19 June 2019 10:54 PM

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PREM SINGH | 1 JANUARY, 2019

Delhi Has Turned Into a Huge Advertisement for Corporate-Religious Politics

The outer, physical form of a city is the outcome of deep sociopolitical processes


It would have been more pertinent and meaningful if this piece had been written by a journalist friend. Actually, I did wait for some time hoping that one or another journalist friend would turn his attention to the subject and write about it. But unfortunately, journalists who would look into the changing face of Delhi-metropolis and speak about the infinite images and socialpolitical implications it carries, are few. And for these few, then, there is little space available in the current newspapers.

At one time the journalist Sushil Kumar Singh, who worked with Jansatta, wrote many interesting pieces on Delhi in the paper. One could also find a reflection of the image of Delhi in Manoj Mishra’s political reporting, again in Jansatta.

Dwijendra Kalia, a socialist friend who was a teacher at the DAV College of Delhi University, wrote very informative articles on unique episodes and unknown people of Old Delhi in the little magazine Naya Sangharsh in the late eighties. Professor Nirmala Jain wrote a series in Hans, a monthly Hindi literary magazine, delineating a vivid account of the journey of the city ranging over half a century, from 1940 to 2000 - these essays have now been published in book form in Dilli Shahar Dar Shahar.

Needless to say, the outer and physical form of a city is the outcome of certain deep sociopolitical processes which develop and grow at its inner level.

One finds that today Delhi, a metropolitan city, is wrapped over with an amalgam of advertisements made through countless posters, hoardings and graffiti. Governments, political parties, politicians, social-religious organisations, trade unions, and business companies selling consumer products are constantly pouring their advertisements over the face of Delhi.

In the last three decades the country's capital has turned into a huge advertisement for corporate politics. And, in this form, it has spread still further throughout the country. Now even villages and small towns are not outside Delhi’s influence. The entire country has become an arena of indiscriminate advertisements. Huge quantities of paper, cloth, plastic and ink are continually spent on these advertisements.

There is the occasional discussion on the economics of the advertising industry, but it is the political science of this phenomenon that needs serious considering.

While traveling or walking in Delhi, I keep looking at the all-pervasive poster-hoardings and wall-writings around, and as a political worker I try to understand the political implications and contents of this phenomenon. Instead of commenting on each slot of advertisements plastered all over the metropolis, l would like to confine my observations here to the posters and hoardings that go overboard congratulating 'all brothers-sisters' and 'countrymen' on religious occasions and religious festivals, ranging from Shardiy Navratra to Deepawali to Chhath Parv.

It has been the practice in Delhi that the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would regularly put up poster-hoardings of greetings on various festivals. Occasionally, a few small ones placed by the Bahujan Samaj Party would also be seen, which disappeared soon after the election victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

I noticed a special change during this year's festival season. To my utmost surprise, the Congress and its leaders did not seem to be staking a claim in the battle of posters and hoardings, or trying to congratulate people on behalf of the political party and their leaders. This time the wars of congratulatory posters/ hoardings were waged largely between the BJP and AAP. Whether it was a well thought out decision of the Congress or a mere coincidence, I do not know.

The Congress is the mentor of the prevailing corporate politics in the country, and will continue to be its main player for a long time to come. But if it was a conscious decision made by the largest party organisation in the country, it could be viewed as a positive, even thought-provoking, initiative.

It suggests the possibility that the Congress now considers the vulgar display of corporate politics to be bad, in taste and in morality.

The Aam Aadmi Party has introduced a new dimension to the war of congratulatory messages during religious festivals. So far, political parties and leaders were not actively involved in the advertisements meant for organising Bhagwat Katha, Ram Katha, Ramlila or other Puranic kathas (stories) in the metropolis.

So about 10-15 days ago l was rather surprised to see that AAP had put posters and hoardings for a 'Shrimad Bhagwat Katha Gyan Yagya' to be held in East Delhi. The picture of its candidate for the East Delhi Lok Sabha seat was seen flashing in the advertisement along with the photograph of the kathavachak or storyteller.

That the party's theatrics were inspired by the hope of a religious impact on this candidate’s potential voters, was mentioned in the press some months ago. Religious discourse has spread rapidly in Hindu society in the last two or three decades. The battle to grab this arena through advertisement is a new strategy being intensified among political parties. The Aam Aadmi Party has made a flying start in this direction.

