The Modi Divide

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The unseemly scuffle on Sunday in New York`s iconic Madison Square Garden, in which the former chief editor of the major TV channel CNN-IBN was heckled by NRI supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ahead of the latter`s public appearance there, tells of several rather portentous pictures of new India which go far beyond just the incivility of the immediate event. It tells for instance of the direction in which the Indian media and how it perceives the ethic of journalism are evolving. This became loudly evident in the manner major media establishments in the country, including most visibly the TV channels, for whatever their reasons, chose to virtually ignore the event. We are talking about here of a man who was once thought to be an important face of Indian journalism. Sardesai was at this venue, famous among many others for having been the arena of some of the best remembered world boxing heavyweight title fights through the 1970s and 80s, including some of the man who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee and captured the imagination of boxing fans of the time throughout the world, to interview the crowd gathered there and have a sense of the mood there. It is quite an irony that Sardesai was pushed into a sparring match on these same hallowed grounds, though this bout had all the stink of infamy rather than fame. From the few reports available, basically after alerts that Sardesai himselve tweeted, he in his characteristic style, asked very provocative questions about the Prime Minister and of his NRI supporters, when he was confronted by some of Modi`s ardent supporters. This is understandable and can happened wherever and whenever overprotective fans feel their icon is being slighted, but what is confounding is, why have the Indian media remained silent on the matter, especially when one of their own, and a very senior and reputed member too, is the man in the spotlight.

Beyond the immediate issue of the media`™s response and coverage of the event, the episode has once again reinforced distinctly the larger than life charisma of the controversial Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. No other political leader of Independent India, apart from those who emerged out of the Independence struggle against the British, has arguably achieved such a level of public engagement. Modi is turning out to be one of those public figures who few can remain indifferent to. People either love him passionately or hate him bitterly. This was always so long before he became Prime Minister, but after becoming the Prime Minister, there seems no other way of assessing him or his policies but from the divergent viewpoints of the two extreme poles his entry into National politics has created. Postings on social networking sites such as Facebook will bear evidence anytime, and since on these sites “friends”are generally not restricted to actual friends, (except for puritans who accept only real friends as `friends` and send out `friends` requests to only actual friends) therefore belong to all political and ideological hues, these posting can be treated somewhat as representing a cross section of the society rather than bear likeness to sharing of ideas between an association of like-minded people, as is normally the case in a group of actual friends. No need for elaboration, for all would have noticed that one camp sees him as India`™s saviour and another as the harbinger of India`™s ultimate disaster.

There is nothing wrong in people holding divergent ideologies, for indeed, this is one of the attributes of a free society. But as another veteran journalist, Vinod Mehta noted, this difference cannot be considered harmless if it begins to accentuate communal hatred, a curse India has been afflicted with in all of its life as a modern sovereign nation. If it does, it can actually spell the ruin of India. To this assertion, probably all in the Northeast will want to caution of the possibility of the polarised political scenario in the country beginning to acquire a racial tint as well. In either of the cases, it may very well be that such a scenario is not the least of what the leadership of the country intends or desires. But between the leaders and followers can often be a wide gulf in understanding as well as approach. The scuffle in Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday should have provided a glimpse to all of how ugly this gulf can become.

Leader writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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