Once upon a time, a king who ruled wisely was flabbergasted to find his subjects suddenly turn violent, trying to kill him. Investigation revealed that a jealous neighbouring king had poisoned the river making anyone who drank from it, go raving mad. Since the king had a separate well, he was unaffected.
The king tried everything; appealing to peoples reason, their sense of justice, even arresting some of them. Nothing helped. Finally, on the advice of the Raj Guru, he drank from the river and became like his citizens. The subjects could once again relate to the king and all returned to normal.
In India, at this moment, we are living the reverse of this parable. It is not the people, but the ruler who has changed and turned against the people. And confused people are lining up to drink from the king’s well. Once they do, they come back to the world with bloodshot eyes and look at anyone different as an ‘enemy’ needing to be silenced.
NDTV is on the radar now and have been punished with an unprecedented, unconstitutional one-day gag. The alleged reason is NDTV’s reportage of the Pathankot attack, which wasn’t anything different or better than what anyone else did. The real reason perhaps is NDTV’s questioning of many of the government’s narrative, their refusing (not all the time) to drink the government’s poisoned water.
Read: Is the NDTV India ban yet another attack on press freedom?
This ban is a Modi masterstroke. The new Prime Minister (he will perennially stay new till he rules 60 years like the Congress), is faced with the gravest crisis of his political career. Handling Gujarat’s ‘development’ was easy because it was already the most developed state in the country when he took over as CM.
India, on the other hand, is not Gujarat. The nation’s problems are too complex for the simplified ‘development’ narrative he sold to get elected. To be fair to him handling India’s problems with the immensity and diversity of its problems, population, beliefs, ideologies etc. makes the seat of the PM perhaps the most difficult political position in the world. That the PM is interested more in making India Congress free rather than trying to deliver on the promises he made to the masses and has let loose societal demons that were best kept under leash, has not helped his cause one bit.
In such a scenario, he – like most politicians worldwide – has called upon the services of the simplest political narrative: that of good versus evil. The good government is busy battling forces of evil: from the evil empire Pakistan to stone-pelting Kashmiris to alleged terrorists who were actually to be set free in a few days etc. Anyone who questions this, by default becomes evil and needs to be stopped.
What the central government is attempting to create is a narrative for the nation in line with the simplified global narrative about terrorism and evil. And he is not the first one to do that, to try create a homogenised, simple story for what politicians consider ‘dumb’ citizenry of the world.
We live in an increasingly confused world where technology has made news and views so accessible and easy to consume that instead of being informed, we end up being confused. If you look at your own life, the tiniest of your problems has the most complex set of things leading up to it and leading out of it. Multiply that manifold for large political problems of the world and you have a world politics that is so complex it will boggle the greatest minds. And it has.
So, what politicians have regularly done, is find ways to simplify narratives by simply making it sound like bedtime stories we all loved as kids, by making their efforts seem like the war between good and evil.
Governments all across the world, be it erstwhile communist regimes, or overtly capitalistic ones, have used this narrative to sell everything, from why public spending is drastically cut to why they are instead spending money to invade a country they have no business to be in.
In this millennium, 9/11 made the use of this narrative imperative for western governments, especially of the United States and United Kingdom, both ‘united’ to forge a common narrative. And that was of Muslims - especially Muslim theological states - as evil empires that need to be purged to bring ‘democracy’.
This pursuit has seen their leaders – George Bush and Tony Blair – blatantly lie to their own people and the rest of the world about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to indulge in the same misadventure that the Russians had failed at 20 years earlier in Afghanistan.
That had seen them support ‘revolutions’ and ‘springs’ to topple government that were at times oppressive to be replaced by devastating civil wars that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead in the Middle East and millions without basic food or shelter.
These are necessary collateral damages in the pursuit of simplified narratives that a large group of people can digest. And India, which so far has not been part of the global narrative in any large way, is finally stating its global claim. And in Kashmir - which wants to become ‘free’, and in many other resistances brewing across the country, it has found the perfect microcosm of the problem similar to the rest of the world, which they can use to their advantage.
The current government is working extra hard to be part of that larger narrative, to be seen fighting ‘injustice’ and ‘evil’ and bringing ‘goodness’ like the Americans and the British did in Afghanistan and Iraq and the rest of the now crumbling, dying Middle East (except the home of the most brutal, militant form of Islam – Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia).
Citizens need to be saved from themselves; this is an idea that is famous for its reach and brutal implementation by communist regimes. Democracies, in the last century, fought this idea valuing freedom above all.
However, as communist empires have fallen, it is democratic leaders who have adopted the same idea. To save citizens from themselves, they have implemented policies that have made them more and more autocratic and slowly beginning to resemble the communist nations they once fought.
Citizen’s rights in some of the world’s largest democracies are being curtailed. They are being watched over perennially by a wide web of cameras that have purportedly been installed for their own ‘security’. Media - the ones that continue to be conscientious - are discouraged, supressed and at timed gagged.
The underlying idea behind this gagging is simple: the narrative that leaders are creating, should not be questioned, that people should be passive drinkers from the well of narrative their ‘democratic’ governments create for them.
Hence, the gagging of NDTV for a measly day is actually a masterstroke by the current government. Indira Gandhi was stupid to declare an emergency when one could do a much better job by stealth.
And this one day gagging of the media is but the first step in a larger plan against those refusing to drink from the poisoned water the ruler is offering. To be different, like the king in the fable discovered, is to mark yourself for hatred, gagging and sometimes even death.
Satyen K Bordoloi is a scriptwriter and independent journalist based in Mumbai. He writes on cinema, Indian politics and social issues.
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