Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dantewada: Militarization of the Media and the Second Dimension

By Amaresh Misra

Sample this: in the aftermath of the Dantewada massacre, with calls for blood, revenge and military action emanating from the extremely right wing section of the Indian political class, the army and air force chief call press conferences. They refuse openly to allow their forces into Chattisgarh, the new, subaltern `ground zero’.
At the same time, the fourth estate of the world’s most populous democracy—editors and columnists of a media that prides itself for being liberal, independent of the political class and a free speech champion—goes bonkers. In near full page articles, senior journalists call for military action. They also rationalize it by presenting a totally out of context and unfair review of post-Independence Indian history of dealing with insurgencies.
So what are we witnessing—a militarization of the media or a democratization of the army? Never before in the history of Independent India has the army called a press conference to defy civilian authority. In this case, democrats cannot but side with the army, for what it is saying makes more democratic sense than what so-called elected leaders of a democracy are saying.
Things get more interesting as the political dimension of the army’s unprecedented action unfolds. The army top brass would not have spoken out thus without the backing of the Defense Minister. Unlike P Chidambaram, the Home Minister, who at best has been a lawyer and a technocrat, AK Antony, the Defense Minister has run a state as a chief minister. The Defense Minister knows that politics in a democracy does not revolve around bluster and a technocratic-bureaucratic approach. In short, the Defense Minister is a political man, while P Chidambaram is clearly apolitical.
The Prime Minister, who started his political career as a technocrat has wizened up over the years—that is why he has been at best cagey and guarded about any `final solution to the Naxalite problem’ kind of talk. Unlike the HM, the PM probably realizes the political implications of `war’ in India’s tribal heartland and how little support he will get from real, rooted politicians in the Congress or outside for such a move. In fact, it is very likely that the PM’s own Cabinet will shoot down the move.
It is unfortunate, that a party like Congress, known for hardboiled politicians, has to send apolitical individuals to key government posts.
Today, Congress can be divided clearly into two sections: the techno-bureaucrats who represent multinational lobbies and corporate interests and hardboiled politicians like Digvijay Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Verappa Moiley and others who have been elected from their constituencies, have long experience in dealing politically with various sectors of the Indian population, and above all, are sensitive to public opinion and different caste-tribal and minority issues.
A senor journalist in an edit page piece has compared the actions of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel and Indira Gandhi in similar situations, to the present post-Dantewada scenario. He has explained how after Dantewada type incidents in Mizoram, Assam and Punjab, Mrs. Gandhi responded with tough police-military actions. How both Patel and Jawahar Lal Nehru used the army in Hyderabad and Goa and called it `police action’.
The `gentleman’-editor quoted these instances to press for a strong military response. This particular journalist is known to be more sensitive to the politics of democracy than his counterparts, who have started behaving as if Bollywood, fashion, glamour, stock market, technology and economics can be substituted for hard issues. But he forgot completely that unlike Chidambaram, Patel, Nehru and Indira Gandhi were political personalities. To compare the greats with the present HM is like comparing Tata and Birla with Vedanta, the mining company which Chidambaram represented as a lawyer. Incidentally, this company is said to be behind much of the anti-tribal havoc in Chattisgarh, something feeding directly the Maoist support base.
While tackling the Mizo or the Assam problem, Mrs. Gandhi relied on political personalities and political solutions. The Mizo accord was preceded by several packages to the Mizo populace the results of which started showing by the 1980s and the 1990s. The army presence did not prevent the emergence of a significant section of Mizo and Assamese liberals, who were rarely, touched even when they showed distinct signs of rebellious alienation. Above all, Mrs. Gandhi never allowed economics or the logic of `internal affairs’, armed intervention, and managerial approach to tower above the demands of politics.
The Mizo and Assamese rebels were never presented with an option of being against the nation. There was no `you are either with them or with the nation’ kind of dangerous fascist talk. The armed might of the Mizos or any other rebel group was not exaggerated. In fact, the idea was to go on with politics as usual, to use the right kind of political language, even the right kind of rhetoric, even as the socio-economic-politico-military dynamics swirled in motion.
That is the reason why, Mrs Gandhi, except during the Emergency never lost the support of liberals. Patel and Nehru of course were able to take action in Hyderabad and Goa, only because they had the support of leftists, socialists and liberals. In fact, it was through the right political language and behavior, that Patel and Nehru ensured support.
