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New India: How Not To Be Gaslighted By It || Midweek Matters 40

24-12-2021published_dt 2021-12-24T06:07:46.137Z24-12-2021 11:37:46 IST
Updated On 24-12-2021 11:38:01 ISTmodified_dt 2021-12-24T06:08:01.729ZUpdated On 24-12-20212021-12-24T06:07:46.137Z24-12-2021 2021-12-24T06:07:46.137Z - 2021-12-24T06:08:01.729Z - 24-12-2021

Hello and welcome

To Midweek Matters.

What a friend of mine said the other day started me thinking. He said, our political discourse has come to such a stage that if you support the government and praise the Kashi Vishwanath corridor you’re a nationalist and a patriot. If you speak about hunger and unemployment you’re are branded an anti national and an urban naxal. His perception is right, broadly speaking. This is the narrative of binaries the government, the ruling party and its supporters are very effectively pushing. Our social media and instant messaging service platforms like WhatsApp are inundated with this narrative. An influential section of our print and television media to a large extent reflect this narrative. Today I want to dwell on the main features of our dominant national public discourse.

But before I do that, please allow me to deal with the responses to the episodes of Midweek Matters. It is only to give you an illustration with the help of a specific example of the overall state of affairs in our public discourse. Once I get this specific illustration out of my way, I will go on to dwell on the general state of public discourse in the country.

Many of you might have noticed that I read and acknowledge almost all the responses. The reactions broadly fall into two categories. One, those that are appreciative of the episodes. Second, those that are critical of the way I approach and deal with the themes that I choose to comment on. The critical ones further fall into two categories. Those that are ad hominem, that is, those that get personal, nasty, and sometimes use filthy abusive language. I ignore them. I have lived long enough not to be perturbed by such below the belt, cheap comments. I believe that only those who have no substance to refute my arguments resort to such remarks. The other category of critical remarks are decent, but more often than not lack substance. I will list some representative comments here.

Some people accuse me of being negative. Some ask me why I don’t see anything positive at all in what the government is doing. A few brand me as anti government and anti PM. They ask me, don’t you see that the alternative is bad, do you want to see x,y, or z as our next PM? Don’t you know that they would be a disaster? Some others say, well Parakala, you are only highlighting the problems sitting pretty in your a/c room. Tell us what are YOU doing to solve them. Don’t just talk. Do something. There are others who say, you must also talk about the solutions. We are all aware of the problems.


The primary intention of Midweek Matters is to raise a red flag when I see something going wrong. To unpack the process of the country's drift towards ideals, ideas and actions that are inimical to our Republic's democratic, plural, liberal and secular creed. To highlight the good done by the government, there are many many platforms in the country. In fact there’s a glut of such news platforms, media outlets. The government's own gigantic publicity machinery, and the ruling party's well funded digital army doing that job. They tell us that all is well. They overwhelm our public discourse with a huge quantity of newsfeed and opinion columns and discussions so much so that critical voices are squeezed out of the pages and screens. With a very few honourable exceptions, many media houses have turned, wittingly or unwittingly, into cheer leaders and clapper boys of the current regime. Most of them tend not to ask critical questions. They’re not forceful in calling the attention of our government leaders to the plight of the voiceless and the marginalised. Some of the platforms openly push the government's and ruling party's agenda. Midweek Matters is not intended to join this crowd. Its mission is to take a critical look at what’s happening around us and to our Republic. I don’t intend to say a few good things here and there, now and then, to qualify to be objective in the eyes of those who are uncritical admirers of our present regime.


Midweek Matters is an unabashedly critical voice, it is unrepentantly a dissenting note.

Midweek Matters is not, I repeat it’s not, anti someone or anti something. It is wedded to the founding ideals and principles of our democratic, plural and liberal Republic. I do not work for or against any individual or a political platform. I believe that the people will choose their leaders and governments. I have no illusion that this small obscure programme like Midweek Matters could be playing any significant role in influencing those choices. My task is simple, limited and focused. It is to point out when our government, public institutions and our leaders depart from the ideals of our Republic and deviate from their stated objectives and promises to the people. A simple effort to speak truth to power. I am unconcerned with alternatives. That’s not the brief that I have given myself. Period. I want the incumbents to do well. To redeem their pledges. To uphold democratic norms. To preserve the plural, liberal and secular character of our Republic. If they don’t I raise my voice. I point it out. Irrespective of the outcome or impact of my effort. As a simple act of citizenship.

