VAGRAJ BADARAYAN | 21 SEPTEMBER, 2017
Straws of Change in the Wind
NEW DELHI: An event of great political significance that took place a week back passed almost unnoticed in the media.
On September 12, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed diplomats from fifty foreign missions in Delhi. In the interactive session with the diplomats Mohan Bhagwat said that RSS does not support trolling and aggressive behaviour on the net as it amounts to hitting below the belt.
Just two days earlier on September 10, BJP Chief Amit Shah had said that the ‘youth should not blindly believe the anti-BUP propaganda being spread on Whatsapp and Facebook’.
The statements above from the two top functionaries of the ruling dispensation are not routine statements. These statements clearly betray a sense of nervousness and realisation that they are losing the plot on the social media which has been their main weapon of reaching out to people and running down their opponents.
Indeed, they used all kinds of tricks, fair and unfair to wound, sully and denigrate their opponents of which the army of trolls played a very significant part. Rahul Gandhi’s also made a hard hitting reference to this point in his speech at UC Berkeley in the US last week when he said that thousands of trolls from the BJP-RSS and its affiliate organisations under the guidance of its top leadership have been active on the internet against him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made it known over the last three years since he came to power that he does not care about the mainstream media, be it the TV Channels or newspapers in trying to communicate with the people. He has not held a single open press conference since he took over as the Prime Minister in May 2014. Prime Minister Modi and his communication team believe that the traditional print and electronic media can be completely ignored. His method of direct communication, even though one sided, through social media and public rallies had paid him rich dividends over this period. But suddenly, over the last few weeks there has been a distinct change in the mood on the social media platforms. His own weapon has started to boomerang.
The weakening of the voice of BJP and RSS on the social media had started some time back but became evident during the recent violent incidents in Haryana after the conviction of Dera Sachcha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim by a CBI court. The utter inability of the Haryana government in controlling the arson and rioting that resulted in death of close to 40 people was a severe blow to the claim of good governance.
Good governance was a key plank on which BJP came to power in Delhi and other states too. Haryana Chief Minister has been singularly unsuccessful in maintaining law and order and providing any model of good governance in the last three years of his government. The riots following the arrest of controversial godman Rampal in November 2014 and then the Jat agitation last year exposed the hollow claims of the BJP about good governance. The failure of Chief Minister Khattar in Haryana assumes added significance as he was personally handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be the CM of Haryana.
The response of the mainstream media, including those TV Channels which have taken on the role of the ideological partners of the government came as a big surprise. The channels were extremely vocal in criticising the Haryana government in handling the situation. The media, probably for the first time after Modi government came to power in 2014, unanimously castigated it for its utter failure in controlling the situation. Some even blamed the government of connivance with Dera supporters during the agitation.
This was the first sign in recent times of the slippage of BJP in ‘managing the headlines’ which has been the hallmark of the political functioning of this government.
The murder of firebrand secularist-rationalist journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru heightened this trend further. Despite various attempts by the right-wing journalists, social media warriors and some of the well-known TV channels which brazenly take the government line on every important issue, to prove that Naxalites could be involved in the murder of Gauri Lankesh, it soon became clear that it was a continuation of the trend seen in the murders of Govind Pansare, Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar earlier. As the investigation proceeds, the link between right-wing extremist Hindu organisations and Gauri Lankesh’s murder is becoming clearer.
The strong and spontaneous response of the journalist community in Delhi as seen in the meeting at Press Club, Bengaluru and other places all over the country unnerved the BJP. Its feeble attempt to build a counter narrative by bringing extraneous factors such as the refusal of JNU student leader Shehla Rashid to allow Republic TV journalist to take her byte did not cut much ice. A few days back, some journalists opposed to the left-liberal-progressive thinking, organised a meeting of ‘nationalist journalists’ at Press Club which drew hardly a couple of dozen people to the venue.
However, the most damaging part of the uproar following Gauri Lankesh’s murder was the wide spread international condemnation of the event. In India too, for the first time Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the murder of Gauri Lankesh and following of trolls on twitter came into sharp limelight during this period. Even while her murder drew condemnation from international media like BBC, New York Times, Washington Post and Al Jazeera, Prime Minister Modi kept a studied silence on the issue, though some ministers like I&B Minister Smriti Irani did condemn it.
This comes in sharp contrast to his usual response where he is so very quick in taking to twitter on even small incidents like the death of an MLA from Arunachal Pradesh after prolonged illness or other mundane issues. In fact, the Prime Minister has been consistent in keeping a stony silence about incidents that involve communally inspired crimes such as the murder of Akhlaq in Dadri for keeping beef in his fridge, Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan by cow-vigilantes, murder of the teen-ager Junaid in train near Palwal and reported killing of Jafar Khan in Pratapgarh of Rajasthan allegedly by a mob of government officials for opposing them when they were taking photographs of ladies defecating in the open. Contrasting it with his reaction to the murder of a man in Delhi when he objected to somebody urinating in the public in May this year, one can clearly understand the factors that prompt him to react and the ones he does not consider worth reacting.
RSS Chief’s statement before the foreign diplomats was prompted by the realisation that the image of BJP is getting hurt internationally over the continued incidents of cow-vigilantism, hate crimes against minorities and so on. The activities which BJP finds politically expedient are now recoiling on itself. A significant development in this process has been the growth in the web-based news portals which have very effectively punctured the fake news industry and news distortion done by mainstream electronic and print media and right-wing trolls. Utilising the cost effective and popular web-based journalistic tools, these media organisations have proliferated recently giving the right-wing supporters a run for their money.
The change in the mood of the people is also reflected in the results of the JNU and Delhi University Student’s Union elections. Though JNU has been a stronghold of the left for a long time, the clean sweep of left came despite huge effort of the BJP-RSS to defame and denigrate JNU.
However, the more significant loss for BJP has been in Delhi University where it lost the top two posts and the third post is also under judicial dispute. Shekhar Gupta succinctly underlined the message of these elections when he said the results showed that big campuses like JNU, DU are essentially liberal. Last year’s incident at Ramjas college and attempt of the ABVP to create a ruckus in campuses over any debate and discussion from the left-liberal perspective has not gone down well with the student community.
Nobody should be surprised if ABVP is decimated in the forthcoming Student’s Union election in the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) scheduled for 21st of this month where anti BJP-RSS students’ organisations like Ambedkar Student’s Association (ASA) , SFI and a number of other groupings belonging to Dalit-Minority combine have come together.
The desperation of the BJP is reflected in its growing arrogance. The insensitive statements being made by its leaders reflects this attitude. Without getting into the merit of the continued high prices of petrol and diesel despite low international prices, the newly inducted Minister of tourism K.J. Alphonse said, ‘who buys petrol? Somebody who has a car, bike; certainly he is not starving. Somebody who can afford to pay, has to pay.’
Earlier he had made the statement that tourists coming to India should eat beef in their own countries before they arrive in India. UP Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath, who never accepted that it was the shortage of oxygen which led to the death of Children in Gorakhpur, had mocked people that they will start expecting that the government should take care of their children once they turn two years old. Such statements show that the leaders of the ruling party are getting alienated from the public sentiment and falling prey to hubris and arrogance. This is the beginning of the decline of any political force, howsoever powerful it may be at a particular point in time.
Clearly, there is a sense of unease and dissatisfaction across the country over the performance of the government. After waiting for three years people are now beginning to realise that there has been no real improvement in their quality of life. Economy is stagnating, export is falling, farmers are in distress across the country, jobs are not being created and an atmosphere of social tension and uncertainty is creeping.
The situation is now clearly moving in a direction where people have started asking questions from the government. Headline management is becoming difficult and the publicity ballast of the government is started failing to cut ice with people. Propaganda is proving ineffective in changing the hard-realities of life.
Indeed one can sense a change in public mood from the straws in the wind but the question remains how to harvest the power of the wind to effect a political change in the country and who will do that.