Strange as it may seem, despite India’s image of an amiable and polite nation, the country is surrounded by a league of adversaries with their noose always sharp to bait the hinterland and disturb the peace-cord of the nation. Needless to say, Pakistan is a major player in the league; China too is not far behind for all the obvious reasons. But what is most disconcerting is that the entire set of our neighbours, including Bangladesh and Nepal, have left no stone unturned to create political fissures in the border states; thus creating a rift between various ethnic and racial classes. Not only by our immediate neighbours, but India is also attacked with venomous content by and from unlikely quarters including apparently non-interfering Saudi and UAE communities.
The malicious exercise against India has been active since quite a long time and today has enveloped all border-sharing states with its circumference engulfing almost all possible ethnic communities. To get the best desirable impact, these nations exploit the local media to spread hate messages among people and feed them with anti-India sentiments. Initially, the radio was the most potent and sought-after medium of communication; but gradually, television became a more potent medium with fringe channels being used to spread poisonous verbal and visual clips to their target audience. The masterminds are mostly religious extremist groups, government-sponsored organizations and sometimes, sovereign governments themselves.
It’s a spree that has been pervading for a long time but the Indian government seems to be miserably insulated from the reality. Either they are ignorant or are egregiously handicapped by the lack of resources to combat it; or it may even be true that our governments are not bothered by the issue as it affects only a fraction of our population and doesn’t change the overall political dynamics. Despite the warning by our Intelligence Bureau that it has identified as many as 24 TV channels spreading hate messages and spurious information against India, the incumbent Ministry of Home Affairs had been largely unmoved. Unsurprisingly, 14 out of the 24 reported channels are from Pakistan, two are Nepalese TV channels and one each is from Saudi, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives and even UK. Some of these tainted TV channels that are widely viewed in these regions include QTV, ARY TV, PTV (Pakistan’s official broadcaster), Dawn and other Pakistan based stations. Otherwise too, TV stations from various countries have been kicking down the vulnerable section of our population with insidiously motivated messages. The tastefully named Peace TV of UAE, Saudi TV, NTV of Bangladesh and even Nepal TV and Bhutan Broadcasting Service are trampling us underfoot. It was only when the news leaked into our domestic media that our home ministry was forced to act. Thanks to these 24 odd channels, incidences of violence and ethnic rift increased in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, J&K and Maharashtra.
For instance, last year, a Pakistani TV channel aired anti-India programs in Jammu in Gojri language – a widely spoken language in the state – after installing powerful transmitters along the adjoining border to serve their purpose. Most of these channels were and are aired by unregulated cable operators and service providers. Yes, attempts to curtail their presence were made by the UPA government, which amended the Cable TV Act giving additional latitude to the enforcing agencies to increase fine or even imprison the infiltrators. However, for political reasons, it has been difficult to attain a consensus on the issue and our government is treading silently, especially in the backdrop of a very uncertain election year. Some channels were blocked too, but that was more of a forced decision, in the aftermath of the communal brickbats across the nation.
These events are seen as a direct fallout of the dictates of the outlandish channels and their ulterior motives. The authorities’ inability to jam these channels portends disturbances on demographic, linguistic and religious lines, particularly in the border areas. These might not be cataclysmic, but even a slow spread of disharmony and mistrust amongst the people can lead to malignantly large ramifications, eventually leading to crime, lawlessness, even terrorism. That will carry farfetched economic consequences like drying up of investments in the affected regions, skewed up infrastructure and high unemployment. If these happen and other consequential social and political problems also increase, fingers would be raised against our authorities and their utter lack of caution and foresight.
However, no concrete attempts are being made to ban radio stations that air hate messages in India. The states where these channels spread their perfidious messages are relatively poorer states, where citizens rely more on radio than on television for infotainment, thus making the reach of such programs more impactful and disastrous! Taking advantage of the lack of strong terrestrial coverage and transmissions on the Indo-China border, China has installed very strong and high powered transmitters to broadcast their TV and radio programs along the bordering states. Strangely, even the All India Radio (AIR) network is quite weak and discreet in these areas compared to radio networks of Bangladesh and Nepal. So much so, Bangladeshi radio frequencies can easily be tuned into in almost all North-eastern states and even in West Bengal. Similarly, Pakistani TV and radio signals can readily be accessed in Jammu and Kashmir and nearby regions.
In effect, radio propaganda has pervaded poor districts near the Indian borders, where TV penetration is low, to treacherously influence poor and vulnerable people. Pakistan is particularly adroit in exploiting the vehicle of radio to shore up religious passions and to incite reactionary communal outbursts. They do it not only to India but to their other neighbours too, like Afghanistan. It’s common knowledge how the Taliban has been using the medium of radio as a major tool to sway the perceptions of common Afghans and tribal folk populating the Pak-Afghan border to further their cause and philosophy. As this shows, sometimes, these kinds of propaganda wars work to deadly effect. And examples are strewn across the world. Kenya had been victim to such hate spread in the conflict between the cattle owning Kelenjin tribe ‘Kikuyu’ that started as an innocuous cattle war but turned into something so vicious that the entire country plunged into chaos. The entire havoc was engineered by the Kikuyu tribe with the propaganda of animosity. Then, during the Bosnia bombings in 1997, Serbians resorted to radio to broadcast messages against Muslims, Americans and against the Dayton peace deal. The Americans had then retaliated by seizing various transmitters, and thus halting the hate broadcasts.
What the Americans could do in an alien land thousands of miles away, the Indian authorities haven’t been able to do in their home turf. There is no specialized cell, no expertise, no fund disbursements worth mentioning, and most importantly, no initiatives from our authorities as they are sweeping the matter below the carpet in their typical “chalta-hai” style. The downright disregard to acknowledge the gravity of the situation has given rise to a ticking time bomb, especially in the backdrop of ongoing discontentment in the bordering states. In multi-religious and multicultural societies as ours, it is even easier to break the back of the very delicately poised domestic harmony – a fact that never seems to get the interest of our authorities and least of all our ministers. The writing on the wall is vivid and clear – our neighbours are not only invading our sovereignty but have virtually waged a psychological war across the border! And we seem to be nothing but sitting ducks.
- 02 May 2013 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics