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Monday, September 28, 2020
Indian Press on News Channels, UN and Re-Making History: New Age Islam's Selection, 28 September 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 September 2020
• Small Minds Try To Re-Make History
By T J S George
• Untamed Spirit
By Sevanti Ninan
• UN Failed In Its COVID Response, But What About PM Modi’s Record?
By Manoj Joshi
• The Show Must Go Off
By Vivek Yadav
Small Minds Try To Re-Make History
By T J S George
27th September 2020
By re-writing history, can Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh delete history? What has happened has happened. By omitting facts from textbooks, we will not make them no facts; we will only make tomorrow’s students uninformed.
Throughout history and across cultures, those in power have tried to restructure history to suit themselves.
Facts were buried in the process, but they remained facts for impartial students to dig up and study. Being narrowly focussed on their self-interests, politicians are always inclined towards re-writing history with the aim of glorifying themselves.
The Maharashtra State Education Board removed chapters about Muslim rulers and Mughals from history textbooks last month.
Uttar Pradesh is doing the same thing now. A generation of Maharashtrians and Uttar Pradeshians will grow up ignorant of the fact that Mughals ruled India.
It will mean nothing to the Mughals. But it will mean illiteracy for those who are taught selective history.
It is strange that hardened ideologues do not see the negative side of this kind of approach to history. Sangeet Som, articulator of a hate-line BJP approach, had no hesitation to say: “History will be rewritten to erase Mughal Emperors from it.”
Who is he to do so? His boast means nothing because his mind is too small to grasp the significance of things. He was a critic of the Taj Mahal’s history, but felt compelled to accept that marvel in marble as a work of art. Beyond the Taj, however, Sangeet Som has a stand that is self-defeating and ignorance-based.
“What kind of history are you talking about,” he asked. “The same history in which the person who built the Taj Mahal imprisoned his father? Planned to annihilate all Hindus? I guarantee you that this history will be changed. Whether it is Babar, Akbar or Aurangzeb, the government is working to erase them from memory.”
No government in the world can erase historical figures from mankind’s memory. Unspeakable cruelties became state policy under rulers like Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Idi Amin. But they will never be erased from our memory.
A Pope did everything from murder to incest (John XII, 954-964) but he too will remain in history, complete with his criminal record.
The Mughals not only built the Taj Mahal (which Rabindranath Tagore described as “a teardrop of love”) but also set certain standards that did India good. Ashoka and Akbar are rated as the greatest emperors of the past.
But it is worth remembering that Ashoka showed his greatness by feeling guilty about killing a hundred thousand people in the battle of Kalinga; remorse led him to embrace Buddhism and become a messiah of peace.
Akbar became a messiah of tolerance without a bloodstained Kalinga giving him a guilty conscience. He took Hindu wives but never asked them to convert to Islam.
He even prohibited cow slaughter in his empire. His initiative in getting the Mahabharata translated into Persian is legendary. Yogi Adityanath may boast about deleting the Mughal Period from history, but no Mughal, no Akbar, no Shah Jahan will get deleted from history.
The only consequence of his attempt will be more people wondering how yogis get into politics. Facts cannot be eliminated even by saffron-clad sanyasins.
The sensible course open to authorities like Adityanath is to explain the facts in context. They should teach why Ashoka became Ashoka The Great, why Akbar became Akbar The Great. (And why Yogi Adityanath did not rise to those levels of greatness.)
It became known last month that Iran has been trying to rewrite history. Its 2019 textbook contained a story depicting two little girls and three little boys playing outdoors. The 2020 version of the book had the picture minus the girls. Policymakers also decided that women were not good enough to study maths and physics.
This is all the more ironic because Iran is a country where there is a 50-50 male-female ratio in universities. The dictatorial Shah of Iran had banned the veil. But the 1979 revolution led to the black chador becoming common.
Religious training was now added to the national curriculum. In 2019, just last year, Omar Khayyam’s name disappeared from several textbooks. That space was given to poems about Iranian martyrs in Syria and Lebanon.
So, does Omar Khayyam cease to exist? When the clouds are cleared, his name will glitter across the sky like Akbar’s does in the Indian sky.
Re-writing history is the hope of small minds. Fortunately for mankind, small minds perish in their smallness.
