We have taken our ‘chalta hai’ attitude — to unimaginable levels of tolerance for disruptive and megalomaniac leaders.
For a people always obsessed with what the world thinks of us, the answer is it currently views us with abject pity. If we could set that mortifying thought aside and hold the mirror to our own selves, we would perhaps see how far we have taken our ‘chalta hai’ attitude — to unimaginable levels of tolerance for disruptive and megalomaniac leaders and the exact opposite towards our fellow citizens.
From the last weekend we have witnessed a fantastic international music concert and leading personalities on this planet urging humans to be sensitive to climate change and coronavirus, obviously linking the two. Glad either is not being viewed independently. I’m also hoping they attach growing intolerance and autocracy to the Global Citizen 2021 Project.
So leading singers have come together literally and virtually for the Global Citizen concert along with Coldplay. Elton John, Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Stevie Wonder, Shawn Mendes and BTS are among the performers donating their time for the event, timed with the UN General Assembly and G20 climate meetings. A non-governmental organisation, as their site says, is “a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030. On our platform, Global Citizens learn about the systemic causes of extreme poverty, take action on those issues, and earn rewards for their actions — as part of a global community committed to lasting change.” They have been working since 2011 and to achieve their target, they have taken over 24 million actions to target world leaders for action against poverty.
Global vis-a-vis Indian reality
Now, most of the shows were held in London, Paris and New York, with Bollywood people jumping onto this bandwagon in Mumbai. We in India have witnessed those times when we depended on BBC and other international radio services for getting authentic information. These days are no different. We all logged onto the links provided by the Global Citizen Concert to see live performances; why would we depend on our local, mainstream media for getting us this information. In case anyone missed out on the desi version of this concert, there are amusing tales. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev allegedly gave an ‘impassioned’ speech. Now this is the same swami who has faced embarrassing allegations of causing ecological destruction, theft of traditional knowledge of tribals and grabbing tribal land for his foundation. He said, “This is the first time in the history of humanity that we have to talk about protecting the planet. Our generation has taken the largest bite out of this planet.” Try and make head or tail of this. If this was not enough, our diyar leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Music has the inherent ability to unite’’.
Now, to come back home to things that jab, pun intended. Do readers recollect the manner in which the vaccine quota was not released to all states, especially the non-Bharatiya Janata Party states for ‘lasika mela’ (vaccination drive)? We saw how there was a spurt in vaccination, to touch the ‘1 crore’ target which was lauded by the PM Narendra Modi, followed by a slump. Exactly how it played out on his birthday and after. It’s all loud marketing and publicity. The BJP-ruled states were the ones to add large chunks of vaccinated people to achieve this golden number while Maharashtra was blamed for the spread of the second Covid wave. There was a blatant display of vaccine politics of vaccines by the Central government. People were denied their rightful doses and vaccine quotas were deliberately withheld. This is just the first part of the latest exclusions, but err… we were just told of musical inclusion. The loud echoes were pointedly anti-Maharashtra. Initially, the Tablighis were blamed for the spread of coronavirus in India, which was later severely criticised by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court. The bench said, “Tablighis were made a scapegoat and action against them was an indirect warning to Indian Muslims.’’ Erm, was this inclusiveness? Perhaps just an off note, but even if one note is off, a song never sounds melodious.
Going by the pledges taken and speeches made, I only hope our fillum stars understood that it was for eradicating poverty and for vaccine parity and not extending their sympathies to public buses or properties. There was a huge list of star performers’ in New York and Billie Ellish expressed how this initiative made her feel hopeful. Cyndi Lauper spoke of Afghan girls and women and Meghan Markle spoke of how everyone, especially the poor should get vaccines, highlighting ‘equality of vaccine’.
Let us start with equality of vaccines and eradicating poverty. Till now, we had heard the late PM Indira Gandhi give the call for garibi hatao (eradicate poverty). Since 2014, we have heard the cause of all our problems in India – primarily due to the late Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter’s (Gandhi) family and the Indian National Congress. But from 2014, job losses, inflation and mass poverty have risen. Let us begin with the infamous, forced lockdown on March 24, 2020, when the poor migrant labourers were given NO notice and were disallowed from freely going back to their villages. The Indian Railways confirmed 80 deaths while the Government of India lied in Parliament that it had no data. But wait, a query filed under Right to Information Act specifically says the government had collected data on the deaths of migrants during the lockdown. Heartbreaking stories were seen, read and heard across the country, as the poor walked thousands of kilometres, trains were diverted or allegedly ‘lost their way’. Another assessment was by a group of researchers, who said there were nearly thousand deaths between March 19-July 4, 2020. We may just never know the entire truth.
In the meantime, around time of the Global Citizen Concert, our diyar leader went to America and the mass media went crazy. There, Vice President Kamala Harris told Modi that India and the US needed to “protect democracies”. She said, “it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home”. Since the time the BJP government took over we have seen how selectively the Muslim, activists, intellectuals, professors and all opposing voices have been silenced and jailed. Even journalists who do not toe the line have been jailed or face charges. In fact, Kashmiri journalists have been repeatedly harassed, and the district administration, in yet another attempt to control the independent media, has begun issuing orders to these journalists if their work threatens ‘peace and tranquillity’. The Kupwara Imam Din has asked journalists to fill forms and complete their registration process to get their registration or approval to cover in that district. The crackdown on journalists continues as the authorities raided the residences of four Kashmiri journalists last week. In fact, 20 journalists have either been called for background checks, summoned or raided. There have been objections to the stories they have written and they are being put through the worst form of harassment. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy.
Till now, there has been no pressure put on the Indian government or the leaders, questioning their actions. We have seen how the mainstream media has, sadly a large number of houses, have begun to publish only the handouts given to them. Worse still, editors are sickeningly siding with the head of the nation and praising him, despite no positives from a trip that has cost the Indian exchequer. Instead, to divert the flak that he got on social media, performers representing various states were deployed at the airport to welcome him back from his official visit, another cost factor unaccounted for. Worse still, we have editors tweeting how the PM has changed his sleeping cycle to suit the time zone of the country he is visiting. It is truly a tragedy that media people have resorted to such PR. There is no dearth of real stories out there. And it’s a pity that we are witnessing such a breakdown of all our democratic institutions. The world is watching.
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)