Spin Doctors, Propagandists and the Modi Make-over
Elsewhere on Kafila, we have published a 7000 word long response by Madhu Kishwar to Zahir Janmohamad’s open letter to her which appeared on 15 January, followed by Zahir Janmohamad’s response. Perhaps a few things need to be stated here clearly with respect to her ‘response’. It seems to me to violate every tenet of reasoned debate and argument and is replete with name calling and stereo-typing of not just the secularist ‘other’ [who is her real other, not the Muslim] but even of the adversary she is arguing with. So if Zahir is a Muslim, he has to be X, Y, Z and has to be believing in A, B, C. Everything starts and ends in bad faith. But then that is what distinguishes Madhu Kishwar from others. She is in her element especially in relation to those whom she disagrees with. With her there can be no disagreement – you have to be sneered and jeered at, irrespective of whether you are a Medha Patkar or an Aruna Roy. I suppose these are matters of personal style and I shall not dwell on them further.
Let me rather, turn to some of the more substantive issues raised in Madhu’s response. Zahir has answered most of them but it seems to me that a couple of vital questions still remain. Even here, though, a caveat is necessary. I have great admiration for Madhu Kishwar’s battle in defense of the rikshaw pullers in Delhi and have often said so openly to her as well as others. However, I do know that it is possible to talk to her when only we agree, which is very rare. On matters that we disagree about, I have decided that I do not want to enter into any kind of an argument with her. In any case, large parts of her ‘response’ are like Modi’s PR handouts, served to us without any sense of critical examination. Therefore, what follows below is not my reply to her but my reactions to a set of allegations she has raised about whosoever is opposed to Narendra Modi – all lumped together in a breathtaking move of reductio ad absurdum, first as secularists , who are reduced to Leftists/ NGO activists and finally to Congress-supporters (because, she says in her Modinama1, the Congress has been equally responsible for all the riots till date). I therefore, lay my cards on the table at the outset: I am an inveterate Modi-hater (and a Congress-hater as well, if that makes sense to anyone in her dichotomized universe) and Kafila is a forum with a certain, if very broad, politics that, at the minimum rules out being pro-Modi.
Do Facts Speak for Themselves?
Madhu has a line at the bottom of ‘Modinama1’ which says: “Please challenge me on facts instead of countering me with ideological attacks”. My apologies, for I do not have any faith in ‘facts’ – either statistical or otherwise. I am interested rather, in the discourse (call it ideology, if you will). Consider this: We all believe that precolonial India displayed some kind of a confluence of cultures, especially the Hindu and the Islamic, and that this produced some of the great achievements of our culture. It was this ‘fact’ of living together through an osmosis of cultures that led Nehru and secular-nationalism at large to insist on the heritage of syncretism, and in some versions, even ‘secularism’. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the run-up to the demolition of Babri Masjid, the terrifying vision of Hindutva was articulated by Sadhvi Ritambhara by issuing the following threat drawing precisely on the same tradition that Nehru and secularists of different shades extolled: “Babar ki auladon, agar Bharat mein rehna hai to Rahim aur Raskhan ti ki tarah raho jinhone is desh ki maati mein Ram to talasha tha...” The same ‘fact’ of composite culture assumes another valence here. The demolition of Babari Masjid (Act I) was meant to tell the ‘descendants of Babar’ that the only way they can live in India was by being devotees of Ram, and perhaps in Gujarat you can say, by being devotees of Narendra Modi. For Modi enacted Act II of the same drama in 2002, presiding over the massacre of Muslims, in order to show them their place in Gujarat, but also, by extension, in India.
I am afraid, I do not see any straightforward meaning emanating from ‘facts’ like Madhu does. Her world is really very simple with very clear cut villains and heroes and transparent meanings. So for instance, she can produce photographs of people enjoying night life in Ahmedabad and pronounce how safe women are in that state. Perhaps they are, but the photographs certainly do not prove this. I was recently in Palestine – constantly bombarded and living under a full-blown occupation. So, have people stopped enjoying and having fun? Do they always move about wearing a grim expression on their faces? Do they not love, have sex, marry, celebrate? Innumerable photographs of such fun and frolic can be produced – as from Palestine, so from any other besieged part of the world. But when Madhu Kishwar sees some ostensibly happy Muslims in Gujarat, she can only draw one conclusion: That they validate and vindicate Modi. Do celebrations and joyfulness in Palestine then also vindicate Israeli occupation?
