Modi’s Second Term: Patriarchal Media and Hindutva Assertion
Image for representational use only.Image Courtesy : ED Times
Who is a patriarch? In simple terms, patriarch is one who imposes his decisions on others, never listens to any other opinion, dominates, exploits and if needed, inflicts violence on those having less access to privilege and resources. Historically, a patriarch is a man and it is the women whom he dominates because women have had far less access to resources, opportunities and privileges than men. However, a patriarch also exploits men below him – in other words, he dominates and dismisses whoever he can control or he deems he ought to control. In that light, a patriarch enjoys or at least always strives for enjoying absolute power and control to the complete exclusion of alternate voices. He often exemplifies his magnanimity with physical prowess and threatening gestures. Questioning him is a sacrilege, therefore punishable. A patriarch is also often surrounded by fans and fanatics who thrive in the false consciousness that being physically close to power will make them powerful one day.
Now let us turn to the present political situation in India. India had its latest general elections and elected NDA, yet again. Narendra Modi, being the leader of the NDA II, is all set to be back on the throne. India has witnessed massive religious and political intolerance very closely in the last five years, during the Modi rule. Modi-Shah together, along with very loyal bandwagon of media houses, have run the show unilaterally including, arguably, the entire electoral process to the extent that the non-partisan role of the Election Commission of India is under scrutiny. It appears that similar to the patriarch, who is a control freak, Modi-Shah ensured total control of the political environment till the last breath of NDA I, including the voting process – which is otherwise supposed to be a fair process in a democracy.
During his first term as the prime minister, Modi never entertained questions from the press or the people – the latest example being from the pre-poll press conference where Modi was silent throughout. NDA I-era has been dominated by Modi supporters systematically targeting minorities in India namely the Muslim population and the Dalits – who have been raped, murdered and mob-lynched, while the government maintained total silence, thereby tacitly encouraging this violence. Modi’s followers on Twitter is a big troll army, which sends death and rape threats to people at random (whoever questions the government), and all Modi does is to maintain the eternal silence. Consequently, Hindutva fanatics have killed writers, historians and scholars who raised their voices against the government, its ultra-Right ideology and its social imposition on citizens often endangering the latter’s constitutional rights (for example, beef ban). As a result, Narendra Dabholkar, Gauri Lankesh and alike are dead, Sai Baba, Soma Sen and Jeetrai Hansda are in prisons. Modi government has already dictated what we can eat, what we can say, what topics scholars can pick to do their research on and so on.
Both general elections 2014 and 2019 have been won through jumlas (hollow promises) or what we call as mediated buzzwords. From ‘NaMo’ to ‘TsuNaMo’, the buzzwords only exemplify the larger-than-life and holier-than-thou image of Modi created by mainstream media in India. Modi’s 56-inch chest thumping is popular among his followers and the troll-army he fosters, but one wonders who has ever measured his chest size anyway! Nevertheless, such buzzwords add crucial optical value (or illusion?) to the leader of the ruling party as the quintessential saviour of the nation. On the other side of the spectrum, mainstream media has coined terms like Pappu (a dimwit), ‘Rahul Baba’ and ‘Teddy Bear’ for the leader of the opposition Rahul Gandhi. Let’s note that both are men, but Modi is simulated to be closer to the popular imagination of a ‘protector’. Already being sold out to Mukesh Ambani‘s Reliance Ltd., mainstream media in India, together with their social media pages, are aggressive, abusive, authoritarian, corrupt and eternally power-mongers. They are never critical of the state, but always patronising it instead of raising questions. Being blind followers of the Modi-Shah duo, mainstream Indian media has emerged as the quintessential protector of the anomalies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As a result, they are indeed the ‘mainstream’ and every other voice in the media becomes an aberration. Media houses, news portals or blogs that do not chant ‘NaMo’ are always under attack from the state and its trolls – because they question the status quo, they refuse to accept political decisions of the government without enough deliberations, they are critical of the state-sponsored domination, exploitation and terrorism. Non-mainstream media is therefore the haven in a heartless world where one is allowed her freedom of expression and thinking is not frowned upon, where we can still question the government, can raise questions. However, they are numerically fewer, often targeted with defamation by the powerful and run on crowd-funding. In the light of this, as NDA II ushers in, media in the periphery are likely to be hit even harder by the wave or tsunami of Modi, whatever we call it.
Amidst all these, one often wonders why non-mainstream media is always on the periphery, despite offering different voices to be heard. Also, why is it that in spite of being so overtly patriarchal, Modi came back to power? Is it because India is inherently patriarchal? Is it that India has retained more of British conservatism than western scientific rationality and enmeshed that with Brahmanical patriarchy? Or is it because neoliberal feminism encourages right extremism in the name of ‘choice’?
It is interesting to note that a woman leader in India has to wear the same robe of patriarchy worn by her male counterparts to be accepted by the people at large. Has India ever had a Jacinda Ardern? No, instead, it has had Iron Lady Indira Gandhi (in similar fashion to Margaret Thatcher in the UK). It is no surprise that India cannot accept a woman political leader without contextualising her to a patriarchal structure i.e. family – as a result, Mamata Banerjee is ‘didi’ (elder sister), Jayalalitha was ‘amma’ (mother) and Mayawati is ‘behenji’ (younger sister, also a socially derogatory term used to refer to women who are not sexually desirable).
Consequently, where medium is no longer the message, but is the propaganda itself, it is no surprise that Hindutva propaganda based on total control of one patriarch on all its subordinates across caste, gender and status lines (also possible dissenters) has spread faster than fire and paved the way for Modi’s second term as Prime Minister of India.
The writer is a researcher on Indo-German migration at University of Cologne. The views are personal.
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