Award Wapasi 2.0

The counter-narrative this time is not just about ideas, but the economy as well

Written by Pamela Philipose | Published: October 3, 2017 12:11 am
award wapasi, narendra modi government, nationalism, national narrative, intolerance, indian express columns Prime Minister Narendra Modi (File)

Is the Narendra Modi government, which has been spectacularly successful in keeping a tight leash on information flows, slowly losing its ability to control the contours of the national narrative, three and a half years after it came to power?

The question is intriguing, more so because setting the terms of public discourse has been one of the distinguishing features of this government. Four key strategies are adopted to achieve this. First, the strict regulation of access to those in power. Second, the establishment of a largely one-way communication pathway between the government and the people. This has led to a curious paradox: Even as the government acquires greater information on citizens through instruments like Aadhaar, citizens face an increasingly opaque government. Third, an informal yet intimate connection with a core cohort of influence makers on social media that have user bases far exceeding anything that even major newspapers and TV channels enjoy. Fourth, ensuring pre-selected tropes for public discourse through placement of documents, leaks, plants and the like in mainstream media — which also accounts for the unfathomable manner in which TV discussions divert attention from the issues of the day, making up through the gladiatorial performance of anchors what they lack in substance.

Thus far, the potential of a counter-narrative displacing the officially sanctioned one was limited. The magnitude of the 2014 mandate was treated as an implicit endorsement of Prime Minister Modi for at least the initial year of this regime. The first crack in the mirror possibly came with the Award Wapsi moment of 2015, when through a common act of renunciation some of the country’s best regarded intellectuals stood up against what was framed as “rising intolerance”. By itself it was not a majorly threatening objective, yet it prompted a swift and angry response from state and non-state entities. The finance minister famously termed it as “manufactured”, the minister of culture thought it should be a matter of investigation, while others claimed that it was driven by a hunger for publicity, and even took out an “India Tolerant March” to expose the ugly intent of “pseudo-secularists” to tar the nation. Looking back, that slap down was quite successful. The NDA may have lost the Bihar election towards the end of that year but the Modi government was able to ride out that period of anxiety.

Today, two years later, is that anxiety back? The PM has himself complained about being constantly misunderstood (“They said Modi only talks of bullet trains in India… Now that they see I have actually got the bullet train to India, they ask why a bullet train?”). His party president’s entreaty to Ahmedabad’s youth to resist the lure of social media propaganda seems to indicate a fear that the party’s formidable propaganda drive on social media is facing serious blowback.

There are contingent causes for the new credibility that is coming to be attached to this counter-narrative despite the prevailing disarray in Opposition ranks. Among them is the roiling within universities across the country, where brutal state repression is sharpening student militancy. Joblessness is now being perceived as the inheritance of failure; farming as the harvesting of loss. The assassinations of journalists and assaults on them are threatening to alienate a crucial category of professionals. The initial silence that greeted the unrelenting barbarism of beef vigilantism, targeting minorities and Dalits especially, is also breaking. That lack of immediate response was interpreted by many within the Sangh Parivar as tacit public acquiescence to the project but now widespread revulsion to such randomised violence and killing among ordinary citizens is coming into view, with citizens’ initiatives emerging to reclaim India’s secular legacy across the country. They may appear limited and periodic but they are punching above their weight through the unleashing of immense cultural and oratorical power.

This wave could be read as Award Wapsi 2.0 but look what’s different this time. Those speaking out are also from the BJP’s own camp. It’s also not just about ideas this time, it’s about the economy; about the assumed benefits of demonetisation and GST going AWOL. This is why the meme, ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Che’ (development gone crazy), now buzzing around the BJP’s Gujarat headquarters like an unswattable fly, is interesting, indicating as it does that the famed Gujarat Model — built on a rock solid foundation of words — is now tilting ever so slightly.

The writer is a senior journalist

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  1. Jyotsna Dave
    Oct 4, 2017 at 12:06 am
    Dar gaya! may be he will have to give away his awrds so he is retraking after all like in movies they work as lion but outside they are rats.
    1. Y
      Oct 3, 2017 at 11:21 pm
      Congress defeat 2 is required to make sure Congress learns a good lesson in 2019
      1. M
        Oct 3, 2017 at 10:22 pm
        So many bhakts around but the thing is you may be in numbers but you are completely wrong . I came here only to say this that Modi is leading us to darkness. Whatever counter narrative of 70 years you spread to people who have forgot history yes the royal secret service history too is forgotten. But the thing is future is dark if we do like this. Hate this comment ,spread the rumours about g foolish leader who put economy is gutter and still shouts like anything. Kill all rational but we all will suffer. You, me , all of us will suffer because of our madness about frenzied revenge and ignorance. Bharat mata ki jai. End of argument.
        1. L
          L bhadrapati Devi
          Oct 3, 2017 at 11:16 pm
          Even the coward covering your dark face shows that you are a fugitive. The dawn of civilization has come in India. The communal appea t policy and one sided secular ideology of encouraging minority radicalization has stopped by state. Hinduvatta means oneness of ideas as Indian.
          1. R
            Oct 4, 2017 at 5:08 am
            Modi has shown how muslim vot ebank politics can be made irrelevant first in Gujarat then in it sheartland, UP where Mulayam/BSP/Congress thrived only on mus im votes. Remember last time BSP gave 100 out of 400 seats to muslims who cons ute 18 percent population in UP. The mulla-missionary-marx axis of evil is frustrated and hangs on to any leaf floating be it Yashvant Sinha, Arun Shouri, Kulkarni, Gowari Lankesh, Kalburgi, Vemula etc. But they have no idea that in awakened Hindu India, what hapened in UP is just one of such many thing sto come soon in WB and Kerala too where again local thuggish politicians thrive on muslim votes. All award wapsi/not in my name thugs keep shouting all types of lies and only they expose themself as traitors, back-stabbers. All sensibles congress leaders with base be it Naryan Rane, Mukul Roy or SM Krishna dumped loser islamo-fasist 'seculars' and mobved towards nationalists.
            1. u
              Oct 4, 2017 at 7:08 am
              Bhakts vs. parasites, people are free to chose.
            2. Debjit Mishra
              Oct 3, 2017 at 9:54 pm
              Well, you and ur Italian brigade has brought so much of prosperity in last 70 years that we are eating gold and ting gold. Your rotten thoughts and insane soul is not at all appreciated. I would suggest you to wash your face and brush your teeths so that the dirt and stink of your mind reduces a little if not entirely.
              1. Seshubabu Kilambi
                Oct 3, 2017 at 9:34 pm
                They right wing will end hitting their own legs with their own old sticks waiting in thebwings
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