experts in the mainstream media wrong. Most had predicted a landslide victory for Biden. The so-called ‘reputed’ experts like those of FiveThirtyEight had given Trump less than 1 per cent chance of making it back to the White House.
Every known pollster in the mainstream media had predicted a landslide for Biden and a disastrous departure for the President. Trump proved all of them wrong.
Yet, Trump’s exit from the White House, irrespective of how good the Senate numbers look for Republicans or how constrained Biden’s presidency could be given the political mumbo jumbo, is a shot in the arm for mainstream media. They may not have won many battles in this larger war, but they have won the war, and they have got Trump departing from the White House.
However, it’s not just the mainstream media in the United States that must be patting their backs.
Back home in India, many lobbies and groups on the Left, from media to academicians, would cheer on this victory, because the victory of Biden and that of mainstream media in the US gives them a much-needed hope of winning 2024.
Already, we had many ‘reputed’ journalists of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) era congratulating the cumbersome and faulty electoral process of the US, some even demanding the same to be implemented in India. Some were celebrating the suppression of fascism by liberal forces, and some were already mobilising support to do the same in India in 2024. Some, as they have always, advocated the use of ballot papers.
The Indian Right, since 2014, has had a lot of reasons to celebrate.
However, the Left has only grown sinister in its agendas and pursuits. We saw a glimpse of it when the debate around Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) occurred, the protests in Shaheen Bagh and the riots in the capital of India on the day Trump was to arrive in the country.
Every bit of misinformation around CAA and imaginary National Register of Citizens (NRC) was fuelled and supported by some vested interests of the Left in media, academia, and other influential circles. The Left won that battle while the Right was as clueless as an amateur batsman against the perfect (Jasprit) Bumrah yorker.
Biden’s victory will only fuel their hopes and strength, and 2024, even though a long while from now, will be on their agenda. The Right, starting to sink into complacency, as most by good times are, needs to learn a few critical lessons from the defeat of Trump to prepare for 2024 and beyond.
Firstly, the Right needs to discard its boycott economics. It simply doesn’t work. It’s convenient, yet ineffective, and mostly foolish.
Certain examples are warranted to emphasise the futility of boycotts. Irrespective of what many pledged in June, Chinese smartphones continue to be sold like hot cakes on numerous e-commerce portals. The Indian Premier League (IPL) may have distanced its key sponsor, Vivo, due to the tensions, but instead ended up roping in Dream11, a fantasy league app, with significant Chinese .
Meanwhile, Vivo shipped 8.8 million units in Q3 2020 against 7.4 million units in Q3 2019, registering a 19 per cent growth in market share. Xiaomi, Realme, Vivo and Oppo hold more than 70 per cent of the market in Q3 2020.
During the CAA riots, the public pledged to boycott Farhan Akhtar who mindlessly sat at a protest without an iota of understanding of what he was protesting against. On Instagram, Akhtar shared a map of India with misleading information on the act. The woke millennials, devoid of any reading or interpretation skills beyond the filters of Instagram, amplified the same information.
In December 2019, Ali Fazal, a renowned actor by Bollywood standards, tweeted one of his famous lines from Mirzapur Season 1, showcasing his solidarity with the protests. The tweet was taken down after a brief backlash, but the pledge to boycott him remained.
Almost a year later, the second season of Ali Fazal’s show has been seen by almost everyone, and the ones who did skip it somehow are trying hard to find a corner online to escape the memes associated with the show. The show was India’s biggest digital festival release, and it got the success it aimed for. Guess who was one of the main producers of the show — Farhan Akhtar.
The Indian Right, however, did not learn its lesson. A prominent handle declared that people should be ashamed for choosing to watch Mirzapur 2. Another Twitter handle called for a monetary boycott of Disney+ (previously known as Hotstar), asking people to end their subscriptions because of Akshay Kumar’s latest OTT release being offensive towards Hinduism.
Here’s why they both are wrong, even with their noble intentions.
Firstly, when people pay for the likes of Amazon Prime or Disney+, they aren’t paying for one show, but for a library that includes the best work of Hollywood, local and global news channels, local and global sporting events, and other premium entertainment offerings from around the world.
Expecting someone to discard their Formula 1, IPL, Marvel, and other OTT offerings for one movie is irrational, especially when people are spending more time in their homes.
Two, some OTT platforms, like Prime, do not offer the streaming service alone but are also linked to other benefits like faster delivery for orders. As the culture of super apps gains traction in the future, these bundled services will be the norm.
