Communalisation of Public Discourse
By KN Panikkar
The nature of public discourse is perhaps most effectively influenced by the communal presence in the media. The liberal and secular character of the media in India, developed as a part of the national movement, has been considerably eroded in recent times. Almost all media establishments today have a fairly large number of people who consciously promote the communal cause. This is reportedly an outcome of well-planned efforts at infiltration initiated about two decades ago. As a result, even when editorial policy remains secular, the reporting is tinged with the communal. That is the reason why some of the overtly secular media carry stories contrary to its own image. The dissemination of communal ideas is therefore not only through the publications like the Organiser and Panchajanya and innumerable such periodicals in regional languages, but also through mainstream secular media. The space thus garnered by communalism in the secular media helps impart certain respectability and legitimacy to it.
The communal media performs three well defined roles: the slow communalization of the civil society through the production of a counter discourse to the secular; the creation of conflict situations by distorting events, spreading rumours and pandering falsehood; the denigration of secular and liberal intelligentsia by attacking their integrity and undermining their professional competence. The first is a very complex process in which the publications of the communal outfits are understandably engaged, but the contribution of the mainstream media is not less important. From the early eighties a clear change in the use of concepts and language is clearly discernible in both reporting and lead articles. Girilal Jain’s essays on Indian Civilization published in the Times of India were perhaps the most symptomatic and influential in this respect. They clearly foregrounded the Hindu in the Indian which today appears to have become the widespread commonsense. In the process the Indian civilization has been deprived of its complex and dynamic character, attributing instead a unidimensional and static quality to it, which in turn helps the Hindu view of the nation. Terms like the ‘Hindu and Muslim rule’ and ‘thousand years of foreign rule’ have become so common a usage in almost every newspaper that very few find fault with them. When a large number of ‘journalists turned karsevaks’, a distinguished editor of a national paper had remarked that the media is bound to reflect the popular mood. He obviously overlooks the fact that the media is not a passive agent, uncritically receiving and transmitting news, but basically an instrument of social and political intervention. The media is intended to be objective, to the extent objectivity is possible, but whether it can be impartial is a debatable issue. For, can the media afford to make no distinction between democracy and Fascism?
What is characteristic about the communal media is that it is neither objective nor impartial. It blatantly highlights communal antagonism, even where none exists, invents areas of conflict, circulates rumours and incites people to take revenge. All these were manifest in the manner in which the Samna covered the Bombay riots of 1993 and Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar did in the recent incidents in Gujarat. The impact of these newspapers was not limited to stirring the hardened communal criminals into activity, if at all they needed any; they moved many an ordinary citizen into panic, hatred and revenge. But for this role of the media the riots in Gujarat would have perhaps died down much earlier than they actually did.
The communal media has virtually mounted a vicious campaign during the last two decades to undermine the credibility of the secular intelligentsia. Since the secular intelligentsia exercises a hegemonic influence in society the communal discourse can gain ground only by displacing the former. The personal vilification and academic denigration of the liberal and secular scholars and cultural activists who stand against the communal onslaught on education and culture are therefore resorted to. The Swayam Sewaks who parade as intellectuals, journalists with pretensions to scholarship and academic opportunists in search of patronage are in the forefront of this charge. The best – or is it the worst? – example of this attack was the series of articles by the investigative journalist, Arun Shourie, written in vituperative and abusive language and published in the ‘impartial’ Asian Age on the state of history in the country. Shourie not only cooked up, cleverly and dishonestly, the amount of money appropriated by historians but also discovered that D.D. Kosambi had no clue how to use sources! That his face was blackened by the Dalits of Maharashtra for misrepresenting the sources relating to Ambedkar has apparently not made any impression on his fertile mind.
(This is an excerpt from the author’s new book ‘An Agenda for Cultural Action and Other Essays’, published by Three Essays Press, New Delhi.)