Getting the point. Then missing it.

Pundits must go out more often.

When it comes to matters relating to national security and foreign policy, India’s newspaper columnists tend to take their cue from the government. If they actually make an attempt to take their cue from the general public, like Vir Sanghvi, they will discover that their countrymen hold some very straightforward opinions.

It is a truism within Big Media to say that the people of India want peace with Pakistan. My sense, however, was that while nobody wants another war, outside of Delhi and parts of the Punjab perhaps there was no great warmth towards Pakistan. Most of India is young, does not care about Partition and sees Pakistan as just another foreign country — and a hostile one at that.

When peace with Pakistan came up, every single person I met was clear: there could only be peace on our terms. And this meant not giving up an inch of Kashmir. Nor was there any support for the idea of more autonomy for Kashmir.

So, let us treat all this liberal rhetoric about how Indians long for peace with scepticism. Our idea of peace is: Pakistan should shut up and behave itself or we will retaliate.

It is not a public mood that will lead to any lasting settlement of this long-running conflict. And I think that the challenge before politicians is to shift the consensus. Big Media has tried. And I think it has failed. [HT via BombatBengluru & Cynical Nerd]

The point is not so much that politicians must attempt to ‘shift the consensus’. They must attempt to translate this into foreign policy.

13 thoughts on “Getting the point. Then missing it.”

  1. Heh Nitin. Even the Americans have de-hyphenated their relations with the two countries. The Candle Kissers brigade in the media and govt. better realize this soon. The ISI Dirty Tricks department should be well aware that more attacks on Indian soil will only harden public opinion.

    best,

  2. The point is not so much that politicians must attempt to ’shift the consensus’. They must attempt to translate this into foreign policy.

    Tricky thing that.

    We’ve seen attempts by the leftists and the islamists to dictate India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran. India is not so much a democracy as a republic. We elect decision makers, and trust their skills (at least in the realm of phoren policy), not make decisions made for them.

    The disproportionate media coverage to these (stage managed?) anti US protest rallies gives false impressions besides. What about the 70%+ approval rating Bush and America enjoyed in poll after poll of India’s public opinion? Just because civil society is civil, and doesn’t implicitly blackmail govt with protests and threats of violence (like ‘protesters’ carrying osama placards do) doesn’t mean civil society doesn’t care.

    Manmohan spoke at the US congress and received profuse applause and the disgusting behavior of communist MPs caused bush to skip addressing parliament altogether.

    But yes, am noticing a subtle shift in emphasis among big media commentators in the past few yrs. India today’s coverage of Modi’s re-election – ‘ let’s respect public verdict rather than spin events based on our own moral judgement’ types – confirmed that impression. Vir is right to acknowledge this shift.

  3. The article is really about Big Media bring homogenization to the country.
    The danger with Big Media is that it can be manipulated to easily by politicians.
    Good news is that if middle class grows by another 100 million, politician would be in big trouble because their vote manipulation would no longer work. BJP has more to gain by this and congress to loose. Tactics of last election would actually work.

  4. “The disproportionate media coverage to these (stage managed?) anti US protest rallies gives false impressions besides. What about the 70%+ approval rating Bush and America enjoyed in poll after poll of India’s public opinion?”

    1) All rallies are stage managed.
    2) I don’t believe that Bush has a 70% approval rating, although the US may
    3) Most polls in India are misleading anyway since they don’t cover the vast bulk of the rural populace (most of whom probably have no opinion on this matter, but it is wrong to tout poll numbers as if they’re the be all and end-all).

    India is still a democracy. People who object to the US or to George Bush have a full right to protest, even in Parliament, as long as they do so peacefully. I may not agree with them, but they have a right to protest. Besides, I think they may serve a useful purpose in telling the US that there is only so much that the PM can concede on key points.

    Finally, we cannot compare the US COngress (with its 2 party system) with India and its multi-party system.

  5. The India media are a bunch of bozos who’ll keep wailing of solidarity, peace, brotherhood and similar bakwaas even when their fellow citizens get slaughtered by jihadis. The only thing that woke up these morons was the recent Delhi blasts- a bit too close to home, that. Not some foolish Lt dying for the imperialist GOI in Kashmir or some “tribals” dead in the NE- dang, that bomb was where I (and the missus!) go shopping! I really must write a stinky editorial.
    It would be amusing if it werent so pathetic. Anyone seen Seema Mustafa (Asian Age) etc ‘s articles- they used to scream “Musharraf is my herrow”—after the blasts she started singing a different tune. Now its Bush the oppressor.

  6. Ved writes:
    India is still a democracy. People who object to the US or to George Bush have a full right to protest, even in Parliament, as long as they do so peacefully. I may not agree with them, but they have a right to protest.

    Fair enough. Phrased it the way you have, none can disagree. Point is, the left (and its islamist allies of convenience) has been getting away with threats to violence for far too long now. Remember how it took Delhi’s intervention to get Kolkata to agree to guarentee security at Kalaikonda for the recent Indo-US air exercises? And thats just one incident.
    I think thats really unfortunate how asymmetrical media warfare causes advantage to shift to the more aggressive, unreasonable and violent types, at least in the short term.