The practice of organising havan ceremonies in the inaugurations and openings of party political offices may have been prevalent in the BJP. But the Aam Aadmi Party too inaugurated its elections office in the East Delhi constituency a few months ago by performing a havan. One might also recollect the havan performed after Kejriwal was elected chief minister.

In Delhi, advertisements congratulating Mansarovar yatris or pilgrims on behalf of governments or political parties were few and far between. But the Aam Aadmi Party put up endless huge hoardings of greetings for Mansarovar yatris at select places in the metropolis. Two such hoardings were very clearly visible in front of Gujarati Samaj on Raj Niwas Marg, and it was a constant sight for months on my way to Delhi University.

In the flow of the festival season, small posters saying 'Eid Mubarak' in Urdu were pasted by the Aam Aadmi Party, only in predominantly Muslim areas of the city. As if an exchange of Eid greetings is not welcome or allowed to people of other faiths!

I do not want to elaborate further by pointing out facts about AAP’s attitude towards the religious festivals of the Sikh community. The fact, in brief, is that the leaders of this party see the people of the country not as citizens but recognise them only through their religious identity. This they do openly. One can make a note of the posters in which AAP has questioned the Election Commission for deleting the names of Muslims and Baniyas from the voter list.

I do not want to go into the debate whether the flooding of these 'greetings' advertisements during the festive season by political parties has a relationship with the growing trend of communalism in the country. The reason for this is that it would, as on some earlier occasions, not be palatable to Kejriwal's secular supporters, who otherwise claim to be fighting against the fascism of the RSS/BJP.

However, I would beg to discuss this phenomenon in relation to the context of the country's democratic structure. My friend ND Pancholi and I were going to Jalandhar from Delhi on December 21. The next day, on the occasion of the 95th birth anniversary of Justice Rajindar Sachar, a seminar was organised by the Socialist Party on the subject 'How to Save Constitutional Values and Institutions'.

In our conversation there was a brief discussion about the impact of religious advertisements on our democracy.

I pointed out that advertisements, whatever category they fall in, take away the freedom of choice of a person as a citizen. The motive of these advertisements is to beguile and mislead people. While incurring a heavy wastage of public money, such advertisements at the same time deeply change the democratic spirit and process in favor of corporate politics.

The greetings on religious festivals do not relate to religious belief at all. Small leaders or those who aspire to become leaders in future put up these congratulatory posters and hoardings with an ulterior purpose. By positioning themselves alongside photographs of big leaders, they publicise their own selves before the leaders and the public, so they can find recognition and space in politics.

The work that should be done through political diligence and struggle, is accomplished through advertising, and that too with public money. Therefore, new leaders do not rise out of a struggle, they come by way of clever advertising.

The media in India, especially the electronic media, has become fully complicit in this.

In such a situation, the hope of establishing a constitutional politics that would replace the current corporate politics is an uphill, if not impossible task. An analysis of other categories of advertisements designed by governments, political parties, social organisations, businesses etc., would lead to the conclusion that they are all connected with corporate politics.

Given how the political and intellectual leadership of the country has blended silently in cooperation with corporate politics, it will not be long before the two become indistinguishable, affecting the fate of India.

In times not too far, unless it is recognised and checked, this new fangled democracy of corporate politics, moulded in the furnace of Delhi, will flourish in the country.

The only snags in this democracy will be that while the three sisters - Manasi aged 8, Shikha aged 4, and Paro 2 years old - might die of disease and starvation, the country's intellectuals, journalists, artists, activists will keep shouting in a loud chorus - ‘The river of health and education is flowing in Delhi!'

There are constant calls for a strong leader and/or a military dictator from the inner core of this democracy, but the NGO masters will continue to beat the drum saying - 'After independence, people have learned for the first time to speak for their rights!'

They will declare with a martyr’s voice - 'Our primary concern is the people of the country, not party politics!'

The experience of neo-liberalism during the last three decades has made it amply clear that corporate politics is inseparable from communal politics. But the advocates of secularism in the country are not ready to accept this. They want to save secularism while running the country via corporate politics.

Those who plead to save democracy from fascism, are not ready even to consider the fact that neither democracy nor secularism can be saved in this manner. What can be saved is only their class-interest. And ultimately the same wheel keeps rolling.

This is the story of Delhi, capital city of lndia. It has metamorphosed into little more than an advertisement of corporate politics. Other parts of the country may soon ‘decide’ to follow a similar story.

At such a point in time, it is possible for some to narrate a false text of the situation to an unsuspecting public. But for the truly cautious it is more important to differ, and to sound the wake up call.

Prem Singh is Professor of Hindi at Delhi University.

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