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Resisting Dictatorship, One Video at a Time

At a time when big media platforms have deployed all their resources to glorify the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a video asking if India is headed towards dictatorship getting mass viewership assumes greater significance.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty.

She feels distraught

because she does not get complete information

what can I do to help him

she depends on me for love,

Every time she knows something incomplete,

or one day she’ll stop asking

Or when she will be reprimanded for asking

one day suddenly some day

taking a deep breath

She will turn her face away quietly.

These are the lines from late poet Raghuvir Sahay’s poem ‘Uska Man’. In the poem, he is talking about a woman. But, as is the case with every great poem, its pronoun can be used in different contexts.

In the context of today’s India, does this pronoun ‘she’ represent the collective noun we know as public? Not getting information can be a reason for being distraught. Just as it is difficult for a woman to survive as an individual without information, information is the lifeline for people in any democracy.

This poem came to my mind when I saw YouTuber Dhruv Rathee’s latest video that is creating a sensation on social media platforms.

When we thought, and not wrongly, that India was sleepwalking into a dictatorship, the news of this video being watched by more than 10 million people came as a shock to many of us. Especially the fact that the video is getting popular among the youth.

At a time when big media platforms have deployed all their resources to glorify this government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when the same name is being chanted everywhere, when all that our top intellectuals say is that in May 2024, Modi will return as the prime minister, when we are told that the die is cast, just then a video appears warning the people that they are offering themselves to a dictator and starts spreading like fire. What does it mean?

Is this a sign that there is still a hunger to know the truth in India? Are the people of India ready to fight to save themselves from being transformed from citizens into subjects? At a time when almost everyone has given up because no one wants to hear anything, what does the extraordinary viewership of this video tell us?

In the video, Dhruv explains, very calmly, why and how dictatorship is gradually taking root in India under the guise of democracy. The point is being made in a logical manner and without any excitement or pompous words. Perhaps this is the reason why this video is being watched. Dhruv is not saying anything new, this analysis has been reported many times and by many people before him. But it should not undermine the significance of the video.

Supporters of the Modi government fear that the viewers of this video might primarily belong to the age group of first and second time voters. This is not an unfounded fear. I heard my wife’s nephew calling from Mumbai asking her to watch this video. He is not a typical Modi detractor. There would be many like him asking their parents and relatives to watch it. That is alarming for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Modi.

Another proof of the video’s impact is that the pro-government camp has already pressed some social media influencers into action to counter Rathee. All of a sudden there are also those recalling Rathee’s political inclination, informing us that he has been a supporter of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), hence there must be an ulterior motive behind this video. There is also an argument that while Rathee is calling Modi a dictator in the video, signs of dictatorship can be found in the politics of Arvind Kejriwal.

Does this prove the point of this video wrong? Do the facts and arguments of this video become false because Rathee’s political sympathies lie with a party which can be potentially dangerous? Should Rathee have also told his viewers that there is a danger of Kejriwal becoming a dictator and only then his analysis of Modi would become credible?

Are we saying that it is pointless to criticise the BJP or Modi because others can also turn out to be the same? If we are looking for a pure democratic leader and party upon whose arrival only should this government be replaced, then we are preparing to push ourselves into an abyss that we will never escape.

Rathee is giving information which is the lifeblood of democracy. It is not surprising that the first thing a dictator wants to do is to clamp down on sources of information. There will be only one source of information and that is the mouth of the dictator. The rest will only be his loudspeakers. Be it Stalin or Mao, Hitler or Mussolini, every dictator wants this. Just his image, just his voice. The leader is the journalist, the economist, the sociologist, the poet, the psychologist and the philosopher. He is the chief priest and he is the king. When one voice continues to be poured day and night in the public’s ears, they gradually lose the ability to listen to other voices.

At such a time, those who understand the value of democracy fulfil their duty of keeping the public’s ears alive, regardless of how many ears are ready for it. Their job is to keep the ears alert. And for that, the nutrition of true information is required.

The popularity of Rathee’s video only means that this is no time to become pessimistic before the inevitability of dictatorship. People want to live. And what should we do if we love these people who want to live? Act like Dhruv Rathee. It is not very difficult.

Apoorvanand is an academic and an author.

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