Yet another media trial, yet another television channel accusing Muslim citizens of jihad this year, and we are back to contemplating the perennial excesses of Indian news television amid fresh calls for institutional control.
The list of institutions, which have tried to make the worst offenders of television news behave, is already long. Even before judges of the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court expressed surprise and indignation this month, other high courts, the apex court itself, the Central government, state governments, individual chief ministers, state legislatures, Parliament, the Law Commission, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, and self-regulatory bodies have all attempted at some point to tame errant newscasters. Broadcast regulation in India has become everybody’s concern and yet they fail miserably to stop the excesses.
We have also failed to pass an effective law. India has no statutory broadcast regulation today because the industry and the government could not agree, all these years, on what such a legislation should look like. The mention of regulation makes the media bristle and not entirely without reason. Any draft the government has come up with over the years has had draconian fall-back provisions.
Draft broadcast regulation was introduced in 1997, 2001 and in 2007. The Broadcast Bill of 1997 and the Communications Convergence Bill of 2001 lapsed with the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabhas. The Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill of 2007 did not get very far either. In 2011, the second UPA government decided to set up a National Broadcasting Content Complaints Council instead that was meant to, at least, make private sector broadcasting more accountable. But that did not materialize.
So it is perhaps entirely in the fitness of things that last week, a long-time practitioner of what we consider objectionable TV journalism was given a Zoom platform to explain why television news is the way it is. An anchor whose channel back in 2007 was one of the first to attract a 30-day ban from the ministry of information and broadcasting but who bounced back and has flourished since.
He offered the following wisdom. “The line between entertainment and news has disappeared, there are new consumers of news to cater to. They want a news channel to be a one-stop shop for both information and entertainment, and they want it for free. So we have a ratings-based business model, and TRPs have nothing to do with discipline or responsibility. The more irresponsible you are, the higher your ratings will be.
“Responsible conduct is irrelevant to the viewer. Just as people do not reject politicians who break rules, they do not reject news which breaks rules.
“Viewer prefers gossip to news about farmers. My programme on Sushant Singh Rajput got 35 lakh views on Facebook, and the one on farmers got 7 lakh views. But how is the polity any different? Where is the CBI jaanch when a farmer commits suicide? Is anyone going to the Supreme Court for justice for the farmer?
“Channel owners have been compelled to make their editors into film producers. They are expected to follow box office formulas, and show what their box office collections are like. Today if I have not screamed, or driven somebody out of my studio, I will fall behind in my box office performance.”
The first takeaway from this box-office logic is that self-regulation will not make a dent in the practices of tabloid news TV. Why would they want to self-regulate when they have to compete to sell viewers to advertisers? Serious fines that hurt their revenues are more likely to dim their enthusiasm for re-enacting an actress’s death in a bathtub, or reconstructing an actor’s suicide or conducting a media trial of his girlfriend and her family.
The Bombay High Court expressed surprise this month that the government had no control over the electronic media and wanted to know why television news should not be regulated by the State.
But it is. The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 has a programme code and an advertising code, which government personnel, including district magistrates, are empowered to implement. And the ministry of information and broadcasting is a de-facto regulator, imposing arbitrary TV bans on channels whenever an internal committee thinks it fit and giving permission to telecast by controlling up linking and downlinking of television through licences.
But the government’s use of the Cable TV Act is arbitrary and, in the current instance, unapologetically partisan. Earlier this month, it let Sudarshan News broadcast the controversial show called ‘UPSC Jihad’. It asked the channel to ensure that the show does not violate any programme code prescribed in the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, knowing full well that it does. Newslaundry counted at least five violations of the programming code. It said the show caricatured Muslims as power-hungry brutes with terror links abroad who would hijack the country’s resources if they made it to the bureaucracy.
The outraged judges of the Supreme Court then made scathing observations while restraining Sudarshan News from broadcasting the remaining episodes of its controversial series. When you don’t have effective regulation, the highest court of the land resorts to undesirable pre-censorship.
Regulation governs television, radio and telecom licensing in other countries, sets technical standards, promulgates ethics codes, and receives and adjudicates complaints with fines, which can range from moderate to severe.
In 1995, when a Supreme Court bench decreed that India should have an independent regulator to govern the airwaves, it should have become the impetus to recognize that given the media boom happening a wide-ranging regulatory institution needed to be put in place with different branches governing a range of needs.