Strange logic at the very least. I do not deny that there are happy Muslims in Gujarat and even that there are Muslims who are happy being with the BJP and even with Modi. Madhu has produced many instances of such Muslims and we also know from the recent municipal bodies’ elections that many more Muslims have made peace with the BJP and even contested and won the elections on that party’s ticket. So, what does this ‘fact’ prove? That Modi is not a fascist? That Gujarat is a paradise of sorts? Madhu ties this ‘fact’ with another: Modi has ‘not allowed’ a single riot to take place since 2002 – which is also apparently a proof of the fact that he is not anti-Muslim. According to her Muslims living in Gujarat recognize this ‘fact’ and therefore want to move on, forgetting 2002. But damn these secularists! They don’t understand, nor want the Muslims to move on.
I think there are many many other possible ways in which the ‘fact’ of Muslims’ new found ‘love towards Modi’ can be read. We know for example that a majority of the poor have always voted for the Congress. Does that mean that Congress was any less pro-corporate and actually pro-poor? Does it mean that the poor are happy under the Congress regime? That they are feel enfranchised and empowered? Till the other day, we could say the same of the dalits as well, for it is well known that for decades they voted for the Congress, along with the brahmans. These are puzzles with which any serious political science teachers confronts her first year BA students in order to explain the complex mechanisms through which consent is produced/ manufactured – which is one of the ways in which this phenomenon is understood. There are some who might want to see this as an attempt to hammer out a new ‘social contract’ of some kind. If you are a marxist, you will often explain it through notions like ‘ideology’, ‘hegemony’ or ‘false consciousness’. In more recent times, we have had recourse to more sophisticated ways of understanding processes like these, say the idea of ‘subjectivation’ – that is to say, the idea that the ‘subject’ is a product of power relations, relations that are not ever only about domination but which always involve the production of pleasure. In such a notion, with which I am more comfortable, subjectivity is a matter of self-fashioning within a complex web of relationships. An understanding such as this could argue for example that many Muslims are now reassessing and rethinking their place in the new Gujarat and given the fact that in the foreseeable future, they must deal with this government and the larger common sense that sustains it in society at large. This reappraisal entails a different comportment, a rearranging of different elements of one’s affects,emotions and beliefs in a way that is conducive to living in this present rather than perennially deferring gratification to some unforeseen future. This kind of refashioning of the self is not always opportunistic but it does stack away certain concerns for future reference. Stockholm syndrome is another form in which the aggressor in a relationship of power, domination, even abuse and violence comes to be endowed with positive affects. Often, in extreme cases, the perpetrator also becomes an object of desire. What is a matter of serious theoretical reflection and endless examination/ re-examination among social scientists, philosophers and psychologists, becomes a mere ideological reflex in the hands of propagandists, as if the figures and ‘data’ simply speak, on and of their own.
As for the point that Modi has not ‘allowed’ any riot to take place since 2002, we might want to ask two different questions. If it is the case that his mere decision to not allow riots in the state will ensure peace, then does this not establish his culpability with regard to 2002 even more clearly? It wasn’t a riot that took place and was over in a couple of days. The killings actually continued for days on end and it was as if there was no government in the state. Secondly, does it occur to Madhu that this may not be such an innocent matter, given that there was international condemnation and people were already contemplating hauling Modi in the International Criminal Court for his crimes against humanity? It would have been foolish for Modi to continue openly on the path he had embarked upon in 2002. He had to demonstrate to the world that 2002 was an aberration.
An Innocent Demonized by Secularists?
