Political commentator Naom Chomsky in his latest book, Who rules the world, devotes substantial space in the initial parts to describe the epic battle between the ‘intellectuals’ and the ‘nationalists’. Although, Chomsky in his wisdom leaves the argument open for his readers to conclude, he however, makes sure of alienating his readers with numerous examples. He goes on with his explanation while categorising the intellectuals and dissecting the nationalists.
A similar narrative is played every weekday in the living rooms of the Indian household when the brutally polarised Indian media goes live with its Primetime debates. Of the various things that 2014 changed in India, media has certainly been the most perilous of all. By no means, do I intend to say that, television journalism was at its zenith before 2014, but 2014 did bring in, its nadir. Newsroom behavior hit an all time low as studios turned out to be verbal slaughterhouses. News anchors turned into whips as the level of noise increased while the substance gradually decreased.
A particular section of the electronic media, meanwhile, mastered the art of sensational hyper nationalism. The modus operandi is a carefully crafted act of false euphoria that is created around a potentially sensitive issue. It would also be pertinent to highlight the pathetic sense of priority that we as Indians tend to approve when it comes to socio political issues. A seemingly irrelevant statement by a dusted mediocre singer is capable of flaming our nationalist or social overtures while an obvious act of social depravity in the form of child labour or women harassment is comfortably acceptable. This innate nature of our judgmental and reasoning inanity is cleverly exploited upon by these television anchors. The stage is set and a futile matter is suddenly made the most important talking point of the day. For most of us, battered and buggered by work, traffic and a sense of revitalised nationalism ( we love to be nationalist than patriotic…may be its more convenient!), these channels are the perfect fodder of an hourly dose of nationalism. May be for most of us, contribution to nation building is defined by the time we spend in front of these rhetorical, scripted debates and jeer over it. That’s our high! Our moment of pride as a nation! The hysteria, though lasts hardly an hour before we post or tweet over this orgasmic feeling flavoured with googled quotes on nationalism or better still …we simply curse and hit the sack.
Larger than life television anchors were actually a western cult that gradually made its way to the Indian living rooms after the satellite TV invasion. In the good old days of Doordarshan we had sober people with a flair for the language reading daily news to us with deathly monotony. Then came the era of television journalists- turned- news anchors. They had certain flair to them and did get the required bit of swag to the otherwise morbid newsrooms of DD. These anchors then suddenly turned experts and before one could realise they turned opinion changers and socio political commentators. The swanky newsrooms in Noida were breeding grounds for these cults. They fought, bullied, busted, molested and vitiated every other protocol accorded to a civilised debate. Things were still tolerable until one fine day, a man wakes up and decides to be the voice for a billion Indians. The irony in the opening statement itself is strikingly provocative- “the nation wants to know”. Thus, dawned an era that would change the narrative of television journalism forever. Nationalism would be carefully brewed and served cold to an emotionally surcharged audience every night at supper time. Once the characters learnt about the growing taste for a certain narrative, they decided to invest upon any incident that had the slightest scope of a prime time mud fest.
Post 2014, Indians had this strange sense of achievement, wherein people for the first time saw their collective democratic privileges materialising into something more effective than ever before. Although, we voted for the last 65 years but this certainly was the first time, we were made to realise how significant our vote was. For the first time, we decided our next government and our next PM, unlike most other times in past. With this sense of achievement also came a sense of obsession about nationalism. The newsrooms were shrewd enough to capitalise on this. They fuelled this obsession to a dangerous level. Concocted facts, blatant name calling, serious breach of journalistic ethos and open endorsement of political parties became the order of the day.
One particular man though, smelled blood and went a step further. He called upon the so called ‘nationalists’ to bane the so called ‘intellectuals’. The divide was complete now. While we loathed in the glory of our new found democratic chauvinism, we got our usual dose of patriotism in this hour or sometime longer than an hour odd saga.
