This old piece remains among the best on the organized right wing takeover of Indian media.
What have been the inroads made by the RSS into the media over the years?
It is not just the RSS, but the entire Sangh Parivar. That includes frontal organizations like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and also the BJP. I make this distinction because there are a number of people who are currently with the BJP or the NDA, but they don’t have a RSS background. Over the years, there have been many journalists who have been sympathetic towards the Sangh Parivar; some were open supporters and others were not so open supporters of the Hindutva ideology. Such individuals have for many years supported the BJPand its earlier incarnation – the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. I will give you an example. The late Girilal Jain, former editor of The Times of India, was a very sophisticated proponent of Hindutva. He was not a crass fanatic who would say that all Hindus are good and all Muslims are bad. He was far, far more sophisticated in his arguments. The essence of his views was similar to what the BJP and RSS propagate, namely, that the Hindu tradition has somehow been neglected by successive Congress governments, that successive governments had appeased the Muslims and thereby discriminated against the majority community or the Hindus. Mr Jain was, however, never a member of the Jan Sangh or the BJP There are other senior journalists who have been far more overt and open in their support for the BJP, individuals like M.V. Kamath and Dr Swapan Dasgupta.
Were these only a few individual supporters or was there a Sangh Parivar plan to garner support in the media?
There were individuals who were ideologically sympathetic towards the Parivar, people like Manoj Raghuvanshi or Rajat Sharma. Rajat had an RSS background and he had been attending shakhas from his childhood. As a student he was a leading functionary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. He was jailed during the Emergency while he was a student of the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi University. These were individuals who were very clearly aligned, first with the RSS, then with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the BJP. These individuals never formed any association, but they were known to be sympathetic to the BJP and the ideology of the RSS. They were often formally and informally briefed by leaders of theSangh Parivar.
So the Sangh Parivar, years ago, had a plan or a strategy of entering the media?
Perhaps it was not a coherent game-plan or a well-defined strategy. You must remember, if you exclude the period when Morarji Desai was in power in1977-78 and all the way through till February 1998, barring the 13 day period in May 1996, the BJP was always in the Opposition. So it did not think in terms of developing a group of sympathizers in the media. It was only in the mid-1990s that ideologues of the Sangh Parivar thought of developing a more coherent strategy which was part of their overall game-plan. This wasthe plan to woo all the influential sections and organs of Indian society, be it the judiciary, the defence services, the bureaucracy, or the police. There was already in the media, an informal club of sympathetic individuals who kept saying: “Give the BJP a chance”. Only when the BJP sensed that the party would come to power that a strategy developed. Throught he informal club of sympathizers more journalists were picked up. Then there were the opportunists who joined in. You must remember that the Sangh Parivar is not monolithic, there are factions within it. When in the Opposition they spoke in different voices – liberal Vajpayee, moderate Jaswant, hardliner Advani. In the media too, among the sympathizers of the BJP, there were hardliners and moderates. After the core group, came the hangers-on. There were very definite gains to be accrued from those close to power. They became beneficiaries of government patronage and such journalists were included in the Prime Minister’s entourage, they travelled in style and comfort at the expense of the taxpayer. I have been on some of these junkets and I know what happens. There are drinks, lavish gifts, five-star hotel rooms with a hamper of goodies waiting, royal treatment. And at the end of the day, there is a small story to file. There are hundreds of accredited, bona-fide journalists, but only a limited number can travel with the Prime Minister. The way they are picked and chosen makes the difference. There’s tremendous scope for discretion. If fifty journalists are to chosen, about ten or fifteen would be from the top papers or television channels while the selection of the rest is determined by the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor Ashok Tandon or his officer on special duty Sudheendra Kulkarni. Even if the selection of journalists is supposed to be made by the Press Information Bureau, officials in the PMO often decide who is included and who is left out. The bureaucrats are invariably subservient to the political appointees.
What kinds of favours have been given by the government to journalists?
Very concrete, material favors. The Unit Trust of India is the repository of the savings of 20 million Indians. Since the BJP and the NDA has been in power, the UTI has sanctioned loans to at least four media companies headed by sympathizers. These direct beneficiaries include Jain Studios headed by Dr J. K. Jain, who was a former BJP MP and member of the party’s national executive; Pritish Nandy Communications promoted by Pritish Nandy, Shiv Sena MP; BAG Films led by Anuradha Prasad (wife of Rajiv Shukla, Rajya Sabha MP belonging to the Loktantrik Congress); CMYK Printech Limited, publisher of the Pioneer newspaper, edited by Chandan Mitra.
If you speak to Pritish Nandy, Chandan Mitra, Dr Jain or Rajiv Shukla, they will all tell you – so what’s wrong if the UTI has sanctioned loans to our companies. These are credit-worthy projects, they would contend and hence, there is nothing wrong if a government-controlled financial institution like the UTI loans money to projects which are bankable. After all, a loan is a loan and it will be repaid as per certain terms and conditions. This may be factually correct but what is not said is the following: the UTI might have hundreds and thousands of applications for loans, but it often chooses to extend loans to specific organizations and not others. It is hardly a coincidence that these organizations happen to beheaded by or associated with individuals whose sympathies for the Sangh Parivar are well known.