Lastly, boycotting an OTT platform, for even the most offensive or absurdly made movie, does not impact the producer, given the OTT platforms have already bought the movie. The producers, actors, and other stakeholders have already cashed in their investments. For instance, Akshay Kumar’s latest release was bought by Disney+ for Rs 125 crore. Amazon Prime has already commissioned a third season for Farhan Akhtar’s Mirzapur.
This brings me to the second lesson, that of creating alternatives.
Only a few weeks ago, a smear campaign, spearheaded by one of B-town’s mediocre actresses, against a book on Delhi riots of 2020 resulted in the book being withdrawn by Bloomsbury. Right away, Garuda Prakashan, a local yet lesser-known publisher decided to publish the book.
In no time, record orders were placed for the book. More than 15,000 pre-orders were placed for the book. Some prominent authors then chose to discontinue publishing with Bloomsbury, and hopefully, will turn to local publishers now.
This is the importance of creating alternatives, and not just in publishing, but also in other sectors.
Calling for a boycott of an OTT platform will not sustain any sensible cause, but nurturing voices and artists that offer an alternative viewpoint shall. Why boycott Hotstar or Prime and why not instead support cinema and help it find a place on these platforms or any other?
Calling for a boycott of a news channel heavily inclined towards the Left won’t help, but supporting a free voice, void of any vested political interests will go a long way in neutralising the false narrative propagated by the likes of New York Times. Why not start by supporting Swarajya’s Patreon programme .
The Indian Right must invest in alternative channels in every sector. We have seen the positive results when it comes to media, publishing, and now even in some academic circles. However, for 2024 and beyond, a lot more needs to be done when it comes to education, entertainment, television news, print media, and overall ground narrative.
The investments shouldn’t always be on the national level. They can and must be regional, given the diversity that exists in India. Even today, no ground network exists in states like Kerala or Punjab that can neutralise or counter the narrative of the Left in any sector.
Three, the Indian Right must give up on its jingoism and mindless support of the government. The inability to see the faults of the leader, the curse that took down the Left in 2014 and 2019, threatens the Indian Right in 2024.
Ask the difficult questions, even if it means embracing the mistakes of one’s favourite party publicly. Currently, many prominent voices on the Right have resorted to the habit of declaring any move by the government as an unprecedented success. For instance, for some, demeaning China and proving its weakness against India using stray events or selective news pieces is a service to the Right. They are wrong.
Four, future voters must be taken into account. By 2024, a new generation of voters will be ready who would not resonate with the Left of pre-2014. They would need relevant reasons from the day to vote for National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or any party on the Right.
Thus, the Indian Right must stop centring its narrative around one single leader, be it nationally or locally. The focus should be the ideology and not the individual when it comes to catering to the future voters.
Lastly, within the Indian Right, the ones well-positioned must focus on creating alternate platforms. If Twitter can censor the voice of the sitting president of the United States, they won’t think twice about doing the same to any leader in India they don’t align with politically.
Threatening Facebook or Twitter via Joint Parliamentary Committees (JPCs) doesn’t undo the damage that is caused by the propagation of one-sided narrative. If not dominate, the Right must focus on neutralising the propaganda of the Left using these platforms.
Calling for a boycott of Twitter on Twitter due to frozen follower count is not going to sustain for long. Thus, it’s imperative for well-positioned stakeholders of the Indian Right to invest in capacity building, at least when it comes to social media platforms.
The ban on TikTok inspired enough innovation and proved that there is an appetite in the country for alternative platforms, even if they are a clone.
Some platforms can be run as public companies, inviting like-minded people to contribute through pockets if not by skill.
Post-20 January 2021, it will be business as usual for the likes of FiveThirtyEight or New York Times or CNN. The narrative will again be cultivated, constructed, and curated with a focus on 2024, and on keeping the Right out of the White House.
However, another ideological battle will brew back home before the end of 2024, and that is going to be more sinister as the Indian Left would look to reclaim power after 10 long years.
The Indian Right must discard its complacency, wherever it exists, and take the cue from Trump’s defeat. The focus should shift from convenient boycotts and careless jingoism to calculated investments and capacity building for the future of India. The vision of the Indian Right must go beyond the election cycle.
To paraphrase Harvey Dent from The Dark Night, you either counter the narrative or remain ignorant long enough to be owned by it.
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