Journalism hit a new low when fellow anchors fought over each others credibility and assertion in the profession. Nationalism was the wine they sold to us, the thirsty Indians. We however, loved this convenient new way of getting high on patriotism in an hour.
We Indians love getting emotional. We are sentimental when it comes to our country, our Army or our territorial integrity. We get emotional and then, we speak, we argue, we debate and we sleep! That’s all that we have been doing since decades. We were so used to this monotony, that we suddenly got excited when we saw these messiahs, who did all that for us on national television. So we conveniently outsourced the only thing that we ever did well, to these ‘few good men in suits in front of the camera. Men, who vouch to be the voice of the “nation”. They don the hat of the judge, the jury and the adjudicator, all in an hour long monologue orchestrated with some background noise by people trying to be heard
The stage set, the audience seated, a script ready, now all that was needed were a few good performers. Indians, stood up to this call of duty too, as determined as ever. We are performers, we don’t back out when its show time. Our innate love for argument over pity issues, helped us master the art of newsroom debates. The art of pleasing the masses comes naturally to us. Facts were disowned as rhetoric ruled the nights. Like a gladiator pulls out his skills, like a pugilist appeases the audience, like a magician unfolds his tricks, like a latin American footballer plays to the galleries, the Indian panelist would serve his dialogues.
Fighting for space in the 42 inch television set or sometime even larger, these onscreen gladiators would soon divide themselves into teams for and against. There can be no neutral voice though, its like an unwritten rule. These gladiators would then roll out their verbal skills. A recent phenomenon would see journalists turning into tactical experts with VR images and pointers to give us the feel of a war room. The one thing that amazes me the most is the sight of retired Pakistani military personnel and strategic experts finding space amongst the panelists. I wonder, why the “ban pak” code isn’t applicable here! Rather, we present them with the exclusive primetime space to put forward their views. One is forced to imagine the perks they must be getting for the verbal molestation they are subjected to each day on prime time.
They pretend to represent the community of nationalists. Everyone who supports their thought process has the right to stay in this ‘free’ country and each that doesn’t should shift to the immediate neighborhood to the west. They however, retain the exclusive right to speak on behalf of the silent Indian soldier. The soldier who actually knows the cost of war and the value of peace. The soldier who knows the difference between a friend and a foe, the soldier who understands the value of life and the loss in death. Yes, the same soldier who is mostly forgotten and left to suffer in most matters pertaining to his welfare and dignity back home. The same soldier who suffers from the gross indifference from an otherwise cold society. The same soldier who is revered and remembered only during primetime debates in the country.
There is this growing cult that represents every single idea and thought that is non-Indian. Our identity is not under threat, it never was. Under threat is the idea called India. The same ethos that amalgamated a cluster of hundred social sects together into a nation. The same idea that preaches peace and values liberty. The same idea that has held this cluster together. The same idea that gives us the strength to flaunt our democracy, today. The day we let a handful of bigots pollute this idea, we lose our identity as a nation. We lose our strength of holding on to each other. There are no two India’s, there never was. The one opposing the most popular of decisions is as much an Indian as the one’s supporting it.
And for god’s sake, stop dragging the poor soldier into this mud fest. The Indian Army is apolitical, secular, non partisan. It isn’t sacred, thus open to public scrutiny and criticism and last but not the least, it isn’t for primetime debates or you tube likes. It doesn’t need a man or a woman in an air conditioned newsroom to justify its stand and gain public empathy. So all these people, trying to pose as the mouthpieces for the Army, take a break. You never were, you will never be. All you do is sell your ideas with a fake Army label on it. The soldier on the front knows exactly what he is fighting for. You get the liberty to speak, the freedom to express and the right to opine because you have an Army that believes in providing these to you as much as it does to people opposing you.
So enjoy your debating carnivals shrouded with counterfeit nationalism, just make sure, that the Army is left out of this. Being nationalist is easy, because it only demands you to speak. Being a patriot is difficult, because it demands you to act.