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Feb 04, 2023

Conspiracies, Nationalism and Delusions: A Bad Fortnight for BJP

With the controversy around the BBC documentary on Modi, the runaway success of Shah Rukh Khan's film 'Pathaan', and the Hindenburg report on Gautam Adani, the right wing appears to have lost the plot in the last fortnight.
Home minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI

This last fortnight has not been a good one for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its bhaktiveers, even if we discount the irony of an autocratic despot being invited as the chief guest at our Republic Day function.

One would have expected that the wiseacres of the ministry of external affairs (MEA) would – in between rejecting assorted documentaries and financial exposures as conspiracies – have advised the prime minister that a person who tears up his own country’s constitution is not the best choice to preside over another nation’s commemoration of its still intact (though fraying at the edges) constitution. But then one should expect this from our new werewolf warrior diplomacy, I guess. As they say, a man is known by the company he keeps.

BBC documentary controversy

Of greater import, however, was the official overkill on the BBC’s two-part documentary on ‘The Modi Question’. Hastily putting on his saffron tie and without even bothering to see the documentary, the MEA spokesperson informed the media that it was a “conspiracy” against India and indicative of a “colonial mindset”.

Students gathered in JNU to watch banned BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Special arrangement

This is what I term a typical lazy “Augmentin” response. For my more healthy readers, Augmentin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic: when a doctor is too lazy or incompetent to identify the exact cause of your infection, he will prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic, hoping that it will work against your virus too. It’s like a cluster bomb, and of late it has become the weapon of choice of the MEA, led as it is by another (to continue with the ordnance phraseology) loose canon.

Even Twitterati will concede that the BBC’s credibility is slightly higher than that of our government spokespersons, Kangana Runout or Amit Malviya. It is funded by the British taxpayer (the British government is just a conduit, though most rashtraveers here will miss this fine distinction) and its loyalty is to the former, not the latter.

A couple of years back it released a similar factual documentary on the Bengal famine of 1940, squarely holding Churchill and the then colonial government to account. It never let up on Boris Johnson as prime minister and carried full reports on his Partygate shenanigans during Covid. It is therefore a bit rich when our own TV anchors – TRPveers – who long ago sold their grandmothers to the highest bidder, tell us that the BBC is compromised and has no credibility.

Also read: Protest Screenings of BBC’s Modi Documentary Continue Despite Centre’s Efforts to Ban

I believe that Swapan Dasgupta (who used to be a journalist in pre-Vedic times), and who has been given more than his fair share of screen space as an apologist for the BJP in the documentary, is the media advisor to the prime minister. If so, he should be shown the door immediately for the government’s decision to ban the film on digital platforms, and, as a logical follow-up, to use force to prevent its viewing in public or in university campuses. For now, this documentary has become the second most sought after video after Pathaan and Deepika Padukone’s panties.

If Dasgupta had not spent all his time defending the indefensible, he would perhaps have learnt about the Streisand effect. It all began when in 2003 the California Coastal Project Report uploaded a picture of the coastline in which Barbara Streisand’s Malibu mansion was also visible. The intention was to develop proper policies for combating coastal erosion. But the actress filed a suit claiming US$50 million for invasion of privacy. The attendant publicity, however, had the opposite effect from what she had intended: where earlier the photograph had only six downloads, her action resulted in 42,0000 downloads in the following months! Attempts to suppress or hide information only ensure wider dissemination and draw even more attention to it. Which is what is happening to the BBC documentary much to the embarrassment of the bhaktiveers.

Pathaan effect

The double whammy, based on a similar principle playing out, was delivered by the film Pathaan. It has been obvious for some time that, for reasons I cannot fathom, Shah Rukh Khan is the right wing’s bete noire; maybe there’s something here none of us is aware of. For he has always comported himself in public as a gentleman, has stayed away from politics and has been reticent to a fault. I suspect that that is what angers some people. He does not conform to the image of the “enemy” that these lumpens target, and he refuses to endorse the politics of the day (as most of his peers have spinelessly done). But he is India’s biggest superstar and therefore must be brought down if only to convey that people of his community cannot be allowed to succeed in this new rashtra.

Internationally, Bollywood is the preeminent face of India’s soft power, from the time of Raj Kapoor to A.R. Rehman. And the face it presents is one of joyful cultural diversity, multi-faith, multi-community, whether it be in its content, songs, dances, lyricists, directors, singers or actors. This is not acceptable to the present dispensation and its adherents, which desperately wants India should be viewed only through a single religious and cultural prism. And since Shah Rukh Khan is the recognisable face of the other Bollywood he has to be brought down and “in the dust be equal made” with the Vivek Agnihotris and Akshay Kumars of the world.

The unconscionable targeting of his son in a patently false drug case boomeranged on the government last year. So Pathaan, his first film in five years, could not be allowed to succeed. Controversies were manufactured, TV debates engineered to build up public opinion against it, social media was swamped with “boycott Pathaan” calls, threats were held out liberally by petty minions of power. But the Streisand effect came into play again, as it had done earlier for Brahmashastra too, and Shah Rukh’s movie is well on its way to becoming our own Titanic or Avatar. The push-back from Bollywood appears to have finally started.

Also read: Bollywood Is a Major Target for Right Wing Groups Looking for Signs of ‘Hinduphobia’

Is the toxic nationalism virus becoming weaker, like the Covid one, or are we developing greater immunity to it? Time will tell, but these two developments last fortnight are a harbinger of better times (which should not be confused with “acche din“).

Adani effect

As I write this, a triple whammy has just been delivered by the Hindenburg report on the Adani conglomerate whose valuation has plummeted faster even than the moral values of our TV anchors. The story is still a work in progress but, as usual, the “conspiracy” and “anti-India” cards have been pulled out of the deck again to counter the report.

It didn’t help much that the CFO of Adani Enterprises, in a televised address on Tuesday, wrapped himself in the national flag and compared the carnage of his shares to the Jalianwala Bagh massacre! At least he spoke, even though it was burlesque at its worst, for there has been a resounding silence otherwise – not even a well-oiled squeak out of the finance ministry, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Stock Exchanges or State Bank of India (SBI) so far.

It’s not a question of who will blink first (Adani has already blinked by cancelling his FPO last night), the real question is: who will speak first? For all, I know the facts presented in this report or in the BBC documentary may be wrong (though I suspect they are not), but surely this great nation cannot be equated to two individuals, notwithstanding their delusions of immortality?

Not a very auspicious beginning to the Amritkal or our much-vaunted G-20 presidency, is it?

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer.

A version of this article appeared on the author’s blog, View From [Greater] Kailash and has been edited by The Wire for style.

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