Is there a similar trend in the language press or TV channels?
In large sections of the Hindi-speaking belt, there are innumerable journalists as well as newspaper and magazine owners who have been very blatant in their support for the Sangh Parivar. To some extent their support may be guided by their own personal ideological inclinations, but I suspect that many of them currently support the BJP because it happens to be in power. There are some like the owners of the Dainik Jagaran chain of newspapers who never disguised their sympathy for the BJP.
You have talked of the opportunists who want to be close to the power- that-be. Would that not be true for any government? What is the special danger at present that there is such a swing to the right?
You are right. To some extent, this is true of all governments. Earlier it was the Congress. Even during the United Front government, I K Gujral appointed those who were close to him. As far as the Sangh Parivar is concerned, they have tasted power for the first time. So in a sense the BJP is incorporating some of the worst aspects of previous regimes. It took many decades for the Congress governments to become thoroughly corrupt. But it took the BJP just a few years. Earlier governments too would shower favors and patronage on sympathetic journalists by taking them on foreign trips, by giving them land at throwaway prices, by giving them access to government accommodation at highly subsidized rates. The BJP and Sangh Parivar learnt this game faster and to an extent, did it more efficiently. Their ideology is a divisive ideology and is against democratic norms, against the very essence of democracy, and to that extent against minorities. They may claim they are in favor of secularism but we know they are not. To that extent, once these individuals are at the helms of important organs of society they do considerable damage to the entire Indian society. So just as the Hindutva ideology is damaging the legal system, the defence services, the bureaucracy, so also the media is getting damaged.
So it’s not just a matter of corruption or doling favours; it is basically the question of ideology?
Absolutely. There is no doubt about that.
You would remember that even during the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, there was an upsurge of communal feelings. The minorities, especially the Muslims, though not under direct attack, felt insecure and threatened. How do you explain that? As I mentioned earlier, the seeds of what you see today, were sown earlier. The group of journalists sympathetic to the Sangh Parivar has been around for along time in the profession. They were ideologically oriented. Some claim they were independent but others like Rajat Sharma had very strong roots in the RSS from childhood, adolescence and youth. They were not very organized because they were not in power. The club was a very informal grouping. Even the BJP’s strategy was not very coherent. It existed in the past but it was not so coherent, not as articulate as it became around the time the BJP and the Sangh Parivar sensed that they were going to be in power in New Delhi. After they came to power, the strategy became clearer and better defined. Once in power, they were able to expand and extent their influence because they were able to bestow favours. The patronage element came in.
Is patronage only favours and junkets?
No, patronage also comes in the form of employment. Former journalists are serving as personal secretaries and assistants. A former journalist is on the personal staff of Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister for Human Resources Development. And perhaps it is no coincidence that the same individual used to once work for the Panchajanya. Similarly, other journalists were employed by the party and the PMO. Kanchan Gupta is a classic example. He worked in The Statesman, The Telegraph, and The Pioneer. Then he joined the BJP, then the PMO and now he has left the government and joined a private television firm headed by Ramesh Gandhi. Then there are the opportunists. Take the case of Subhash Chandra who heads the Zee group of companies. One bright day, he was seen addressing a public rally of Swayamsevaks at Agra. Subsequently, when the Zee group’s affairs were being investigated by government agencies, he began to adopt a critical stand vis-a-vis the government. A classic case of opportunism. It cuts both ways. The same person who never flaunted his RSS links suddenly chose to address a rally of Swayamsevaks to underline his Hindutva credentials and when all this did not help him expand his business empire, he apparently started singing a different tune. The problem with opportunists is that they will help you when it suits them and ditch you when the going gets tough. The other thing, as stated earlier, is that the Sangh Parivar is not a monolithic organization. Dr. J. K. Jain, who would swear his loyalty to the bosses at Jhandewalan (where the New Delhi offices of the RSS are located), carried out a campaign against Brajesh Mishra, the principal secretary to the Prime Minister and national security advisor. So secular-minded people should realize how to utilize the divisions within the Sangh Parivar. There are the hardliners, the moderates, the opportunists and the downright corrupt.
Is not this notion of hardliners and moderates really false?
Yes, but only up to a point. Because if it did not exist, this government would have been running quite smoothly. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Vajpayee currently finds that the enemy within is creating more headaches for him than the enemy without.
Is this not merely a strategy?
Yes. It was a very good strategy when they were in the Opposition. You confuse your opponent when you speaking many voices. But when you are in power, you have to show unity. You cannot afford to be seen to be a divided family. Then your credibility gets negatively affected. This is the weakness of the BJP. Secular forces have to realize this weakness and exploit it.
So ideologically there is no difference between Vajpayee and Advani?
There is no difference. But the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been able to effectively exploit the division in the ranks of those opposed to them. The secular forces have to take a leaf from their book and learn how to exploit the Sangh Parivar’s internal differences.
