TV channel jingoism is helping separatists even as Salafist Islam takes root in Kashmir
Minor incidents involving the waving of Pakistani or ISIS flags are being turned into major events worth fulminating over by TRP-hungry TV channels. This easy publicity is giving oxygen to separatism and jihadi forces.
By Madhu Purnima Kishwar
The TRP wars between 24x7 TV channels have become a real menace to quiet consideration of important public issues in India. It’s relatively easy to ignore the frenzy being routinely whipped by our TV channels on sundry issues as a daily ritual. But when they do, the same for issues that have far-reaching implications for national security, one despairs at the inability of our hyperventilating TV anchors to understand that there is a world of difference between patriotism and hysterical jingoism.
Here is an example of how delirious coverage of select events in Jammu and Kashmir on prime time TV is causing serious damage to India and to the peace process in this troubled state. Cutting across the political spectrum, Kashmiris complain how the hysteria unleashed by Arnab Goswami and his many clones on TV is derailing calm decision-making by both the central government as well as the state. Several separatist leaders mock at how their work is being done far more effectively by Indian TV channels and mainstream newspapers than what they can achieve on their own.
For instance, when Times Now gave obsessive prime-time coverage for weeks on end to a lone Pakistani flag being waved in one closed-door meeting - something that has happened every now and then over the years – it evoked great mirth among separatists, some of who told me: "The waving of one Pakistani flag would have remained an insignificant happening in the normal course of things but Arnab created the impression as though the entire Valley was covered with Pakistani flags, implying that the secessionists had the upper hand in the Valley. We are thankful to him for creating a larger than life image for us. This only adds to our clout and appeal among the youth.”
Similarly, when the Syed Ali Shah Geelani group of the Hurriyat called for a seminar that included Sikh separatists and pro-secession advocates like Gautam Navlakha, Arnab Goswami went ballistic for days on end till he forced the hands of the J&K government to ban it. It is worth quoting what Geelani's closest colleague Altaf Fantosh said to me : "If they had let us organise the meeting, no more than 100 persons would have attended it, especially since it was within the compound of Geelani Sahib's house. After all, we were not going to wage war against India; it was meant to be a mere discussion. But Arnab hammered on and on till the government cancelled it. By holding the seminar, we would have at best got a two column space in local Kashmiri papers. But your TV channels ensured we got national, international mileage for days on end - all for free. You tell me who gained and who lost?"
Another one of his colleagues added: "Now that national TV channels have decided to project us in such exaggerated light, we can take it easy and just indulge in occasional verbal provocation. No need to take the risk of blasting bombs or firing grenades. Militants do that to grab attention. Now all we need to do it to set up a couple of boys to dress up like ISIS and wave a Pakistani flag for half an hour. Arnab Goswami would do the rest for us."
While our TV anchors hyperventilate at the occasional sight of a Pakistani flag, no one is paying attention to the rapid spread of petrodollar Islam in the Valley with its attendant radicalisation of Muslim youth. The traditional benign Sufi Islam is fast giving way to ultra-conservative and fundamentalist Salafi Islam which is expanding the catchment area for jihadi terror groups.
In village after village, new Salafi mosques are mushrooming to overshadow the old Sufi mosques. In fact, Sufi shrines are being systematically targeted as being un-Islamic. While older generation Kashmiris may still go to the sufi mosques, the excitable youth are flocking to Salafi mosques which spoonfeed them a highly distorted version of world events to show how Islam is under threat and Muslims an endangered species. The siege mentality thus engendered is helping recruit cadres for jihad.
Unfortunately, far from containing their influence, the mainstream parties of the Valley - NC, PDP and Congress - have all lent willing or unwilling, covert or overt, support to this expansion. As a new comer to the Valley, the BJP seems totally clueless about dealing with this mortal challenge which has the full backing of Pakistan's ISI. Neither development packages nor security operations can curb or combat this growing force. Only if India learns to use its soft power far more creatively do we stand a winning chance to wean away Kashmiri youth from self-destructive politics.
(Disclosure: Firstpost is published by Network18 which owns several TV channels that compete with Times Now. The opinions published here represent that of the author and not that of Network18 channels or even Firstpost)
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