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Nissim Mannathukkaren is Associate Professor and Chair, International Development Studies Department, Dalhousie University, Canada.
Modi government and the muzzling of the Indian media, 2017
- Modi government and the muzzling of the Indian media, 3 December 2017, openDemocracy
- Generally, the death of a judge, in what seem to be mysterious circumstances, while presiding over a case against the second most powerful person in the country, and the closest associate of the head of the government, would be make prime-time television in a democracy. Similarly, the allegations of corruption against the family of the same person would have garnered media attention. But recent events in India prove otherwise. [...] Despite the explosive nature of the story and its potentially unprecedented implications for Indian democracy (in independent India's history, to my knowledge, there is no instance of a judge being assassinated) there was a stunned silence in the mainstream and big media, especially, the English-language television channels that have a disproportionate influence in the setting of the political agenda.
- About the death of Brijgopal Harkishan Loya.
- Much of Narendra Modi's legitimacy among the Indian public comes from the perception that, unlike most of the political class, he is personally beyond reproach when it comes to financial corruption. Moreover, it was he who declared a war on corruption, the most emphatic example of which, the government claims, is the demonetization exercise. But Mr. Modi's silence on the corruption story finally exposed the hollowness of the government’s crusade against corruption, which in any case, has so far amounted to nothing more than targeted attacks against rival politicians. In politics, perceptions play a huge role. This is the first time that Mr. Modi's carefully crafted image as incorruptible and as a crusader against corruption has taken a considerable beating. WhatsApp messages, tweets and Facebook posts were rife with jokes about Mr. Shah’s businesses, and Mr. Modi’s silence.
- As examples from history show, when jokes start circulating about a powerful leader, cracks in political legitimacy begin to appear.
- But the more damaging development has been the role of the mainstream media in the face of government attempts to muzzle it. Just as in the judge story, there was silence about the corruption story in the media. Even when there was coverage, it was more about the defamation case filed by Mr. Shah rather than the merits of story itself. The rare television channel that has sometimes been critical of the Modi government and faced its wrath for doing so, succumbed, pulling down reportage about the Shah story. This is an extraordinary level of submissiveness displayed by the media. This must also be read in the context of the largest democracy’s abysmal ranking in the World Press Freedom Index. Last year, India ranked 133 out of 18 countries. And this year, it has declined to 136. Recently, the main mode of intimidation against journalists doing investigative stories has been through Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs), like the one filed by Mr. Shah. Journalists face severe challenges, including physical violence and threat to life, in carrying out their work.
- So, the emerging “manufacture of consent” in favor of the ruling government does not happen only through active participation, or self-censorship on criticism by the media, but also as a result of the egregious threats that the media personnel face.
- Jokes making fun of Mr. Modi, or Facebook posts of lay citizens, and films criticizing his government are met with police complaints, legal cases, and threats by the ruling party and its larger ideological family. BJP-led state governments have also introduced draconian bills to curb free speech. India’s democracy is at a critical juncture. After the Emergency declared by the Congress government in 1975 which legally curbed press freedoms, we have not witnessed such levels of abnegation of free speech. (The otherwise-activist Indian judiciary too has maintained a deafening silence on the judge’s death.) It would not be wrong to consider this present conjuncture as marking a deterioration in that regard.
- While all governments, in varying degrees, try to muzzle free speech or physically intimidate journalists, what is radically different under the Modi dispensation is the wider climate of intolerance fostered by the combustible combination of religion and nationalism aided by state power. This has led to unprecedented attacks against religious minorities on accusations like possessing/eating beef or the killings of those who are critics of the government. Dissent and criticism of government has been construed as an anti-national activity clearly demonstrated by the 40 sedition cases filed in 2016.
- When the largest democracy in the world, and the oldest one in the Global South, displays authoritarian tendencies betraying the promise of its founding fathers, it has implications beyond India.
The Barbarity of False Equivalence, 2020
- There could not be a more grisly method, even when it involves no violence, to cover up ghastly crimes committed by a people than to indulge in the fallacy of false equivalence. In this fallacy, two incomparable things are compared and declared to be equal because there are always two sides to the story. What is going on in the aftermath of the worst communal violence in Delhi since 1984, in which 34 Muslims and 15 Hindus have died, is precisely this fallacy. Thus, here, both Hindus and Muslims are at fault for the violence; hence the refusal to call it a pogrom or state-backed violence against Muslims despite all the evidence. Moral equivalence completely obscures the root causes of a problem. It instead focuses on the immediate and the superficial, and is employed by well-intentioned observers as well as Hindutva supporters when on the defensive. Thus, six years of relentless hate-mongering against Muslims is seen to be of no consequence in creating an absolutely inflammable social sphere.
- About the 2020 Delhi riots
- To place the responsibility of violence on the illiterate, poor and unemployed mobs is to completely miss the pathologies amongst us, the privileged and the powerful, which are the greatest enablers of violence.
- About the 2020 Delhi riots
- These are the times when on the most watched primetime television news debates every night, it is absolutely normal for the anchors and BJP spokespersons to call Muslim panelists terrorists and anti-nationals. [...] These are the times when a Union minister can declare that Rahul Gandhi is the son of a Muslim. Of course, the insinuation is that being a Muslim is a crime – plain and simple. To focus only on the Kapil Mishras, Anurag Thakurs, and the Parvesh Vermas, as if they are some elements which have gone rogue, is to miss that they are totally in sync with the discourse authored and sanctioned by none less than the prime minister of the Indian republic. Whenever confronted with this stark reality, Hindutva supporters respond with whataboutery.
- Moral culpability is denied through false equivalence.
- It is not that Hindutva supporters equate vastly different phenomena with vastly different consequences, but they also willfully gloss over facts.
- For the first time in Independent India, ordinary Muslims, especially women, have come out in large numbers, overwhelmingly in a peaceful fashion, breaking the shackles of the thoroughly self-serving and regressive religious and elite leadership, to protect Indian democracy and the constitution. This is a landmark moment. Yet, what does the legitimate and democratic protests get branded as? As “anti-nationals” and “traitors”.
- The narrative of moral equivalence is persisted with regard to the Delhi violence, despite the overwhelming evidence of the police acting emphatically in favour of one side.
- This is when false equivalence fails to recognise not only the unbridled state-backed violent majoritarianism but also its farcical nature. To counter false equivalence and to assert what happened in Delhi was an anti-Muslim pogrom, we do not have to take the morally dubious position of denying that there has been the loss of innocent lives among Hindus as well (after all, what can be more heartbreaking than losing a 15-year old boy – the youngest victim of the violence, Nitin Kumar – who was killed while stepping out to buy food), or that the victims are not capable of brutality. But to remain at the level of a statistical apportioning of grief, or false equivalence is to fundamentally misread the nature of the beast which has succeeded in replacing every critical problem in India with the narrative of a Hindu-Muslim war, and which has produced suffering even among the oppressors.
- Nissim Mannathukkaren's profile at Dalhousie University
- Nissim Mannathukkaren at Academia.edu
- Nissim Mannathukkaren at ResearchGate
- Nissim Mannathukkaren at Google Scholar
- Nissim Mannathukkaren's articles at The Wire