DhakaTribune
Wednesday November 22, 2017 03:00 AM

When Hindi media controls public opinion in India

  • Published at 05:58 PM November 13, 2017
  • Last updated at 11:27 PM November 13, 2017
When Hindi media controls public opinion in India
Which side of the story gets covered?REUTERS

Hindi state media propaganda is running the narrative in India, and the only antidote is decentralisation

The Union government Prime Minister Narendra Modi had exhorted hundreds of millions of citizens of the Indian Union to open bank accounts. This was after his pre-poll promise of putting Rs15 lakh in every citizen’s account.

Many small deposit accounts were thus opened with bank officials, especially government bank officials being continuously pressured to boost the outputs of what was essentially a political gimmick couched in the language of economic empowerment.

Nowadays, you can buy peddlers of such lingo on the streets of Delhi, where their supply is especially high. Not one of those small deposit accounts, from millions of people, grew to have a balance of Rs15 lakh. Because such exponential and sudden growth in account balance can only be promised by a demagogue, and can only happen in the bank account of a crook.

If someone’s account balance increases by a factor of 16,000 ever since Narendra Modi came to power, there is reason for hope.

Let’s say that a person puts in Rs100. A 16,000 fold increase means that Rs100 would become Rs16 lakh. That would then be a case where Narendra Modi’s promise would have come somewhat true.

A genuine beneficiary?

In a comic way, Jay Shah, son on BJP President Amit Shah, seems to be the most prominent person in the alleged 16,000 fold account value increase club. Narendra Modi’s Hindi slogan of “Aacche Deen” (good days) seems to have worked at least in the case of Jay Shah.

This is a story whose original reporting is now banned by a court case launched by the powers that be against the press. However, much of the English language press (with very few notable exceptions) and the major Hindi language press, almost across the board, has completely avoided much mention of this crucial case of alleged corruption and nepotism.

This is due to the fact that the ruling BJP is primarily based out of Hindi states and Delhi; and hence it wields greatest powers of threat and coercion as well as exacting servility from English and Hindi media.

The power of the press

However, the power of the BJP drastically wanes when one ventures into a majority media space in the Indian Union that is controlled by non-Hindi, non-English media. Thus, if one looks at the Bangla media space or the Tamil media space or the Kannada media space, a very different reality emerges.

The vibrancy of the media space and freedom of expression varies considering across the political landscape of the Indian Union. This means that the Indian Union does not have a uniform media terrain.

Various non-Hindi linguistic nationalities of the Indian Union dominate their own national homeland areas (Bengalis in West Bengal, Tamils in Tamil Nadu, Malayalis in Kerala, Punjabis in Punjab, Marathis in Maharashtra, and so on) and hence their domestic media culture varies greatly from the media space of the Hindi linguistic-national homeland, often called the cow-belt.

The non-Hindi media audience and citizens are the collateral damage in spite of having a higher and better informed level of public discourse

What are the implications of this heterogeneity?

If in a polity where Hindi states disproportionately dominate in shaping policies of the present BJP led Union government, the reality of the realm ruled from Delhi is refracted in various languages, reflecting their own standards of journalism and more important, the extent of reach of BJP aligned big money.

Hindi states vs non-Hindi states

So when Hindi media doesn’t report on the Jay Shah case but others do, as all should, one ends up with a scenario where Hindi states and non-Hindi states are waking up every day and going through 24×7 media world with very different versions of reality. If that reality was one that was due to the very different realities of Hindi states and non-Hindi states, that would have made sense.

But it is dangerous when that difference simply reflects the primary political base of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan forces and the relative weakness of these forces in most non-Hindi states. This would not have mattered if the state governments were mostly in charge of affairs of the state. But in the super-centralised framework of the Indian Union, the Union government has captured almost all important powers.

Thus, a skewed version of reality and sometimes even an alter-reality is being created by Hindi media space that principally serves BJP’s interests. That does ensure that party of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology dominates the Hindi states. But when that enables the BJP to capture power, it ceases to be a matter of Hindi states alone.

Buoyed by Hindi state media propaganda, the public opinion of non-Hindi states is rendered irrelevant and thus a government that draws its support from this sort of propaganda ends up affecting the daily lives of the citizens of non-Hindi states. Insofar as non-Hindi states are affected by how Hindi states vote, this is a problem that the non-Hindi states cannot solve, no matter how robust and free their own media are.

The only solution to such a state of affair is decentralisation, such that most of the Union and concurrent list subjects are moved to the state list. That way, the Hindi media that is adept at stoking communal passions, has spiced up anti-Pakistan (more so) or anti-Bangladesh (less so) content as its daily staple and simply blanks out critique of the Gujarat group that enjoys power in New Delhi, can create mischief and obfuscation within the Hindi national space but that toxin ends up being meaningless due to empowered states because state governments of non-Hindi states are not elected based on Hindi and English media narratives.

The corporate-political nexus is a truth for all media industries but the depth of that nexus matters. The Hindi and English media is doing a disservice to its audience by doing what it is not supposed to do and not doing what it is supposed to do.

The non-Hindi media audience and citizens are the collateral damage in spite of having a higher and better informed level of public discourse.

Garga Chatterjee is a political and cultural commentator.

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