In the current situation, the Maoist threat has been exaggerated. Thus the fundamentals of politics—that you do not call rebels in a low intensity conflict Enemy No. 1—has been violated. The fact remains that over years Maoists have not been able to achieve their stated goal of building liberated zones. The propaganda that they are running parallel governments is the biggest lie of the past decade. The RSS in Gujarat and the mafia in Mumbai have more parallel power than Maoists. 80% of the firepower which Maoists possess has been looted from Indian security forces.
The fact of the matter is that the Indian Home Ministry has never really trained forces for true guerilla warfare—why? Not because of inefficiency, but because there is no real guerilla war going on. The Maoist violence is political. The rights of people backing Maoist have been violated and they are an exploited lot.
The stunning dimension of the picture however is that whenever activists come out to articulate politically the demands of the Adivasis, they are brutally hounded—what happened to Medha Patekar, Swami Agnivesh and Arundhati Roy? The first two are persona non grata for the media and the establishment. Roy and Vinod Mehta, the Outlook editor who published her article on Maoism in his magazine, have been threatened openly with arrest on news channels.
Such scenes were never witnessed during the Nehru-Indira Gandhi era—barring exceptions, intellectuals were not targeted like this even at the peak of the Naxalite movement in the early 1970s. It has to be remembered that till the Nehru-Gandhis were in power, the J&K insurgency did not assume the level it has now—the pre-1991 Indian establishment made several mistakes as far J&K is concerned but alienating the liberals and middle forces fully, and using non-political, insensitive, communal language, was not one of them. This happened during the Narsimha Rao Government and reached a peak during NDA rule.
The fight against Maoists cannot be won by alienating the middle ground, by suppressing mass movements. Today four elements can broadly counter Maoists effectively: Medha Patkar-Swami Agnivesh type liberal forces, the socialists, the left-democratic currents and Independent activists. However, all these elements are opposed also to the role of mining companies and their exploitation of mineral resources and tribal populace in the Adivasi-Maoist belt.
After 1991, to preserve the interest of the mining companies, government after government has repressed these middle forces. Devoid of a democratic space, people have had no option but to support the Maoists passively—this is all the Maoists have got—hesitant, passive support, born more out of helplessness and lack of an alternative.
In such a situation, is it wise to talk of a military solution to the problem? Shouldn’t senior journalists be more circumspect in what they say? Point out one article written by a top editor against the mining companies of the Chattisgarh belt—such an article, does not exist.
In democracy, the establishment is supposed to provide space for political dissent. The media is supposed to provide space for intellectual dissent. The establishment however has emasculated political dissent. Whereas the media has stopped publishing articles written by people who do not toe the `official’ editorial line—this is a direct subversion of the ideals Times of India, Hindustan Times and Indian Express once stood for. \
Today, democratic participation has been reduced to electoral participation—whereas intellectual participation has been reduced to some stray `letter to the editor’. A functioning democracy does not mean just successive elections. Freedom of the press does not mean freedom of the editors to suppress dissenting viewpoints.
Take the case of Muslims—after a long gap, they have again started supporting the Congress. Does this mean the Congress has won over their hearts and minds? No—the Congress has yet to concede a simple demand of enquiry into the Batala House encounter. Congressmen can go on winning from Muslim dominated pockets—does that mean that Muslims in their hearts have forgotten the Batala House issue or Babari Masjid demolition?
Politicians in the Congress like Digvijay Singh always supported the demand for an enquiry into the Batala House encounter—they never acceded to the view that an enquiry will damage the morale of the Police—why? Because arguments like the `morale of the Police will be hurt’ are incompatible with politics in a democracy—these are arguments of a Police, not a democratic state. In a democracy, a demand which voters feel strongly about, which is prima facie just and in keeping with the law of the land has to be met. Otherwise the state is violating its social contract with citizens.
In India, while the Congress is trying to revive a pluralist, inclusive- umbrella coalition, the BJP is still sticking to the one nation-one culture, authoritarian policy. Dissent, in BJP’s view is suspect and alien. BJP-RSS brand of thinking loves creating the image of the `other’—an entity standing outside the realm of the culture and ethos of the body politic. The BJP-RSS thinking brought the nation to the brink of disaster when they tried portraying Muslims as the `other’; now the same `other’ tag is being applied to Adivasis.
PC Chidambaran and his likes in Congress, BJP and the media are violating India’s pluralist ethos. There are plenty of right wing takers of BJP’s `other’, fascist thinking in Times of India, Indian Express, and Hindustan Times. When the time comes, people of India will give them a befitting reply.
For now, all secular-democratic forces ought to put pressure on the Congress President as to why people against her brand of inclusive, umbrella type, pro-poor politics, who have the full backing of the BJP, are being allowed to stay in office? The pro-mining, pro-multinational, BJP-minded technocrats—many of whom like the present Home Minister are not even Congressmen of standing—are committed to the overthrow of the pro-poor, pro-people politics of the Nehru-Gandhi family. One must understand this.

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