Mass media in general has become an inseparable part of modern society. From entertainment to politics, from television to the internet, its purpose has evolved to be more than just the dissemination of information amongst the masses. It is part of the social framework of modern society, dictating and establishing norms, as well as presenting the general character of our society and its politics.
The role of media within society is vast, particularly the impact on how we interact with one another as individuals and as nations have continued to have an increasingly significant role in our daily lives, especially in our perceptions of others.
Although mass media is a powerful means of disseminating information, it is also true that media continues to have a definitive effect on political thinking and perception not only on the internal politics of a nation but also on its foreign policy and strategic thinking.
The media has the ability to take a group of people and place them in the role of the ‘other’; the other against which their country’s own ideal is established, and a common enemy to unite against. Media-more particularly news channels and entertainment media- have become some of our main points of reference for establishing and disseminating social norms, moral codes, and political beliefs and orientations, regardless of whether or not those are just or reflect the truth.
The Modi era coincided with an exponential rise in the use of social media in India, a medium that this government exploited to the hilt to target critics, mobilize public opinion, and use tags like “anti-national,” and “anti-Muslim” to discredit anyone showing a hint of circumspection with the state narrative. The Indian government has fully grasped the impact of media on the thinking of the masses and opinion-making. The fundamentalist government of Modi in India, with the support and backing of its intelligence agencies, has ensured an iron hold on all the major media houses and has set up a huge network of social media community that they control both inside India and abroad to propagate its narrow hate infused ideology, particularly its anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The Indian media is hand in glove with the Modi government to ensure they create the hype necessary to deflect the attention of the populace from the domestic endemic problems to a threat to national security by Pakistan
Mainstream Indian media deliberately represent Pakistan in unfortunate ways as the enemy and a threat to Indian territorial integrity. This is enabled by the news media’s use of hate speech and demonizing language when speaking about Pakistan. Indian News media often portray Pakistan as a violent and dangerous nuclear power and a “threat to national security”, thereby perpetuating an “us against them” mentality. This creates an atmosphere of fear and more specifically, “Islamophobia. This is not only portraying Pakistan as an enemy to be dealt with but is also alienating and now targeting Indian Muslims residing in India sparking sectarian violence at a scale never seen before.
The Indian government is playing a dangerous game of supporting media organizations that whip up ultranationalist sentiments.
Key ministers attack journalists and media that believe in speaking truth to power. Prime Minister Modi himself has called journalists “news traders”, one minister has called them “presstitutes” and another said journalists should stop asking questions.
On the other hand, we see that during the first two decades of this century, partisans’ mild dislike for their opponents has been transformed into a deeper form of animus. The Spread of democratic ideas themselves and the subsequent development of mass media enabled political leaders, including the usually marginalized fundamentalist and extremist leaders, to project a positive image of themselves onto the masses as never before. It is this enabling environment in the 21st century that has facilitated the resurgence of personality cult leaders who in the garb of nationalism have perpetrated heinous crimes against their opponents as we see being done by the BJP leader Narendra Modi in India, particularly against the Muslim.
What is even more tragic is that leaders like Modi, through the use of populism, provoking religious sensitivities, inciting latent fears, and exploiting the underlying fissures in society manage to gather steam and ride on a wave of popularity. Based on negativity Modi has managed to capture political and administrative power and put in place his goons at the helm of affairs including in ministerial and strong administrative positions with the judiciary lamely following suit and obliging. Notwithstanding the fact that, like Narendra Modi of India, these are convicted criminals who are iconized not only by their cult following but also aided by the full potential of the political, economic, administrative, and judicial apparatus to put them on a pedestal as saviors of the Nation.
In India Modi has created a personality cult around him. Despite bad governance and several political setbacks, Modi’s charisma and popularity helped BJP return to power in the 2019 elections. BJP sought votes only in Modi’s name and won. This has created a fascist monster who is using the influence of his personality cult to destroy the secular fabric of India and create a Hindu state. Inspired by Modi’s policy of hate, otherization, exclusion, and fanaticism, his blind followers are playing havoc with the hapless minorities of India, particularly the Muslims.
All minorities alike have faced a surge in communal violence in recent years but the largest minority the Muslims have faced the worse kind of atrocities committed against them. A number of new laws have been enacted that adversely affected their daily lives and interfere with the religious garments they wear, the food they eat, where and how they worship, and even whom they marry. Many Indian journalists, lawyers, activists, and religious leaders believe that the institutions on which the country once relied to keep this kind of ethnic supremacism in check—the courts, opposition parties, and independent media—have collapsed. Many feel that it is a betrayal of the basic premise of secular India promised by the founding fathers and the constitution.