    Besides, I think they may serve a useful purpose in telling the US that there is only so much that the PM can concede on key points.

    Good point. India being a genuine democracy that can only be pressured so far has been a source of strength for GoI in phoren negotiations.

  7. Sanghvi is an interesting writer, albeit with occassional blind spots. Anyway, I found this passage to be the most eye-opening one in his column:

    There is a massive Hindu backlash building up. The public mood reminded me of the late 1980s, when such issues as Shah Bano and The Satanic Verses so upset moderate Hindus that they turned against Congress-style secularism.

    The provocation, this time around, is the attitude of the Muslim political leadership to foreign Islamic issues.

    Can anyone corroborate what he’s arguing here? I have a cousin in Baroda who, although no religious zealot, does get pretty riled up over what he sees as the shameless pandering of some politicians to Indian Muslims in the name of securing their votes. And personally, living in a country where such a perverse definition of “secularism” would be ridiculed to no end (the thought of the ACLU demanding a Muslim Personal Law or Jewish Personal Law is pretty funny to me), I’m quite amazed at this degree of pandering as well.

    But I’m curious as to how widespread this sentiment is among Indian Hindus. If the BJP’s able to ride it to an election victory that expels the Marxist jackals of the CPI and CPI-M from the levers of power, and perhaps gets some genuine political debate going over a Uniform Civil Code, I’d say that it’s all for the better, provided that it doesn’t bring characters like Modi into power.

  8. Eric, you have asked a very pertinent question. I meet lots of people in my travels around the country and from talking to them, it appears to me that Sanghvi’s thesis of a backlash is plausible. The pandering to vote banks is tolerated but only up to a point. Pushed beyond that, people react and that reaction could be a step function rather than a gradual shift. The Congress could step over the line and unite the Hindus. I think that the Congress’s pandering to the Muslims is the worst thing that has happened to the Muslims of India. The more the Congress hands out meaningless trinkets to them, the more the non-Muslims resent the Muslims. By their “divide and rule” strategy, the Congress is essentially making the Muslims of India being hated by the average non-Muslim Indian.

  9. Eric,

    The anger is under the surface, waiting to be scratched out. 6 years of BJP rule and shrill anti-Modi sloganeering by the “chatterati” had pushed it very low. This governments actions in the past 2 years or so have pushed it higher up the conscience.

    It is not just the Congress. It is the communists, and the other “secular” parties – like Mulayam’s SP still retaining a minister who said he would pay, or organise payment, for the killing of the Danish Cartoonists. Or the use of OBL lookalikes in May 2004 and in the subsequent election in Bihar.

    The commies wont be thrown out, until there’s free and fair voting in West Bengal(got them 40 of their 60 MPs) – and, the government there is distinguished from the party, and forced to remain so.


  10. Point is, the left (and its islamist allies of convenience) has been getting away with threats to violence for far too long now.

    Fair enough. But this is part of the culture of most Indian parties and movements. Threats of violent actions and riots are always below the surface of even peaceful protests. The left has been guilty, labor unions have been guilty, and islamic parties have been guilty. But so have extreme-right Hindu parties, farmers groups, you name it.

    We need a change in culture — that peaceful protests are OK, but violent protests are not.


  11. And personally, living in a country where such a perverse definition of “secularism” would be ridiculed to no end (the thought of the ACLU demanding a Muslim Personal Law or Jewish Personal Law is pretty funny to me), I’m quite amazed at this degree of pandering as well.

    The country in which you live in largely allows states to set marriage, divorce and inheritance laws. For much of its history, states had different laws, and often had special dispensations for religious communities. Utah used to allow polygamy, for instance, largely because it was almost totally Mormon. Even now, native American tribes have separate inheritance laws. The Amish and Mennonites often have exemption from draft rules. Inheritance laws varied greatly from state to state (still do to some extent) — women had very few property rights except in the Western community property states.

    The civil code in the US also varies from state to state (South Dakota just banned abortion). In some states like Lousiana, it is completely different because its based on Roman law, not common law. The US is not as different as you would like to believe.

    Personally, I would support a common civil code in India, but it should be part and parcel of rationalizing marriage and inheritance laws and increasing women’s rights for everyone — Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Adivasis etc. Too many of the people who call for uniform civil code do so purely for the wrong reason (Muslim-bashing) rather than the right reason (improving the status of women).

  12. The country in which you live in largely allows states to set marriage, divorce and inheritance laws.

    Perhaps, but the religious exceptions you cite, save for Utah’s polygamy law (which Utah had to abolish over 100 years ago in order to attain statehood), don’t compare with having a full set of marriage, divorce, and inheritance laws based heavily on religious texts. If a state was to create a civil code for Christians based heavily on Biblical law, then you’d have a similar situation.

    Also, there are perversions of secularism that go beyond the civil code, such as the Hajj subsidy, the banning of The Satanic Verses, and the plan to create reservations for Muslims in schools and colleges.

    Too many of the people who call for uniform civil code do so purely for the wrong reason (Muslim-bashing) rather than the right reason (improving the status of women).

    Agreed, but this becomes inevitable when so many of the staunchest defenders of “secularism” in the political realm want to maintain the status quo in the name of expediency.

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