Since Madhu expends a lot of energy in attacking ‘secularists’ for their ‘demonization’ of Modi, let me cite Ashis Nandy, a self professed anti-secularist, who has seriously been working for a very long time on issues of violence and communal violence in particular, starting with the violence of partition. Madhu too claims she has studied all important riots but there is a qualitative difference between Nandy’s sustained studies and thought and her superficial observations that are hugely coloured by her political proclivities of the moment. In the early 1990s, Nandy had interviewed Narendra Modi just as he has been interviewing people involved in riots and violence and people involved in Hindutva mobilizations. Here is Nandy’s account of Modi, in his own words:
More than a decade ago, when Narendra Modi was a nobody, a small-time RSS pracharak trying to make it as a small-time BJP functionary, I had the privilege of interviewing him along with Achyut Yagnik, whom Modi could not fortunately recognise. (Fortunately because he knew Yagnik by name and was to later make some snide comments about his activities and columns.) It was a long, rambling interview, but it left me in no doubt that here was a classic, clinical case of a fascist. I never use the term ‘fascist’ as a term of abuse; to me it is a diagnostic category comprising not only one’s ideological posture but also the personality traits and motivational patterns contextualising the ideology.
Modi, it gives me no pleasure to tell the readers, met virtually all the criteria that psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and psychologists had set up after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. He had the same mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defence of projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence – all set within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits. I still remember the cool, measured tone in which he elaborated a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India that painted every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist. I came out of the interview shaken and told Yagnik that, for the first time, I had met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer.
Ashis Nandy recounted this in his comment Obituary of a Culture, written in the wake of the 2002 massacre in Seminar. This is an essay to be read, for it is written by a scholar who is a declared anti-secularist and has studied and deeply reflected on violence in India and the world at large. That is why, Nandy (and people like Achyut Yagnik), who are not people whom Madhu can accuse of being Gujarat-haters (a la a certain Muslim called Zahir Janmohamad) concluded right then:
Gujarat disowned Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi long ago. The state’s political soul has been won over by his killers. This time they have not only assassinated him again, they have danced on his dead body, howling with delight and mouthing obscenities.
People like Nandy and Yagnik, who are deeply in love with Gujarat, know that the political Gujarat that exists today is not what ‘Gujarat’ really is; that there is no single ‘spirit of Gujarat’ that has now found expression in the fascist figure of Narendra Modi. Gujarat is far bigger than Modi or BJP or even the BJP and Congress put together. But there is something else, far more scary that is at issue today. For as our friend Tridip Suhrud, now Director of Sabarmati Ashram, often tells us, it was at from least a decade before Modi’s rise that a certain political consensus was generated and solidified – and the Congress is as much a part of this – the centrepiece of which was the new Gujarati middle class. This consensus, which brooked no dissent, took shape around a certain notion of consumption and ‘development’, as perhaps, the final act of exorcism of the ghost of Gandhi. In Tridip’s account, this is of a piece with the aversion of this middle class to any kind of thinking – let alone critical thinking. Narendra Modi really came to embody the aspirations of this middle class – inflected through the paranoid hate-politics of Hindutva.
If what we cited above was Nandy’s verdict in 2002, here is what he wrote in January 2008, in the Times of India, following Modi’s electoral victory:
The Hindus and the Muslims of the state — once bonded so conspicuously by language, culture and commerce — have met the demands of both V D Savarkar and M A Jinnah. They now face each other as two hostile nations. The handful of Gujarati social and political activists who resist the trend are seen not as dissenters but as treacherous troublemakers who should be silenced by any means, including surveillance, censorship and direct violence. As a result, Gujarati cities, particularly its educational institutions are turning cultural deserts.
And almost as if to prove him right, this time ‘they’ sought to silence this dissenter outside their territory, by slapping a court case against Nandy. Intolerance of dissent even hundreds of miles away in Delhi, characterizes the political culture that Modi has shaped and presides upon. In a recent conversation with me, DL Sheth (by no means a secularist from Secularistan!) , who spends long spells in Gujarat these days and has also been looking at the CSDS survey data for the last decade very closely, said two things that are striking. First, he said, the development card (wrt to Modi) is being overplayed. The issue, according to him, is not that of development versus Hindutva (as Madhu suggests, taking the cue directly from Modi and his entourage), but that Hindutva has been effectively made common sense in the state – at least amongst its very large middle class and the development question is framed within that common sense. The two are closely linked – almost exactly in the sense that Ashis Nandy suggests, for in Sheth’s words Modi has already established Hindu Rashtra in Gujarat. Second, and this might suggest the change that has taken place in the state since 2002, there are many more people among the respondents to the survey in 2012, who justify the 2002 violence on Mulsims than there were in 2002. Was there some remorse, immediately after the violence? Or was it because the glare of media and a certain global condemnation of that violence had made it difficult to ‘own’ it up? And now that all that seems to be in some remote past, we can come out with what we always felt? We will perhaps have to wait for more detailed analyses of this phenomenon to appear before we can finally pronounce on it.