While legally speaking, all citizens might enjoy the same rights, In Indian society now minority religious groups are experiencing structural neglect and when they turn to the state for protection from violence, or indeed when they seek any form of government support they realize that the state itself is the behind the discrimination, harassment, and authorization, not only by not protecting the vulnerable but condoning the actions of the perpetrators of these crimes and raising the criminals to the status of heroes and iconizing them as role models to be emulated. State Ministers of the BJP government spread hate and incite violence from the floors of the two houses of the Indian Parliament shredding the concept of equal rights for all citizens and the now the long lost principal of secular India and are hailed as heroes by the government while the police and the judiciary not only turn a blind eye but aid the state-backed atrocities.
In the Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the situation is even worse. Two provisions in the Indian constitution, Article 35-A and Article 370, retained Kashmir’s autonomy and recognized its special status. They formerly preserved the rights of the ‘permanent residents’ of Kashmir from displacement and any attempts to change the demographics of the state. India unlawfully annexed Jammu and Kashmir by rendering it a Union Territory on August 5, 2019, to be directly ruled by the Central Government, in violation of international law. India has violated the obligation to maintain public order in Jammu and Kashmir through flagrant human rights violations in the region.
A practical genocide is taking place in IIOJ&K, and yet there is complete silence in the international community as India becomes the favored partner of the USA as a counterweight to China.
Despite all this Modi’s ideology of strident Hindu nationalism, combined with promises of economic development, remains a big draw with voters in India. With less than a year before the next general election, Modi is already in pole position and is projecting himself as a “lone worrier” against a large number of opposition parties who all want to remove him from power. This was clearly evident from his recent statement in the upper house of parliament when roared that the nation was witnessing how an individual was strongly facing many, thus setting the tone for the 2024 elections. Modi is appealing to the voters on the slogan that he was living for the country, the directionless opposition is struggling to find a common platform to take on Modi. It suits BJP to have this narrative of one leader (Modi) taking on the fight with a long list of opposition leaders. Modi versus the rest.
The youth of India see Modi as a strong leader, who rose to lead the largest democracy in the world from humble beginnings as a tea vendor. The local flavor that Modi provides by wearing the traditional dress and speaking in Hindi both at home and abroad, makes the youth relate to him and he has become an inspirational hero to be emulated. On the other end of the political spectrum in India we see that today the opposition looks even more fragmented than it was in 2014 when the BJP first won general elections bringing Modi to power. There seems to be merit in the Indian Home Minister’s statement that there were no competitors to Modi and that the Indian nation was solidly behind Modi. Whether this is the usual political bluster before elections will only be proven when people come to vote but for the moment it is advantageous for Modi for 2024.
Media and communications can play a positive or negative role in conflict situations and peace processes. Managing this is a key question for policymakers. The digital age has made this task even more critical and urgent. Faster dissemination of news and views by multiple means at faster speeds ultimately has a profound impact on developments.
“We inhibit the peaceful and negotiated resolution of conflicts not only by the extent to which we demonize one another. We do so also by the degree to which we separate, on the one hand, the processes of politics and international affairs, and on the other hand, the moral relations between ourselves as human beings. Talking to one another and discussion must be the prelude to the resolution of conflicts.” Nelson Mandela, Capetown, 1999.
This quote by Nelson Mandela epitomizes the very essence of a successful peace process and avoiding conflict and war.
the Author is a retired diplomat with over 37 years of distinguished service in the Foreign Service of Pakistan. During her career, she held key positions, including Ambassador to China, the European Union, Ireland. She also served as Deputy Head of Mission to China and Denmark. With expertise in various areas, she held significant roles at the Foreign Office, including Additional Foreign Secretary for America’s and Director General Policy Planning.
In addition to her diplomatic career, she is actively engaged as Vice Chair of the Council on Global Policy and a member of the Board of Directors of First Women Bank. She serves as an advisor to the China Study Center at ISSI and Kestral International. Furthermore, she is a prolific writer, contributing regularly to esteemed magazines and newspapers. As an accomplished author, she has published several books, including “Magnificent Pakistan” and “Pakistan-China-All Weather Friendship.” Her dedication and expertise continue to impact the field of international relations. She tweets @AmbNaghmanaHash.