As a citizen, in order to raise an issue, I do not think I need to earn a pre qualification. That I should be also ready with a solution in order to highlight a problem. I believe that in a mature democracy, solutions emerge out of an open and informed discussion in which people and experts participate. I believe that I need not earn the right to be critical by also saying something good about the government and it’s leaders once in a while. I can choose to be critical without in some way singing praises of the regime. That doesn’t make me less objective or inadequately impartial. I do not have to to fake impartiality and objectivity. I do not feel obliged to say, look there I complimented the powers that be, and therefore here when I criticise them I’m only being even handed. No. That’s not my way. I exercise my full blown, unhindered, untrammelled democratic right to speak my mind to the powers that be. In a civilised way. Be faithful to facts and give them a fair crack of the whip. Toxic comments and concerted trolling do not discourage me. They do not gaslight me.


Let me now turn to the over all state of our public discourse. Pro government, pro ruling dispensation narrative seem to have acquired the ability to effectively gaslight people. Look at these examples. With the publicity blitzkrieg on 2 crore Covid vaccine jabs on PM's birthday, and then 100 crore jabs later, today one is pushed to disbelieve the hardships that people faced due to government's vaccine mess. By the continuous pushing of the rise in digital money transactions narrative on to the news cycle, one might tend to forget the weeks and months of deprivation and gigantic economic collapse one has experienced due to mindless demonetisation. By playing down the news and comment on Jammu and Kashmir the government expects people to forget about the long periods of incarceration of the state's political leadership, Internet shutdowns and the attendant anger of people post abolition of article 370. The long and torturous trek back home by thousands of hapless migrant labour due to government’s indifference has almost disappeared from the national consciousness. The PM remembered to bring back the horrors of partition almost 75 years after the events onto the national agenda, but wants the nation to forget the suffering of our migrant labour under his watch. His government wants to showcase the redevelopment of Kashi and Kedarnath as a celebration of Virasat, our heritage. So that the people of poll bound states gloss over the lack of Vikas, don’t mind steep price rise, joblessness, lawlessness of vigilante groups and even feel enthused by hateful communal rhetoric and empowered by polarising symbolism.

This gaslighting numbs. We no longer agonise over Covid deaths. We have become numb to them. Do not remember the Covid dead floating in Maa Ganga.


We have become numb to it; not talk about China's incursions and setting up settlements in our territory. We have become numb. We forgot about unethical capture of power in states without winning legislative majorities. We ignore the fiasco of swearing in of a BJP CM in the wee hours and have become numb to his leaving quickly and ignominiously. We forgot that the touted gains of demonetisation have not materialised and have become numb to the insincerity of PM's plea to give him 50 days to set things right.

In addition to gaslighting there is branding. Anyone who questions, dissents, opposes, differs is branded as anti government. Criticising government is anti Modi. Anti Modi is anti national, anti India, unpatriotic. To be patriotic and nationalistic, one has to be pro government, pro BJP and admire Modi. There are people who genuinely believe in this narrative. And propagate it. One can’t blame them. They are under a spell. They belong to the ruling party and serving the government. That’s no surprise. But there are such people in the academia, trade, industry, civil services and professions. Surprisingly in the media too. They seem to think that good things are indeed happening. Price rise, joblessness, compromising our constitutional institutions, subversion of our democratic processes, undermining of parliamentary procedures, violations of fundamental rights and privacy, Pegasus like digital intrusion are for them only a small price to pay for the grander civilisational mission that this government is set out to accomplish.


But there are others. They don’t believe in this. Still they sign up for the narrative and champion it because of the Faustian bargain they struck with the ruling dispensation. That is tragic for our Republic. They’re conscious of the damage they’re doing and yet are content with personal rewards and gratifications. Some of course would like to be on the winning side. For no particular gain. But they too inflict equal damage on our public discourse. And some simply cannot stand up against the might of the government. Their business interests won’t let them. All these elements are unlike one another. Their motivations are different. Their incentives are different. But they all coalesce to serve the ruling dispensation's binary narrative. Brand it’s critics and dissenters. Numb the nation. Help game the system. Perpetuate the spin and distraction. So that when people's attention is engaged in the grand choreographed events of Kashi, Kedarnath, Ayodhya on the one side, and gala celebrations of billion Covid jabs, foreign tours and grand launches of government programmes at dazzling events on the other, they become numb to the regime's assaults on the ideals of our Republic.

I’m reminded of a conversation in the film Gladiator between two Senators about the new Caesar Commodus, son and successor of Marcus Aurelius

Senator One: One hundred and fifty days of games?

Senator Two: He’s cleverer than I thought

Senator One: The whole Rome would be laughing at him... if they’re so afraid of his Praetorians

Senator Two: Fear and wonder.. A powerful combination.

Senator One: You really think the people will be seduced by that?

Senator Two: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them, and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate. It’s the sand of the Colosseum. He'll bring them death, and they'll love him for it.


That’s all for this week. Will be back again next week, Wednesday afternoon,

Lunch time at 1:00 o’clock.

Stay safe and do take good care of yourselves and all your dear ones.

Until then, bye.