Television has often been christened as the “idiot box” due to its ability to destroy creativity, suspend critical thinking, and alienating human beings from their material conditions and their social, interpersonal relationships. However, from what has been collectively witnessed for the past month or so, television (and mass media in general) has become what we can only call the “fascist box”.
However, contrary to what some people believe, this is no sudden change or a change as a result of the BJP being in power for the past six years. No development or change happens suddenly, they do not fall out of the sky. In reality, the basis for the Indian media acting as a distractor serves a very distinct and definitive purpose: to make us forget the sorry state in which our country is in and prevent us from asking the right kind of questions that may jeopardise BJP’s grip on power and the ruling class’ ability to hold on to its political power.
Communist revolutionaries throughout history have always characterized the State as an instrument of class rule. This essentially means that a social class in control of the state and its machinery is able to suppress and repress members of the social class that stand in its direct antagonism. Such acts of suppression and repression could be violent and could be ideological.
While the police and Army have been historically responsible for violently repressing the working class and peasantry, it is the media that usually does the job of ideologically restricting our thoughts and intellects into believing that there is no possible alternative to the status quo.
In India, media ownership is of two types. The first types are those media houses that are owned by the Indian State and its government. The second type is those media houses that are owned and operated by corporates that are also owned by members of the Indian State’s ruling class. Although they usually operate separately to give an illusion of being different from each other in their operations and interests, in reality, they act and cooperate closely together to ensure that the masses always remain within the ideological orbit of the ruling classes.
The only change that has come to this seven-decade-old arrangement is that now there remains no superficial difference between the media outlets of the Indian State and the media outlets belonging to corporates since the policy of the BJP has ensured that both bleed into each other.
However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in India and the disastrous response by the BJP government at the Centre has made the position of the Indian ruling classes untenable. Considering that the anger and opposition towards the Citizenship Amendment Act have not yet dissipated, which was followed by the unplanned series of responses to the pandemic that cost us the economy and more than 70,000 deaths, it is sufficiently inevitable for people to get angry and wonder about their relationship to the State.
Fortunately for the ruling classes and the BJP, the very sudden suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput became an opportunity to divert attention away from the fragile condition of our country and its people. Such techniques often have a high degree of success as now Indians are more worried about Rhea Chakraborty getting bail than worrying about the certain recession and impending depression of the Indian economy. All of a sudden, Indians have become vocal champions of mental health issues even though workers, peasants and students continue to take their own lives.
Without warning, Indians have become vocal about justice for the alleged murder of a single Bollywood star while no demands for justice are heard for the Dalits and Muslims that are being lynched and murdered with increasing impunity. So ‘considerate’ have Indians become that they wonder about the pressure that Sushant Singh Rajput might have faced leading up to this death, but they miraculously forget about the pressure that Rhea Chakraborty might be going through for a crime that she (in all likelihood) didn’t commit.
Normally, this instance of the suicide of a Bollywood star from a privileged background and the accusations levelled against his partner would not have been covered in so much detail, even though it would still have been equally problematic. However, when the Indian State has failed to even fulfil the minimum responsibilities that a government is obligated to undertake, it is not impossible to understand as to why the SSR and Rhea Chakraborty fiasco got the coverage that it did.
And then there are the usual suspects that have been at play for some time now. I feel everyone is aware of the significant role that channels like Republic TV, Aaj Tak, Times Now and Zee News have played in making Hindutva fascism a palatable dish for most of the Indian middle class, before and after last year’s general elections. I strongly feel that these four channels have been instrumental in transforming the television in the Indian middle-class living room from being the “idiot box” to being the “fascist box”.
Today, a television in this country has become synonymous with the propagation of unreliable, fallacious, and misleading news as journalism that serves the interests of the ruling classes and their fascist henchmen currently sitting in Parliament.
The possible solution to this problem is the popularization and practice of citizen journalism and the practice of revolutionary journalism. The former allows people to contribute stories and opinions that this country’s mainstream media can’t and won’t cover, while the latter involves the use of journalism as a tool to raise the consciousness of the masses that would enable them to understand the need and necessity of waging a revolution for liberation, by anchoring the focus of revolutionary journalism on critical issues that matter and how people’s movements respond to such issues.
We cannot undo or reclaim mainstream media for ourselves, because the mainstream media in India was never ours to begin with. However, what we can do is continue to raise our voices on the issues that affect the lives of millions and keep on dissenting with our pens and keyboards—even if the Indian State is eliminating supposed democratic spaces for expressing dissent, even when that dissent isn’t radical or revolutionary.
The correct and collective answer to the Fascist Box, therefore, lies in presenting a united voice of the people speaking up on the disasters that have befallen on our country.