The Development Story
Development in Gujarat is a story in itself and we have commented upon it in Kafila earlier this year where a recent study by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) had been cited. This report challenged the hype about Gujarat’s claims made about the Vibrant Gujarat Summits. Sample this:
In VG held in January 2009, government claims that 3,574 Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) were signed for investments worth Rs 12 trillion. But CMIE could capture information and details of only 220 projects worth Rs 3,947 billion (Rs 3,94,700 crore). “The number of projects captured…were drastically low when compared with the official numbers displayed on the event’s website because of poor disclosure of basic information about the projects proposed. In most cases the website does not provide the details of a valid company name, location, product, and capacity,’’ says the CMIE report….
The same is the story for VG 2011. The grand claim was of 8,380 MoUs worth Rs 20 trillion being signed. But research by CMIE did not get any details of these MoUs and projects. “Like in the earlier fair, details of either company name, or location or product etc were not clearly available for us to identify individual projects in these,” says CMIE
In terms of the Human Development Index, the state in fact fell from the 5th rank in 1996 to the 9th rank in 2006. In fact between 2006-7 and 2010-11, even states like Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra, Haryana and Chhattisgarh registered a higher rate of growth. Gujarat’s growth was not unimpressive at 9.3 percent but the point is that there was nothing spectacular about it. Nothing at least that would make Modi’s regime look anything like what Madhu Kishwar’s handout makes it out to be.
But that is really not the point here. The point that scholars like Nandy are making is that ‘development’ here is not a neutral terms as it is in other states. Rather, ‘development’ is inextricably tied, in this state, to ‘Gujarati asmita’ and ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ that is already defined in exclusively Hindutva terms. And it is this that makes possible the authoritarian figure of Modi, riding roughshod over all dissent, as the man who delivers. Much of this reputation about Gujarat being the preferred destination for investors has of course been gained with a high level of public relations work for which no price is too much for Modi to pay. Thus for example, when Tata Motors was forced to pull out its Nano project from Singur in West Bengal, Modi executed a perfect PR coup. What most people did not know for quite some time to come was that this had been done through the offer of a series of unprecedented concessions to the Tatas. It was a deal that the Gujarat government did not want to make public, reported IBNlive. Despite several RTI applications, the government had claimed that it was classified information, as it contained trade secrets of Tata Motors. Then the information leaked. Here is the bonanza that the Tatas got:
The biggest incentive was a Rs 9,570 crore soft loan over 20 years — close to 25 per cent of Gujarat’s annual budget. Tata Motors will repay the loan in 20 years, at 0.1 per cent interest rate and will repay the land price in eight equal annual installments. The government will also provide a four-lane road connectivity and also exempt Tatas from electricity duty, registration and transfer charges of land. It will also put up a waste disposal plant, supply natural gas through a pipeline and provide 100 acres near Ahmedabad for a township.
But such exercises are really not enough to either transform Modi’s image from a fascist who presided over the mass murder of over 2000 Muslims to a benign proponent of development, a darling of the international community to whom US Congress delegations are paying visits and on whom global powers are showering encomiums. This required something more.
Enter the Spin Doctors
It is here that that the spin doctors and global PR agencies enter the scene. A publicity and power obsessed fascist is now ready to be served up to us as a benign developmentalist. According to a report by DP Bhattacharya in Mail Today, the Modi government had hired APCO Worldwide in 2009, as the official ‘relationship partner’ for its Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit 2011. “APCO boasts an International Advisory Council which comprises more than 40 recognized global leaders, including former elected US politicians, leaders of business and industry, academics at leading universities, world-class journalists, NGOs and non-profit pioneers, diplomats as well as policy experts.” The report further says that APCO worked with Gujarat government, CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) and the London headquartered global professional services firm Pricewaterhhouse Coopers (PwC) for the event that culminated in the pledges worth a staggering USD 463 billion for the state.” These are the pledges that the CMIE report cited above found misleading and, may we add, fudged.