Today we have a government ministry licensing and regulating television, a separate regulator for telecom and broadband, a soft-touch regulator for the print media, and self-regulation for advertising and news TV, alongside the ministry. We don’t have the one institutional mechanism that might rein in outrageous violations by broadcasters — an independent, statutory complaints council empowered to levy substantial fines. Few will remember that the first Broadcasting Council mooted was in the Prasar Bharati Act passed by Parliament in 1990. This was meant to take complaints from the public regarding any broadcast by Prasar Bharati. By the time the Act came to be notified in 1997, the proposed Council had been dropped.
But given the burgeoning media and viewers addicted to over-the-top programming, what the good judges should be asking for is not more regulators but an effective complaints redressal mechanism.
Sevanti Ninan is a media commentator and was the founder-editor of TheHoot.org
UN Failed in Its COVID Response, but What About PM Modi’s Record?
By Manoj Joshi
27 Sep 2020
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the UN General Assembly’s annual session was fairly anodyne. He spoke of achievements, laid out complaints and put out promises linked to India’s non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council next year. And, he made a pitch for India to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
To this end, he invoked size, demography, culture, and ancient heritage. As well as a series of claims of achievement under the rubric of “Reform-Perform-Transform” that he said India was operating under.
The PM was right in blaming the UN for the several wars and terrorist attacks that the world has suffered. After all, the organisation was set up to prevent them and its Security Council was given unprecedented powers to deal with them. But, for all its flaws, the UN is not easy to replace.
Most people believe that with four of the permanent members supporting India’s bid, it is only China that is the problem. They may not be aware that even the US, our alleged principal backer, does not want India to get the kind of permanent seat that it and China have.
As Nikki Haley put it in 2017, when she was the US ambassador to the UN, the key to get India into the UN “would have to be not to touch the veto.” In other words, India would have to be satisfied with a second class status, even in a reformed UN.
Actually, most observers believe, that given the present geopolitical situation, reform in the UN is not a likely proposition. In other words, Modi is whistling in the dark.
The failures of the UN system have been manifest for some time and the lack of a coherent global response to the COVID-19 crisis has brought this out sharply, as pointed out by Modi. But whether India joining the high table would make a difference is another matter.
Beyond the natural right of a large country, Modi insisted that India needed to be taken seriously because of “the transformational changes” happening in the country. Actually, what the world is likely to insist on is not a “transformational” country, but a transformed one.
India gained a lot of support, especially from Russia and the western countries in the UNSC in the wake of its nuclear tests and economic surge in the early 2000s. But, in recent years, that promise has waned.
Not only is the Indian economy sliding, but the liberal democratic foundations of the Indian Republic are withering away, aided by the political forces that brought Modi to power.
As it is, some of the transformational changes enumerated by Modi are strictly in the government’s own mind. People do read and have eyes that can see. They would be immediately have been struck by the credit the PM is seeking on account of getting “600 million people free from open defecation in just 4-5 years”.
Pointers are there from a recent report of the C&AG. Central Public Sector Enterprises claimed they had constructed 1.4 lakh toilets in government schools in recent years, but 40 percent of those surveyed were found to be non-existent, partially constructed or unused.
So, we need to be cautious before accepting the claims Modi made before the UN, that India is providing Digital Access to its citizens, piped drinking water to 150 million households, connecting 600,000 villages with broadband fibre optics. Or that in the past “2-3 years, more than 500 million people have been provided access to free health care services”. There is a huge gap between claim and performance of the government.
A lot of data was fed to the UN, but a lot of information relating to actual implementation and actions of the government is being denied to the public and even to Parliament. Indeed, in terms of opacity, the Modi government has exceeded itself in the recent truncated session of Parliament.
It was, of course, one thing to kick the UN on account of its lack of effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But what about Modi’s record? The seemingly transforming country finds itself unable to cope with the challenge of COVID-19.
Vaccine Promise a Pure Hype
Nothing can match the incompetence and callousness of the government’s performance in locking down the country and forcing 10 million people to trudge hundreds of kilometers to their homes in the height of summer.
Given the fact that the full dimensions of the pandemic have yet to manifest, Modi’s promise at the UN on the vaccine front is pure hype: “I want to give another assurance to the global community. India’s vaccine production and vaccine delivery capability will work to take the whole humanity out of this crisis.”
