There were, a few days ago, two reports in the Washington Post about India, one in the main newspaper and one as a blog post.
The first one is about the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The second is about the ‘seeping’ of Hitler’s name in Indian popular culture (supposedly) in recent days and Israel’s displeasure about it.
Both the reports do an excellent job, that is, if you keep in mind what they (the mainstream media reports) are really, pragmatically supposed to do, not what they are ideally supposed to do.
They do a very good job of washing the the messy facts and their context and coming up with a sanitized, selective, almost surgical version of them to serve a definite purpose.
The purpose of the first report is to prepare ground for a change in the top leadership of the Indian government. The purpose of the second is to try to reconcile the growth of Fascism in India with the US-India-Israel alliance.
The first is easy to do, the second much more difficult. But the first is aimed at something concrete, while the second is more of a vague gesture.
Talking of vagueness, let’s be more specific about these two reports.
The first report says that India’s current ‘silent’ Prime Minister has become a ‘tragic figure’. That he seems to be tired, listless and without energy and that he suffers from doubts. Calls are being made for his resignation. It reports jokes being circulated about him:
Attendees at meetings and conferences were jokingly urged to put their phones into “Manmohan Singh mode,” while one joke cited a dentist urging the seated prime minister, “At least in my clinic, please open your mouth.”
Singh became even more quiet at his own cabinet meetings, to the point of not speaking up for the sort of economic changes many thought he ought to be championing.
You would almost think that it is a great indictment of the Prime Minister, a highly critical report about him. But if you knew your facts well, you would know this to be wrong.
The report actually makes him out to be, as said before, a ‘tragic figure’. It indirectly heaps praise upon him for first his role as the Finance Minister and then as the Prime Minister in opening up India’s economy for foreign investment, meaning trans-national corporate control. It hints at the fact that he was never elected once in any capacity in any election, but that does not make him (for the report’s purposes) an illegitimate leader of the ‘largest democracy in the world’. On the contrary, it mentions the dominance of Sonia Gandhi in India’s ruling party as a mitigating factor in his support. Now, every thinking person in India feels disturbed by the dynastic dominance of Indian realpolitik, but the members of this dynasty do get elected. Both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi have won elections, just like many others from that family before them. The blame for that surely rests with the Indians too who vote the dynasty in. But why should an unelected and unelectable technocrat head the ostensibly democratic government? The report does not seem to be much interested in that.
The report presents a short biography of the man and gives a short trajectory of his rise to the top. All in all, it is interested mainly in the man. And not in what he and his government wrought upon the country in the name of Liberalisation. Poverty in India? The rise in inequality? The fall in per-capita food consumption? The effects of corporate dominance on most of India’s population? The rise of Fascism in India? Not interested.
What it is interested in is this:
With little choice, Singh introduced a series of policies that freed the Indian economy from suffocating state control and unleashed the dynamism of its private sector.
And then this:
Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed.
There is another thing, of course, which is perhaps the most frequently used word in India today, including in Indian languages, namely ‘corruption’:
But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.
Now the issue of corruption and how Indian politics for the last several years has centred around this ‘issue’, which is indeed a real issue, is a long story that should be considered separately and in much more detail. But the point is that this report achieves its goal by two means. First by focussing on the man, a single individual, which is a very common trick in politics and its reporting. And second by ignoring the real issues and concentrating on what can be called secondary or tertiary level failures, such as the fact the opposition is not allowing the parliament to proceed with any work and that the Prime Minister is not able to defend himself and his policies. This too is an equally common trick. Not the policies, but the defense of those policies. That is what matters for such reports. And that indicates very well the task of the mainstream media.
The second report, for example, could have been about one of the great issues of the day, namely the rise of Fascism in India. But it ends up more as an apology.
This second report (the blog post on the Washington Post website) is titled, “India’s Hitler stores spark outrage”. One was almost tempted to be hopeful that someone from the mainstream media is finally noticing something very important for India’s, and perhaps the World’s future. The report says:
Israel has complained to the Indian state of Gujarat about a new men’s clothing store in Ahmedabad called “Hitler,” but the country’s diplomats have refused to compensate the store’s owner for a new sign.
