by Sri Gurumurthy
Many sincere and honest people feel frustrated by the venality of actors in the public domain. They are anxious to know where the public discourse has gone wrong and contemplate course correction.
Here is an effort to address their concerns.
It is six decades since India became free. Today’s school children constitute Gen-3 of free India. Their great-grandfathers alone could have experienced the freedom movement. The movement for India’s freedom is no more in the memory chip of the people. It is now history — unfortunately, deliberately distorted — taught to young minds.
This distortion is self-evident in secular India’s discourse. It quickly, and effectively, distanced itself from the great drives that constituted the soul of the freedom movement — whether it is the ‘Ram Rajya’ of Mahatma Gandhi, or the worship of the Motherland symbolised by Maharishi Bankim Chandra’s ‘Vande Mataram’, or the concept of ‘Sanatana Dharma’ Maharishi Aurobindo held out as the nationalism of India, or the ‘spiritual nationalism’ commended by Swami Vivekananda. The secular discourse branded these concepts outdated ideas, to be detested and publicly disowned. In fact, given the tone of the discourse today, it is doubtful whether any of these great builders of modern India could pass the test of secular acceptability.
The perversion in secular India’s public domain is explicit, but its degree is even graver.
The Indian struggle for freedom from the British was more profound than a battle for political freedom for India’s geography. It was also part of the centuries- long quest of the Indian people to resist foreign invaders, like the struggle of Prithviraj Chauhan or Maharana Pratap, or Chatrapati Shivaji or Guru Gobind Singh later, or Raja Ranjit Singh or Rani of Jhansi still later. By dividing the indigenous peoples on racial and religious lines, the colonisers could almost convince them that India never belonged to anyone; it was open to anyone who invaded it; it was never a nation; and there was nothing called India till the British made it one. The colonisers thus first distorted the discourse and then confused the identity of the Indian people and their relation with their land of birth. Unsurprisingly, it was their past more than the future that looked uncertain to Indians. By such sustained discourse the colonisers had effectively caused cerebral paralysis. Result, Indians stood conquered intellectually, culturally and civilisationally.
Therefore, while earlier it was a war even for physical survival, the battle against the British was more a struggle to recover the mind of India, which the foreigner had hijacked. As a consequence, while most of India’s conquered detested the earlier invaders, the later colonisers persuaded sections of influential Indians to feel comfortable with them. So the quest for recovering the lost mind and reconnecting Indians to their past to define their identity became the principal drive of the battle against the British. The freedom struggle gradually intensified as an intellectual, cultural and spiritual endeavour to make India comprehensively independent even as it targeted political freedom.
A critical component in the efforts of the Indian freedom movement to fight the intellectual lethargy and subaltern mind of Indians was the role played by the nationalist media. It promoted a high level of indigenous cultural and civilisational consciousness in the Indian people. Invariably everyone, whether it was Gandhi or Aurobindo, Tilak or Subramanya Bharati, who took the lead to sow the seeds of the freedom movement, or to add power to it later, started a newspaper or magazine.
Many, like ‘Sanku’ Subramaniam, became bankrupt as they distributed newspapers almost free to convey the idea of India to the people. The nationalist media thus not only fought for the nation’s freedom, but also for its intellectual and cultural independence and revival. Post-freedom, the secular Indian discourse, which increasingly became pseudo in character and derailed the national discourse, infected large sections of the national media and co-opted it. Thanks to this selfgoal, India became less intellectually independent after freedom than it was before, under colonial rule.
While this process began after freedom and progressed gradually, it accelerated after the advent of economic liberalisation and globalisation in the early 1990s. The Indian media gradually came to be dominated by intellectual lethargy and cultural confusion.
So, what the freedom fighters had fought hard to eliminate from the public discourse promoted by the colonisers came back to occupy prime time and prime space in free India’s media.
Added to this distortion was the emergence of an extreme commercialism, which began eating into the vitals of a free and purposeful media. The media was driven by a perceivable sense of idealism even as late as a couple of decades ago despite all other negatives.
The war that the Indian Express and the Statesman waged against the internal emergency in 1977-79 and this newspaper’s single-minded pursuit of industrial and political venality, which the Reliance and Bofors scams of the late 1980s symbolised, are illustrative of idealism defying the logic of commerce.
Today the media as a whole is becoming a captive of commerce and is obsessed with nothing other than turnover and profit. The trend is irresistible. To swim against it means defying the whole world — a task that needs and means spiritualisation of public life, like Mahatma Gandhi did. This loss of intellectual independence and emergence of unbridled commercialism is dwarfing the stature of the Indian media as the Fourth Estate. This loss of direction needs to be course-corrected if the larger interest of India is to be safeguarded.
Fortunately, technology seems to have a cost-effective solution for this epidemic.
Some 10 powerful websites, duly popularised, that review and audit the media can correct the media’s course.
They can hold a mirror to it to show it and to the people how it performs or fails. The only way to make the media realise this is to publish in the site what it refuses to, or to prove what it publishes is incorrect, to make the public know what the media business is all about today.
A motivated team to sustain and intensify this mission can achieve the result in a fairly short time. The mission will rediscover the India that for long showed the lead to the world. This can transform an India that is free but not independent into an intellectually free and independent India. Any takers?