This came a day when Adar Poonawala, CEO of India’s major vaccine producer, Serum Institute of India, wondered whether the Union government would have Rs 80,000 crore to purchase and distribute the vaccine within this country over the next year.
It takes no genius to realise that unless money is provided upfront, and now, there will be no vaccine, even for India next year.
Is Modi Govt Fighting COVID Crisis With Expertise or Artifice?
One wonders whether the Modi government is aware of the real dimensions of the crisis. Having coerced the media to deliver propaganda, playing down the scale of the crisis, the government is now being taken in by its own artifice.
Some of the requirements of the vaccines are complex, some needing multiple doses, others requiring a deep cold-chain, not just the ordinary one, to ensure the effectiveness of the vaccine. The governance capacity that the Modi government has displayed does not make for too much optimism on this score.
India may not have caught up with the fact that its image in the liberal international world is now fading. Repeated “masterstrokes” like demonetisation, GST roll out, splitting and down-grading Jammu & Kashmir, have not just failed to yield results, but caused great misery. This has not gone unnoticed around the world, even if the Indian media has consciously underplayed it.
A recent article in Time Magazine said that Modi has governed India in a manner that has ignored India’s fabled religious tolerance and diversity. “The crucible of the pandemic became a pretence for stifling dissent. And the world’s most vibrant democracy fell deeper into shadow.”
Strong words repeated by long-time friends of India like Ashley Tellis, who said that many liberal powers aided India’s ascent and its rise was “widely welcomed.” But “a recent wave of policies widely perceived to be illiberal has eroded this confidence.” If India moves away from its liberal character, the West’s eagerness to partner India will be diluted.
Modi’s advisers may have convinced him of India’s standing and heft. But the reality is that we are simply not important to either the US, the EU, Russia or China in terms of trade and commerce. Even in the area of security, India’s domestic compulsions – many self-created – are such that they preclude India from playing a significant extra-regional role.
Perhaps one day, the UN will be reformed and India will get the seat in its high councils as a great power. But that day will not come till the time India gets its act together in economic and political terms.
No amount of manipulating the narrative at home and massaging public opinion in the West is likely to work. The world will look for heft, and not hype, before making that decision.
Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own.
The New Age Islam neither endorses nor is responsible for them.
Rather than leading others into action, politicians today aspire to enthral and entertain. Representative image. Photo: Reuters
Since the supernatural has made a return on news television, we might be forgiven for engaging in a little black magic of our own.
Suppose, then, that using a conjuring trick learnt from our television anchors, we could summon the great philosopher Abhinavagupta’s spirit from some other worldly realm where it reposes in perpetual self-relish to present-day India.
To be beckoned to the mundane loka in this season of death is a misfortune we ought not to wish upon any half-decent spirit, least of all on a philosopher as great as Abhinavagupta. But as a loka addicted to real-life drama we stand in urgent need of his philosophical counsel to guide us out of our present predicament.
Abhinava is of course the most famous proponent of that philosophical paramparā which for almost two millennia has reflected upon art more systematically and with greater insight than any other intellectual tradition in the world. But in times like ours, it might be more pertinent to point out that besides being a first rate philosopher, Abhinavagupta was also a Kashmiri Pandit, whose ancestors had been brought to the valley by the king of Kashmir from Kannauj in present-day Uttar Pradesh.
Perhaps the first thing Abhinava would notice about present-day India is the complete effacement of the boundary between nātya and loka, which he had so carefully demarcated in his philosophy.
The Kashmiri strand of Rasa philosophy, which completely revolutionised Sanskrit aesthetics near the end of the first millennium A.D., regarded the mundane loka as devoid of rasa. To this niras loka of serious ends and real actions, the Kashmiri philosophers counterposed the playful world of art. Nātya was for Abhinava the locus of aesthetic relish (rasāswāda), which he understood to be the most exquisite pleasure known to mankind.
But confronted now with real-life drama, a liminal form which seems to belong neither to nātya nor to the loka, Abhinava would arrive inevitably at the staggering conclusion that nātya had emerged out of the theatre and become entangled with the loka.
