*Disclaimer – This is an editorial written by Mohandas Pai, he was the CFO and then the head of HR at Infosys. He is now Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners. He usually writes for many newspapers including thehindu, Indian express etc.
Please also note that, we are publishing this as-is without any editorial oversight and have NO SAY or bias as far as this editorial is concerned. The editorial shows how media shapes our perception and how perception is stronger than reality. Media and bad Politics are hurting “Brand India” just for the sake of “power”.
There has been a worrisome tendency over the last two years of Delhi-based media using highly local events, mostly in Delhi, to broad-brush the entire country as religiously intolerant; increasingly intolerant; as Freedom of Expression (FOE) and our rights being under attack; becoming increasingly communal; becoming fascist, etc. The good citizens of India are perplexed, hurt and angry at being so branded. The same media also brands citizens who do not agree with their India view as communal, intolerant, Bhakts, internet Hindus and the like, reducing the space for a genuine debate on multiple issues. Local incidents are blown up as All-India issues. Known and unknown political leaders who hold strong extreme views have often had mics thrust into their faces and their views blown out of all proportion as indications of an All-India view. To buttress their arguments they pick on abusive extreme views from Twitter, of which there are plenty.
Delhi is not India, and what happens in localised areas of Delhi is far distant from what India thinks and what India is all about.
West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra …all states in the Union of India think very differently and have their own view, but none of them step out to brand India in their view except the Delhi Media. They are least concerned with localised Delhi events. To them, Delhi even looks like an alien, distant land and yet they get branded. This continued biased tirade by the Delhi Media on purely local issues is tarnishing the image of India globally and hurting the rest of us who are 99.99% of the population and have nothing to do with this. We are 130 crore across India, and the Delhi where this happens is a small part of India.
At the time of the Delhi election, the media there took 7-8 incidents of vandalism on churches and blew it up as acts of growing religious intolerance in India. Bishops and Archbishops came on TV, driven by the media, to express concern. Candle-lit marches were held, led by the clergy, and the whole country stood accused of religious intolerance. The police later gave details of the vandalism and sheepishly the media outcry was buried as the elections got over. Around the same time, an elderly nun was sadly raped in rural West Bengal by criminals. This was again blown up as indicative of growing intolerance, marches were held, the papal representative criticised the government and spoke of increasing communalism. The police soon arrested the culprits, reportedly from a neighbouring country, but India’s reputation was again tarnished globally, and India was branded as religiously intolerant. Of course, many NGOs overseas and in India used these incidents to cover up their activities. Global business was questioned about the impact on investments and Delhi Media expressed deep concern about impact on inward investments.
Citizens are free in our democratic polity to raise their concerns, march in protest, criticise at any time the government of their choice l, but should the whole country and its citizens be wrongly branded? No country has 200 million people of a faith qualified as a minority and given special protection and privileges in the Constitution. Yet, India was branded as religiously intolerant. Lest I am attacked by the same folks, I need to state that I too am a minority under Article 29/30 of our Constitution, and enjoy this protection! Of course if I am attacked, I expect the Delhi Media to denounce those who attacked me as Minority Bashers!
Soon the Bihar election took place and the orchestra started again. There was the sad criminal lynching of a citizen, in a town in UP, which most had never heard of. A crime blown up as evidence of growing intolerance. A “philosopher” said India should be ashamed of this lynching. A crime became a handle to beat us up.
Around the same time, similar crimes took place in a few places across India, but they did not fit the theory espoused by the Delhi Media. There was also the sad criminal killing of three rationalists in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Again, the Delhi Media blew it up as proof of increasing intolerance and attacks on FOE! Many literary award-winners returned their awards in protest, some artists said their freedom was under attack, and the Media ran riot. A forgotten elderly writer was resurrected out of retirement from the hills to lead the charge, expressing deep concern about FOE and openly expressing a personal dislike for a national leader who occupied the chair formerly held by a relative! Again, India was branded as a country where FOE was under attack, with increasing intolerance. The Bihar election got over and the orchestra shut down! India became tolerant again and our FOE remained.
