After the recent Pulwama suicide attack carried out by an angry Kashmiri youth, the Indian media was quick to blame Pakistan. They turned their newsrooms into war situation rooms. Primetime TV shows had background visuals of fire and blood, anchorpersons donned military attire and some even brandished toy machine guns, and newsrooms were made to look like battlegrounds.
Various shows invited recently retired army generals to come on to discuss possible military maneuvers against Pakistan. Pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and RSS-backed anchorpersons conducted a warmongering media campaign against Pakistan. The anchorpersons on these shows usually scream abuse and intimidate their panelists, and anyone questioning the ideology they support is openly ridiculed. Sadly, this style of journalism goes down well with Indian viewers.
“We want revenge, not condemnation. It is time for blood, the enemy’s blood,” thundered Arnab Goswami, a notoriously aggressive news anchor who has one of the largest audiences in India. Interestingly, Goswami is the managing director, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the news channel Republic TV, which is widely considered the mouthpiece of the BJP. Disinformation and unethical journalism have become fashionable in Indian media. The question is, is it a deliberate attempt to swing election results in a particular party’s favor?
Looking at the situation in India, where elections are approaching and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has suffered an electoral defeat in five important states, one cannot rule out the possibility of media houses allying with political parties. We all saw the impact of social media platforms on the 2016 US presidential election. Public opinion was manipulated via fake news disseminated through social media. This raised serious concerns in democratic societies, and people in non-democratic countries rightly questioned the legitimacy of democratic elections.
The continuous warmongering in the Indian media did not, however, go unchecked. Various international newspapers criticized the jingoism promoted on Indian TV and the Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera released a documentary about the venomous pro-war propaganda in the country’s media.
The narrative on the Indian TV channels was also countered by a large number of social media users within India. Hashtags like #GoBackSadistModi, #GoBackModi, #SayNoToWar were trending in India. Interestingly, Indian Twitter users also started a movement known by the hashtag #BringBackAbhinandan, which suggested exchanging a warmongering anchorperson for the Indian pilot who was captured after a dogfight.
The Indian media has also been trying to convince its audience at home and abroad that the country’s military adventurism has been successful, but these efforts have failed miserably
The Twitter trend #GoBackSadistModi was the top-trending hashtag globally on March 6 with 100,000 tweets. The trend was concentrated in urban India, especially in the south. These hashtags give an accurate picture of anti-Modi sentiments in advance of the upcoming general elections, and maybe that is why the war rhetoric is being amplified.
The Indian media has also been trying to convince its audience at home and abroad that the country’s military adventurism has been successful, but these efforts have failed miserably. The international media, including major outlets such as The New York Times, Sputnik, The Independent, and the South China Morning Post, have questioned the validity of the Indian claims. Even Indian viewers questioned their media’s jingoistic version of events.
Given the mainstream Indian media’s tendency to report fake news, one has to wonder about the authenticity of the dossiers the country’s government provides as proof when making terrorism allegations.
The Indian media is trying to stoke the fires of populism before the parliamentary elections. India used to be a secular state, and this contributed to the country’s success, but if populism overshadows the elections, it may divide the people along ethnic and religious lines, which is very dangerous in such a diverse country. There is an urgent need to unmask this unholy alliance of interests to ensure that the Indian elections are not rigged.