We do not know what exactly was the agreement that the Modi government signed with APCO but it certainly paid off. APCO, incidentally not only has pro Zionist links, but one can see the kind of agreement they signed with the government of Malaysia in the scanned copies provided here, where it charged USD 420, 000 for doing its job – ‘Washington Representation’ being a key task it undertook.
There are other dimensions of operations of the PR-spin-doctoring machinery and I can do no better here than cite from the following report by Srinivasan Jain:
The Modi PR machine never sleeps, but in election time, goes into overdrive.
There are his surreal, and much publicised 3D speeches, 29 Vikas Raths equipped with projectors, and 10 LED Raths, each with a 110″ screen, which roam interior villages.
His personal website has been given a spanking new election upgrade. As has his other social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook page and Youtube channel.
The frequency of advertisements on TV, print and online have multiplied. And he also has his own TV channel: NaMo Gujarat, which was launched just before the  elections.
But who runs this for Mr Modi, and who pays for it? As with most things related to Mr Modi, the answers are not easy to come by. The Modi spin machine appears to use a mix of official, quasi-official and private players, with fragmented responsibilities, a structure that allows for grey areas of accounting and accountability.
And while we are at it, the link in the blog by Prashant Panday, might be useful to give a larger background of APCO and its worldwide activities.
And so it happened that suddenly one fine day, the Indian corporate sector too decided that it will throw its lot behind Narendra Modi – tired as it was of what it calls ‘policy paralysis’ in the UPA government. As my friend Vipul Mudgal never dails to underline, the term ‘policy paralysis’ does not refer to the delays in say, passing the Food Security Bill or the Lokpal Bill; they always and only refer to decisions regarding investments and the so-called slowing down of reforms. And so, here at last was a strong man who would take strong decisions. And lo and behold! journalists, academics, representatives of capital – all started suddenly marching in tandem, singing praises for this new hero. Newsrooms of the corporate media have already begun to feel the pressure. The grapevine tells us that in one leading newspaper the editor/owner even gave specific instructions that Modi would be their man for 2014. So, Madhu Kishwar is not really the lone crusaders she wants us to believe she is. She is part of a regular army that has been drafted for the cause, whether she realizes it or not is another matter.
Anti-Secularisms of Different Hues
A final point. Secularism bashing has gone on quite long now and while there are serious problems with our secular discourse, the time may have come to think more seriously about what it is about secularism that we are criticizing. ‘Anti-secularism’ has now become like a mantra that some people like to repeat. However, there is a world of a difference between the anti-secularism of Ashis Nandy and the anti-secularism of Madhu Kishwar. To Ashis, secularism is to be criticized because it is of a piece with Development and the logic of the Nation-State. Secularism, in Nandy’s understanding, is imbricated in the founding violence of the modern as such – which is why to him the dream of a strong security state represented by the BJP and people like Modi in particular are anathema. For the Hindutva ideology (and its imagined state), he does not fail to remind us, is simply modeled on the modern state as it emerged in the West. That is why, Nandy never fails to remind us that ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ communities as the exist today are but creations of the modern state which want to do away with the inchoateness of popular religious beliefs and institute in its place a homogeneous community that speaks in one authoritative voice. Madhu Kishwar’s anti-secularism is the direct opposite of Nandy’s, deeply imbricated and invested in the idea of Development and the Nation-State. It is an ‘unthought’ that stands in for everything ‘Western’ that she wants to disavow (while celebrating the nation-state, nationalism, development and neo-liberalism). Her anti-secularism can as easily be deployed in defense of khap panchayats as it can in defense of Narendra Modi.
While one must hold on to the important insights that the critique of secularism in the last few decades has yielded, there is no denying that even that secularism was motivated by a strong ethical desire to redefine the Indian self in a way that was inclusive. As such it was always critical of its own tradition – sometimes aggressively so, which is what the critique of secularism highlights. The anti-secularism of the Madhu Kishwar kind is nothing but a kind of xenophobic ‘narcissism of the self’ – once again defined in ‘Indic’/ Hindu terms, where the Muslim is always destined to remain the other.