During the entire media campaign, anchors and critics lambasted the government, accused it of many issues, branded India wrongly, all in a free, open manner. Some political leaders in Delhi abused the PM in terms which were shocking with no impact on them. The rest of the country watched the drama, perplexed as to what right of theirs was diminished. India has an over-active high strung media, a huge number of news channels, an activist judiciary, many political parties freely voicing their opinions as before, but still the Delhi Media branded India and all of us wrongly.
Then came the events in JNU, the bastion of Leftist ideology, with closed minds and extreme views. JNU is intolerant of alternative views, captured by the extreme Left, with Leftist activists of the CPI ML who stand for violence and openly display admiration and support for the Maoists, being showcased as champions of freedom and human rights! The fight for power between two student unions for domination of the university was suddenly blown up by the Delhi Media as another example of an assault on FOE and academic freedom in India. A student leader who was studying for his Phd forever at public cost suddenly was catapulted as a champion of freedom and later dumped. The sad suicide of a student elsewhere became another example of the oppression of students for expressing their ideological views! In a Delhi studio in the debates following this, I was told by a JNU student that students all over India were protesting the lack of FOE. I reminded the student that there were nearly 800 universities, 50,000+ colleges and 3.4 crore students, and this ideological fight was essentially in three Leftist universities for political reasons, and not a student issue! Yet, it was blown up as if all students were protesting.
Then came the issue of hoisting the Indian flag in universities. Then the debate about patriotism and nationalism, etc. All being used to brand India and Indians as intolerant because the Delhi Media thought it fit to do so damaging India’s brand and image globally.
Now the latest incident about two student unions of differing ideology, fighting it out for power and domination in a few colleges of Delhi. A small local fight taking prime time for no reason, save it is in Delhi. Again, attempts being made to blow it up as evidence of assaults on FOE and academic freedom. A Nobel Laureate who makes occasional visits expressing deep concern at the lack of academic freedom and “fear” in campuses. An activist idealist ideological student being made the centre of this fight just because she fits the narrative sought to be made. Students of opposing groups who were assaulted being ignored and condemned as goondas. Physical assault by Leftist students forgiven, and a national newspaper publishing a photograph of Leftists assaulting students as evidence of the opposing camp assaulting the Leftists! Big evidence of fake manufactured news.
Again, anchors writing blogs to buttress their views, forgetting anchors need to be objective and not take sides. Again, the UP election going on at the same time. Sadly the great Media Seer and Champion of the Truth from Mumbai absent from the furore, letting down the Nation Which Needs To Know.
It is obvious that India is in the midst of a deep ideological fight between the Left and left of centre activists and the Delhi Media against the right of centre government. The right again fighting back, branding everybody opposed to them as unpatriotic and anti-national. So, charges of communalism, fascism, intolerance against charges of anti-nationalism and lack of patriotism. All fine for the course except why brand India and Indians with the same charges for a fight between two small groups with 99.99% of Indians – and in all this, India getting a bad name.
I could have, as a citizen, ignored all this as a normal event, except that I witnessed its impact on Indians and the India brand overseas. At a business event, an elderly 80 years + titled peer told me she had signed a petition with 200 others protesting the visit of the Indian PM to London because India was becoming religiously intolerant, saw growing intolerance and there was a big assault on FOE. I said everything was fine, our rights were intact just 24 hours earlier when I had left India. She said she was an Indophile and concerned. I replied that if she was so concerned, she should visit India and find out for herself before she signed the letter and not defame india and Indians.
Sadly, the Delhi Media has damaged the India brand and the fair name of Indians globally by their exaggeration and ideological campaigns to force their ideology on others, forgetting their duty to be more objective. No citizen objects to the vibrant, loud, violent ideological debates on TV, but please, please, please stop pretending that you represent India and what happens in Delhi is an All India issue. Stop branding the rest of us in your India view!
Delhi is not India, what happens in Delhi is not representative of India, nor Indians outside Delhi.