The report goes on to quote Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and director of the Anti-Defamation League, that “Hitler’s name is seeping into India’s popular culture without any appropriate context” and that:
“It is a perverse abuse of the history of the Holocaust to name a business after one of the world’s most notorious mass murders and anti-Semites”
Whereas the store owner who named his men’s cloths shop as ‘Hitler’ (just like that) says:
“I’ve been getting a good response with the Hitler name; sales are good. I’m concerned that business could drop off once I change it”
He also claims that the shop’s name is not based on that Hitler, Adolph Hitler of the Third Reich, but on one of his uncles who was very strict and therefore was nicknamed Hitler.
It also mentions two other specific incidents of similar kind, one a TV show in which a character is nicknamed after Hitler and another a pizza restaurant in Mumbai called “Hitler’s Cross”. It sums up by saying:
Hitler memorabilia has a curious popularity among the country’s young people, the BBC reported, although most seem drawn to his commanding personality rather than his war crimes.
And explains the reason for this:
Holocaust education isn’t as widespread in India as it is in Europe and the United States, and many Indians believe swastikas, an ancient Hindu symbol, bring good luck, Haaretz reported.
So, basically, this report also used that same two universal tricks. It focuses on the individual or specific cases and it focuses on secondary or tertiary issues.
While for the first report it is quite obvious what is wrong and how it is a case of the two universal tricks, the second report needs more elaboration.
The use (‘seeping’) of Hitler’s name in India is not at all a recent phenomenon. There are two aspects to it. One is relatively harmless, while the other most certainly is not. The first aspect is something that India has in common with most countries of the world. It is that Hitler’s name is indeed used as nickname for people perceived as being very strict or ‘no nonsense’. I can vouch for this from my personal experiences, as well as from what I have seen in numerous movies from around the world. While it may be distasteful if you know a little bit of history, it doesn’t, on its own, lead to any horrific consequences.
The problem is that it can’t be taken on its own. There is background to this that strongly indicates that this can (because it is not on its own) lead to horrific consequences. To be more accurate, it has already lead to horrific consequences multiple times. That background is well known among those who are familiar with the socio-political realities in India.
To start with, the store mentioned in the report is in Gujarat, the state where the government sponsored pogrom took place in 2002 against Muslims after an attack on a train in which around 60 people were killed (burnt alive in a fire). These 60 people were, of course, Hindus. Moreover, they were active members of the right wing conglomerate known as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the National Union of Volunteers). The main opposition party of India, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or the People’s Party of India) is one of the arms of this conglomerate. And it is no secret that the RSS has a pro-Nazi ideology, and that Hitler is not a bad word for RSS.
Similarly, one of the main parties in the city of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, and of the state of Maharashtra, namely Shiv Sena (the Army of Shivaji) is also very well inclined towards both Hitler and his ideology.
The problem is not that “Hitler’s name is seeping into India’s popular culture without any appropriate context” but that the very ethos of Fascism and Nazism has become (over the last eight decades or so) deeply embedded in India’s culture, and not just popular culture. And it has happened with a lot of very (in)appropriate context.
The coyness of the Wash Post and the Israelis and the ADL in pointing this out is because of the fact that the RSS (and the BJP) are strongly pro-Israeli. You see, the US doesn’t have a monopoly on unholy alliances.
The question to ask is this: Would it be okay if the RSS (and the the Indian middle class, for the RSS is dominant among the Indian middle class) were to stop explicitly using Hitler’s name and continue on its Fascist path without that, targeting Muslims and other minorities, pogroms and all?
But asking such questions is not the job of the mainstream media. If you are under the impression that these two reports are reporting something about the realities on the ground, you are mistaken (to put it mildly). What they are doing is that they are sending two messages to their audiences and to the concerned parties.
The first report is conveying a message from the Establishment that it is time now for a new Prime Minister (and perhaps a change of the party-in-power) in India because the current PM has fulfilled his role and has now become a liability. It is time now for him to go. The message comes from the combined Indo-Western Establishment, a neo-colonial phenomenon, if you like. It is like the message that was delivered to Newt Gingrich in the middle of the Primaries.
The second report is conveying a message from the same Establishment (that, of course, includes Israel) that you may be as Fascist as you like, but it is not okay to use that bad six letter word lightly. That is not acceptable, so Behave!
And it is in the spirit of those same two universal tricks that the Establishment rewards its new allies, selecting meritorious individuals with great care:
To tell them, you are one of us now. So keep in mind the responsibilities that come with this honour.
Correction (8th May, 2019): There remained an inexcusable error above for a long time. The Shiv Sena is not named after Lord Shiva, but after the Maratha Warrior Shivaji, who was most probably named after Lord Shiva. It is common for Indians to be names after various Gods, as there are plenty of them.