//The Making Of Popular

The Making Of Popular

Nalini Taneja, People's Democracy, May 14, 2006

THE decade following the destruction of the Babri Masjid saw a qualitative advance in the growth of right wing politics in general and the Hindutva political forces in particular, in so far as our country is concerned.

At the global level, there have been qualitative changes in the relationship between right-wing politics, educational process and the media, which are contributing to the creation of a popular ‘commonsense’ that supports and takes for granted not just the process of economic liberalisation but also politics that is characterised by authoritarianism, compromise and lack of sympathy for the working class and other oppressed sections of society.

In India one can clearly see its impact from the eighties onwards, and particularly since 1992, in many ways a watershed in the history of independent India.

We can see a new, undemocratic and sectarian popular consciousness being created before our very eyes. The ruling classes have decided to pick up a great deal of what has been backward in our tradition and to make it part of modern politics. They have sought to align our educational system, the content of our print and television media and forms of political mobilisation with their need to construct a new, sectarian popular common sense that serves their needs today and an equally useful popular memory for tomorrow. A dissection of this process will help us understand not only where we are heading, but why we are where we are today.

The acute conditions of survival in adverse circumstances has made it that much more easier to divide people along lines of identity, religion and caste, and that much more difficult to organise people in struggle, and the ruling classes have made the most of this opportunity. With all the resources at their command they have fashioned media in a way that all the sophisticated modes of manufacturing consent and influencing minds devised and designed by the ad agencies for fostering consumerism have been put to use in promoting a right wing politics.

In the eighties we saw not just critiques that the public sector does not work and people in permanent jobs tend to be lazy, but that secularism has failed in India because it is a western concept, out of tune with our tradition. Pluralism and diversity were posited against secularism; merit was divorced from affirmative action; rationality and efficiency were pitted against planned economy; public investment was shown as detrimental to ‘growth’ economy; and religion and caste were promoted as sensitive markers of identity as opposed to a soulless class affiliation.

Within this broad framework it was easy and useful for the ruling classes to pick up the threads connecting the right wing upsurge in the imperialist world and our own home grown sectarianism, to create a heady mix that made Gujarat 2002 possible and continuously feeds into keeping the relationship between capital and religious fundamentalism alive and strong, to be ignited at will. The Huntington authored ‘Clash of Civilisations’ timed very well with the renewed campaign against the minorities in the 80s and 90s. The defeat of the socialism in the USSR and the envisioning of the new ‘enemy of the civilised world’ in the shape of Islam by the US served the Hindutva campaign here more than we realise.

The media infiltrated by the Hindutva forces during Advani’s stint as Information and Broadcasting minister in the post-Emergency era demolished the Babri Masjid before the Hindutva forces actually razed it to the ground. Well before December 6, 1992, we saw Babri Masjid first transformed into a “disputed structure” –information factually correct because there was a property dispute on the site – not in the sense of dispute over land but a dispute over whether the Babri Masjid had a right to remain undisturbed or was the site of an earlier Ram temple. Again, even as eminent historians proved beyond doubt, on the basis of archaeological and literary evidence that no Ram temple existed on the site where Babri Masjid stood, the media was already terming the area as “Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid complex”. The media was saying two things through this nomenclature: one, that the temple stood on that site prior to the construction of the Babri Masjid; and, two, that Ram was born where the Masjid stood. This nomenclature remains standard in referring to the site or the issue at hand even today, and is accepted without question by most people (incidentally, also in the newly released book authored by P V Narasimha Rao before his death).


The identification of Muslims with terrorism has been similarly already well established, and very consciously we may add. When A B Vajpayee said “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”, he was merely voicing the dominant perception being fostered by his parivar through the media. While nobody can deny the existence Islamic terrorism in India, it is far from true that this is the only form of terrorism in this country, or this part of the world. Islam-bombs-religious fanaticism-mindless cruelty and killing of innocent neutral population are neat equations that all newspapers promote or fall prey to almost every single day in their reporting and news analysis –– even when such actions are not taking place every day, or when the identity of the perpetrators are not known. We hardly need an hour to pass before Hindutva leaders and their supporters in the administration and police and ‘experts’ are ready with their answers, and television screens are taken over by visuals of past ‘encounters’, earlier terrorist acts, a directory of dangerous organisations, of Muslims in Pathan dress with faces covered, women in burqas, and the entire imagery that makes most people believe that all terrorists are Muslims, even against all evidence to the contrary. References to mobile phones, phone numbers and papers that terrorists obligingly(!) carry come in useful, and the media does not try to question why those so dangerous and daring never take the minimum precaution of not wearing their identity on their sleeves!

All the newspapers carried headlines of the “Varanasi blast ‘brain’ shot in J&K” who was “UP madrasa teacher”, which may well be correct, but details of his family, pictures of his father and the madrasa…one wonders if they are all so necessary. They perhaps are, if the idea is to present terrorists as normal in Muslim society in India, but why else? The box which is part of the story in The Indian Express is titled “59 terror camps in POK, more troops for J&K’, as if that were also a new discovery today.

In complete contrast, as a report by Ram Puniyani tells us, recently when a bomb explosion rocked Nanded, a town in Maharashtra, and it was discovered that it was in the house of a RSS sympathiser with the Bajrang Dal flag flying on the house top, what followed was very different. “Next day the local superintendent of police was prompt to offer the cover to the Bajrang Dal and its activists by declaring that it was due to crackers, which have accidentally been exploded. The house search revealed the powerful bomb, IED with timer and remote control, after which the Inspector General of police had to concede that it was a bomb blast and that those involved in the blast are the members of Bajrang Dal. Local papers reported that a diary has been found at the spot, which has the details of bomb making techniques and other relevant information. The local BJP MP started dishing out the subtle instructions by saying that innocents should not be implicated and that it was a minor incident. … The police, despite the severe implications of the incident are dealin
g with this blast with kid gloves.” This took place in the context of various other tensions and incidents over the past two years. As he also points out: “The surprising aspects of the episode is, the soft peddling of the incident by the local police, the apathy of the guardian minister and the home minister of the state, the non cognizance of the event by the central government and the national media, print and electronic both.”. Most of us would indeed have not read of the incident anywhere.

This is of course, one recent instance that we are talking of. But this is reflective of a generalisation, where bombs, explosives, terror, cruelty, religious fanaticism just become invisible in any references to the acts of violence committed by the Hindutva forces. Do they not merit being called terrorists? The word has never to date been used for them — by the media, by the police, by any district administration, or by our state and central governments, and officials, even as the word terrorism is an important and frequently used part of their vocabulary.

What would anyone looking at these newspapers after 10 years think? What would a child think today? We should remember that this is how fascist commonsense was created in Europe in 1920s and 30s, and those who helped in creating this commonsense were not all Nazis and fascists. There is a lesson to learn here.