Thus, fictional narrative, which otherwise forms the backbone of drama, now routinely accompanies actions in the real world of politics. Political actions today present themselves clothed in a layer of self-narrative, which takes the sort of liberty with facts which has traditionally been the prerogative only of poets and writers of fiction. We can only imagine Abhinava’s exasperation as he would struggle to parse the real from the unreal in present-day political narratives. It would soon become evident to him that outside the theatre a fictional narrative serves only to obfuscate and distract from reality.
If encountering fictional narrative in the loka would disturb Abhinava, what he sees next would positively alarm him. Politicians and dramatic characters today effortlessly cross the ontological boundary between the unreal world of the theatre and the real world of politics, as if it were a line drawn in sand, easily overstepped.
While film-stars have been seamlessly making the transition to politics for several decades, outside the theatre these actor-politicians seldom provide evidence of the same exemplarity of character they so artfully display on the stage. Exceptions aside, the vast majority of these actor-politicians stand out as exemplars only of naked opportunism.
Film stars turning to politics, Abhinava would note, is only the flip side of an altogether more dangerous transformation, as a result of which present-day politicians have come to resemble stage-actors. From the grand master of ceremonies to the lowly anchor, political agents of all shades and stripes seem to have learnt a thing or two from their dramatic counterparts. Rather than leading others into action, politicians today aspire to enthral and entertain.
But unlike the stage-actor who openly acknowledges the artifice involved in dramatic acting, these real-life actor-politicians do not acknowledge the artifice involved in their own performance, thus perpetrating a particularly insidious sort of deception upon the audience.
But perhaps nothing can prepare Abhinava for the shock he would invariably experience when he realises that not just fictional narrative and dramatic personae, but rasa itself had made its way out of the enchanted world of the theatre and permeated the mundane loka.
The artificial, and thus other-worldly (alaukik), emotions portrayed in drama are called rasas because they are relished by the audience. Since the audience are aware that the dramatic action is not real, they are free to relish the emotions being portrayed on the stage. But there is a playful deception involved in nātya, which led Abhinava to liken it to a jaggery-coated medicine. Just as bitter medicine is ingested all the more easily when coated with a sweet layer, nātya indirectly delivers to its viewers a rasa-laden learning, which in turn sets them firmly on the path of propriety, the highway leading to the fourfold ends of mankind.
Nātya, after all, had been created by Brahma as a fifth, and universally accessible, Veda, in order to deliver the loka from its vulgar ways. But, as Abhinava would note aghast, the very same nātya, upon emerging outside the theatre, has itself transformed into a vulgarity of sorts. It is not merely that politics has become more akin to drama; the electorate too seem to have developed a taste for spectacular politics. The show on news television is sustained by a peculiar sort of pleasure that viewers derive from relishing real-life emotions.
Media personnel surround Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty as she arrives at NCB office for questioning, in Mumbai, September 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
Real-life drama aims at providing to its audience a relish of sorts in real emotions, which are directed at real issues, situations, and persons. But unlike rasa in the theatre, the experience of tasting real-life emotional states is an improper pleasure. If rasa within the theatre is vehicle of truth, this real-life (laukik) rasa is intended to mislead the audience, and obscure from them the truth of the matter. Addiction to this perverted pleasure, Abhinava would plainly observe, is far more dangerous than to that green herb which performers and audiences in India have consumed for millennia past to heighten their aesthetic relish.
Instead of a mirror of propriety, peering into which the loka could learn the ideals of propriety, real-life drama, then, is more akin to a dark mirror of sorts, which everyday disseminates into the loka new kinds of improprieties.
Thus beholding the monstrosity called real-life drama, which had been hiding in plain sight all this while, Abhinava would no doubt see it for what it is — a form of violence. To the extent that it serves to obfuscate facts and distract from reality, real-life drama is a potent weapon in the hands of the orchestrators of publicity today.
Utterly disillusioned with our world, and desiring to leave the loka to its own devices, Abhinava would at this point undoubtedly wish to take our leave and to return to his eternal repose. But before turning his back to us, the wise philosopher shall not forget his last duty towards the loka, and offer it a piece of parting advice.
Lending his voice to the growing chorus calling for viewers of news television to vote with their remotes, and turn off their television sets, he would urge us to bring the dangerous drama unfolding on news television to an end.
Vivek Yadav is an advanced graduate student at MESAAS, Columbia University, where he studies contemporary Indian politics.