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Jan 26, 2023

To Ban or Not to Ban, That is Not For You to Question

From the Vishwaguru Archives: A glimpse into the debate over how to respond to the BBC’s documentary on our Leader.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

This is a work of fiction. Although it may appear closer to reality than fiction.

Two members of the Inner Clique sought an urgent meeting with the Chhote Saheb. They were puzzled and wanted guidance and talking points from the great Chanakya about our hysterical reaction to the recent BBC documentary on Bade Saheb.

The Chhote Saheb was amused and asked what in particular was bothering them in our response to the BBC documentary.

The Inner Cliquers: Sir, this is exactly a repeat story of the Kissa Kursi Ka episode. All these years, we have been banging Congressmen for banning that film. Sir, you have read Bishen Tandon’s PMO Diary, where he describes how the growing intolerance among people around Indira Gandhi played games with her own judgment and how she ultimately settled for the Emergency. 

Sir, this is not India of the mid-1970s. We cannot shut down global platforms. We hear from our friends in London that banning the BBC documentary has not gone down well with them. In fact, they say it has harmed our Leader’s image.

Chhote Saheb sniggered: Will you kindly tell me if these NRIs come and vote for our Leader? Why should we give a naya paisa worth of thought to what these NRIs think? Is it not enough that we do this Pravasi Diwas event? 

The Inner Cliquers: Saheb, of course, you have the experience of dealing with such people. But the feeling in the party is that these days, decision-making is being unduly influenced by the foreign office. Where was the need for the MEA spokesperson to go ballistic?

Chhote Saheb chuckled. “I have no use for these fancy and polished people. The minister wants to impress the Boss and so the foreign office is on overtime. Sometime they over-pitch. Hota hai, kabhhi kabhi. Chalta Hai.

The Inner Cliquers: Saheb, this G20 tamasha, of course, is just the right opportunity for our Leader to emerge as the Vishvwaguru. The foreign office is taking advantage of this. But, sir, it is our duty to tell you that the feeling in the party is that our Leader’s stature is so tall and so impressive that a biased documentary cannot harm his global standing.

The Chhote Saheb was not buying any of this. “But, our Leader also has to maintain the image of a Strong Leader. And Strong Leaders do not allow anybody to mock them. Can the BBC make a documentary about Xi of China? Or Putin of Russia? We are no longer a weak country. We cannot allow anyone to mock our Leader. Have you not noticed that we have already made the British prime minister mark his distance from the BBC documentary? And we have not even said anything about using the ED to turn up the heat on his family!

The Inner Cliquers, both seasoned operatives, were not ready to give up. “But, Saheb, Xi does not have to contest an election. Putin has no use for this nuisance either. But, our Leader still needs to contest and win elections. His middle class constituency would not be happy with this heavy-hand being used against the BBC.   

Chhote Saheb was now worked up: “Please listen to me carefully. I need not explain the chronology to you, of all people. It is simple, very simple. This is the Gujarat formula. And, what is that? Any criticism of Modi ji was simply presented as an insult to all the Hindus of Gujarat. We used the words, “Gujarati ashmita”. It became a code word. We made all of them an accomplice in whatever happened and did not happen to the Mianbhais. 

“And, now we have replicated this model all over India. Do you not see how beautifully it is working out? Have you not read the statement put out by 302 useless fools – the retired IFS, IAS types, veterans and so on against the BBC? Nobody asked them to do this! And see how beautifully they have framed the issue: “Not this time. Not with our Leader. Never with India. Never on our watch.” You will say most of them are time-servers and want something out of us, True. But the larger public does not know that these are turn-coats.

Chhote saheb was not finished: “You worry about the middle class vote. But my experience and gut feeling tell me something else. Our Leader has cast a spell on them. The poor can go away from us, but these middle classes will keep on voting for us as long as our Leader is able to spin dreams for them. BBC be banned.”

His phone rang and he waved the Inner Cliquers away. An apparatchik at the other end wanted guidance on how to deal with university students defying the ban by organising a screening of the documentary in an auditorium. “Just tell the electricity department to blow a fuse,” he shouted. 

Atmanirbhar is the pen-name of an aspiring satirist, who irregularly contributes a column, From the Vishwavguru Archives, and believes that ridicule and humour are central to freedom to speech and expression.

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