What is the economics of the various religious channels? They don’t appear to have advertisements. How do they survive?
Unlike countries like the USA where there is a long tradition of religious channels, in India, they run on donations. They have no advertising support. They are not commercial organizations. They are run ostensibly by those who are donating money for these religious bodies.
Why have these channels proliferated?
One, because of the general attempt by the ruling party and the ruling elite to emphasize the so-called ‘Hindu’ tradition and to create an overall ambience, an atmosphere of religiosity, where to be religious is ‘in’ and irreligious ‘out’. The other aspect has something to do with technology. It is that much easier to start a channel today. It costs less money. You will see that most of these channels are very boring. It has one talking head who will talk for hours on end and give you long sermons. The cost of production of television programmes has come down drastically in recent times. The cost of leasing a transponder on a satellite has come down. Another aspect is related to the fact that large sections of non-resident Indians (NRIs) have become supportive of the BJP. If you put yourself in the shoes of an average NRI, who, being located outside his country of origin, feels the need to assert his or her identity much more than the average Indian. You are in a foreign land, in a society in which you represent a minority. You need to assert your Hindu identity more than many Hindus who live in India. This was realized very early by the Sangh Parivar and they tapped resources from them not only for the BJP but also for television channels. Though I have no evidence, I think such channels could be beneficiaries of some of the hard currency that has been donated to organizations sympathetic to the BJP. Just as this money has been used to fund various activities like the Rath Yatra and the whole Ram Mandir business, I will not be surprised if some of the money has been used to fund television channels and media activities.
What are your comments about Hindutva on the net?
There is a group of NRIs based in the USA. These people are very active, they scour various sources for any news that fits their ideological purpose. So if a brick of any temple is damaged anywhere in the world and is reported even in an obscure publication, it will surely be on that website. They are today talking about the “genocide” of Hindus. They are going into detailed discourses of genocides of various communities, like the Jews by Hitler. They are trying to draw parallels to the alleged genocide of Hindus. I find that a lot of this information is circulating on the web. There is a lot of provocative and fanatical information on the web. They use language that hard-core racists and fascists use to preach hatred. I notice that it is often very difficult to trace and track down those responsible for spreading hatred. These people would encourage anti-Islamic and anti-Christianity propagandists. Odd bits of information that can be construed to be against the tenets of Islam or against Christianity will be very prominently displayed. According to an article in a June issue of The New York Times , a particular website called hinduunity.org has been set up by a 30-year-old Indian who is getting support from a right-wing Jewish organization (Rabbi Kaha) which openly espouses violence against Palestinians. The following are some quotes from this website –
“We are fighting the same war. Whether you call them Palestinians, Afghanis or Pakistanis, the root of the problem for Hindus and Jews is Islam. ”
“Secularism is not an option. ”
“The loot, plunder and mass Hindu genocide that occurred in the 1, 400 years of Islamic rule in India cannot be forgotten. Hindu militancy is the only solution. ”
This website provides links to other websites set up by supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the RSS, the BJP and the Bajrang Dal. It also gives a hit-list of the enemies of Hindutva. The internet is a relatively recent phenomenon so these websites are also recent. Some of these are very active. Many are based in the USA. Not only are they praising Hindus but they are also denigrating other religions. It is very interesting when they repeatedly talk of genocide of Hindus in Kashmir, in Bangladesh and in Afghanistan. The websites played up stories of Hindus being asked to wear a certain dress in Afghanistan. They would deliberately play up these stories and ignore many other aspects. Though the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes are the most economically backward classes in Indian society, it is also true that tribes in India have not been exterminated like they have been in the USA and Australia. They remain economically very backward and exploited. But there has never been the kind of genocide in this part of the world as there has been in Africa, North America, Latin America (in the Amazon) and in Australia. Facts like these would never be highlighted in the websites run by Hindu fanatics.
What should be the strategy of the secular media in countering fundamentalism?
The secular media has to learn to use the same technology, the same weapons to counter their propaganda and hatred. Today it has become relatively easy to set up websites, relatively inexpensive to start television channels and produce TV programmes. The way to counter these people is to pay them back in the same coin. The same tools, gadgets and technology should be used to highlight their falsehoods and lies, their propaganda and to present the other side of the story. The difference, I think, should be that one should not try to match their virulence and abuse with abuse, but match it with a sober, scientific, and rational reasoning. Use their technology but don’t use their style or their content. Their style is absolutely venal, their content is lies. Countervenality by grace and magnanimity and counter lies with truth. I believe that all those individuals who are secular minded and who believe that the proponents of Hindutva are dividing the country, need to get active. I want to emphasize that those within the media who have been critical of the government’s policies, the secular elements, are not very united. They are fighting battles in isolation. They need to close their ranks and come together.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is a journalist with more than 24 years of experience in various media, including print, radio, television and the internet. He is currently director of the School of Convergence
This post has been republished from jananatyamanch.org