Prime Time Propaganda

Kashmir: There is both amusement and outrage in Kashmir over recent remarks made by some of the panelists on TV channels that have devoted most of their prime time to discussing Kashmir. Whether relevant or not, the channels have, by their conduct proved that they have an agenda of keeping Kashmir’s pot boiling to give a cover to any action the government was contemplating. The average Kashmiri is baffled to see the prime time studios full of noise that is loaded with venom against them. Even as some semblance of normalcy returns to the valley, the prime time discussions give the impression that it is burning. Of late, the channels have crossed the limits of decency and have fallen from grace on Kashmir debates by giving space to many people whose words don’t fit in any framework of civility much less the journalism.

Kashmir has been facing the brunt of propaganda for quite some time. It has been unleashed by most of the Indian media, particularly the TV channels. It has been gaining an impetus from government functionaries and the spokespersons of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which in other words would mean that this line of thinking has official sanction. Some of the ministers in the BJP government in Delhi are regularly featured in these anti-Kashmiri capsules that are aimed at denigrating the people and discrediting their urge for a political resolution to the dispute. This much is not new in the government narrative: accusing Pakistan of fueling the unrest and propelling militants forward to create disturbances. But what is new is the propaganda to abuse Kashmiris and blame them or Pakistan for the current crisis. Going by this media blitzkrieg, one would get the impression that New Delhi has not done anything wrong since 1947.

In recent days, two comments made by panelists on a TV channel enraged people but in one case there was much amusement and social media was full of jokes. The one comment which evoked a sharp reaction was made by one RSN Singh, a retired Colonel who was briefly with Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) official and has been engaged by a newly launched TV channel as its contributor. His disgraceful comment insinuated that Kashmiri youngsters were the ‘illegitimate offspring’ of foreign militants and that is why they were valiantly taking on government forces. When Singh was making this uncouth remark, the anchor was clearly enjoying it. This demonstrated the depths that such debate has sunk to and become the hallmark of these channels. No one intervened as the panelist abused Kashmiris and that is how the response of the government is also shaped.

Such behaviour is not only shameful but it brings to the fore the license the government has given the channels to push Kashmiris to the wall. These channels have disgraced the profession of journalism and they make it clear how the government has become party. And all of this bursts open the oft-repeated theory that, “Kashmiris are our own and Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part [of India]”.

The other comment was made by a former Army Major Gaurav Arya who was made “famous” by TV channels when he wrote a letter to the dead Burhan Wani. It is not known why Arya left the Army at such a young age but he has become another expert who is now patronized for his purple comments. Arya asked a Kashmiri panelist why Kashmiris had red cheeks and why there were no deaths from malnutrition in Kashmir and how they were surviving in unrest when everything was shut. The average Kashmiri took this in their stride and made jokes out of it. But the underlying impact was strong and the insinuation was similar to what Singh was saying. The likes of Arya are illiterate when it comes to Kashmir and Kashmiris. This is a fact, which sometimes even baffles Kashmiris, as to how do they survive in a lockdown for six months. While the agricultural economy is strong it is more about the resilience that helps them survive in tough times. Red cheeks should not surprise anyone, as Kashmiris are from a different genetic pool that has no connection with any part of even undivided India. The economy has been made dependent by the government but people struggle on their own. Kashmir gropes in darkness in winter months despite the fact that it has a capacity to produce 24,000 MWs of power but whatever little is produced is used to illuminate the rest of India as the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation has been sitting on the resources producing power and even charges us for electricity through the Northern Grid.

The comments made almost every day by hired panelists are part of a psychological war that has been unfolding to make the people submit. Major Gogoi’s action of tying a Kashmiri to a jeep was justified and people in the government went so far as to “prescribe” it as a remedy to teach Kashmiris a lesson. One of the senior most ministers, Arun Jaitley, talked about a “war-like situation” in Kashmir without declaring it officially, and another minister joined uncouth panelists by abusing two Kashmiris on a TV show. Babul Supriya, who is a minister in the Modi government, unveiled the government policy on dealing with Kashmir in a way. This is how he reacted when a Srinagar-based panelist smiled in response to his defence of the human shield. “I don’t like the way they are smiling. I would want to catch them by the nape and make them confess that they are Indians first… to say that we are Kashmiris from beginning to the end, I think for every Kashmiri like this who smiles so shamelessly on the television, there is one Major Gogoi there who is going to tie them to the front of a jeep…” thundered Supriya. This is the behaviour of a minister in the world’s largest democracy. How can anyone expect political outreach and recognition of Kashmir as a political problem if this is the language being used? But by allowing this, the government in Delhi has exposed itself. It can no longer claim any victory on moral grounds the way it has allowed an abusive propaganda campaign to run untrammeled; its policy on Kashmir is becoming clearer and clearer, unlike that of previous governments that perhaps had the same approach but at least kept it under wraps.