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Of 'Smart India', COVID politics & Narendra Modi

Author: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri
Publication: In.news.Yahoo.com
Date: June 21, 2021
URL:      https://in.news.yahoo.com/of-smart-india-covid-politics-narendra-modi-090937803.html

Last Saturday evening, Sriram Karri, Resident Editor of Deccan Chronicle, hosted a Clubhouse room, titled ‘COVID Politics with RGV (Ram Gopal Varma aka Ramu)’.

For the benefit of the GenZ, Ramu is one of the most courageous filmmakers of yesteryears who broke almost every rule of filmmaking.

The session was attended by journalists from all spectrums of political ideology and even by some celebrity influencers, like Suhel Seth.

These days I rarely go to Clubhouse as it is full of either toxic rooms or stupid rooms. Yet, I decided to attend this one for three reasons.

First, I have deep respect for Sriram’s efforts of starting a dialogue between all the spectrums of political ideologies (a rare feat these days) on Clubhouse, and as a principle, I like to support such people.

Secondly, it was Ramu’s debut on Clubhouse. I remember my first meeting with him under Dev Anand’s office at Anand Studios in Bandra. He walked in with a young starlet and gave me some tips on how to promote a film in a competitive market. He had disruptive ideas and he was brave – enough for me to like someone.

Third, the discussion was on the politics of COVID. I have invested most of my lockdown time in researching COVID-19 politics, especially the ‘lab leak’ possibility. I have done many shows on my YouTube channel and written blogs, social media posts and participated in conversations with the experts on the politics of COVID-19.

I wanted to gain insights on this issue from a filmmaker’s perspective. So, I joined along with a thousand-plus other listeners.

As soon as I joined, a very kind Sriram requested me to come on to the stage. Since I had refused his offer a few times earlier, I thought it would be rude to decline it again. So I accepted his request and joined the esteemed panel of speakers. And the show began.

One by one everyone started speaking. Within no time the observations turned into criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finally it all ended up with the same rant that the government has failed them.

Why? Because Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not communicate with people, 'leaving them in the dark' and 'confused' as to how to deal with COVID. Even a 5th grader would understand why the prime minister can’t brief the media every day. Yet, he does.

If one is truly interested, one would know that Narendra Modi is constantly speaking to various stakeholders and interest groups, including students almost every alternate day. All his addresses are broadcast live on various government’s social media channels.

“F*#k Modi, tell me who is that one person… Who is that expert talking to me about COVID?” asked Ramu. It’s another fact that the Indian Health Minister himself conducted such briefs for the longest time in the history of any nation.

“I don’t trust him… why don’t we have someone like Dr Fauci who addresses and educates American masses everyday with the American flag in the backdrop,” asked another Smart Indian.

When someone pointed out that the Union health ministry spokesperson briefs every day, Ramu said, “I don’t trust any of ‘them’. It can be very well understood that someone may not trust someone but then the onus of telling us who they do trust also falls on the accuser.

However, I assume in the rant market there is only a complaint box and never a suggestion box. “This government sucks at communication,” said Suhel Seth. In between, Tushar Gupta of Swarajya tried to make some sense with facts and figures, to which Ramu said: “Looks like you are reading all these facts and I don’t give a damn to what you say because it’s not reaching me…”

It’s beside the point that it instantly reached all thousand-plus listeners. At this point I wanted to leave as the discussion was futile, immature and illogical but then came a question in my mind which made me stay and speak my mind.

Why is it that a group of influencers, with a thousand-plus interested audience and millions of followers all across social media, have nothing insightful to say… no analysis, no observations, no logically coherent arguments…. no ideas… all they have to offer is just pontification and personal rants?

Because this is Smart India. Smart India is full of smart people living in smart complexes, driving smart cars, wearing smart watches and doing smart discussions on smart apps like Clubhouse through their smartphones. In the modern world, smartness means making a quick buck without investing anything. Be it life or knowledge.

Why care about facts or reason when you can get away with a rant? Why hold the responsible agency accountable when you can trend on social media by attacking the prime minister for the leakage in your bathroom?

Almost every single day, the health ministry’s spokesperson Lav Agrawal briefs us on the COVID situation and the latest developments. There are more than a dozen authentic sources which release data, news and developments several times in a day. There can be a dearth of oxygen cylinders but there has never ever been a dearth of COVID-related information.

But the Smart Indians don’t care. They want someone like Dr Fauci, who is right now fighting to survive in his job after allegedly being involved in covering up the ‘lab leak’ theory, perhaps the most crooked and sinister cover-up in the history of humanity.

Another common complaint is how Prime Minister Narendra Modi destroyed the health infrastructure and people died due to its collapse. Although everyone knows that health infrastructure and management is a state subject, ‘Smart India’ still holds the Centre and the prime minister responsible: especially in the states where the Bharatiya Janata Party rules.

One of the Smart Indians was also full of praise for Uddhav Thackeray’s government in Maharashtra where we saw maximum chaos and collapse of the medical infrastructure. It’s not very difficult to find out, with just a click on Google, that out of 70,000-odd hospitals, less than 35% are in the public sector.

According to the National Sample Survey 2017-18, around 66% of Indian population gets treatment from private hospitals. About 33% of rural and only 26% urban population depends on public hospitals.

In reality, governments have very little control over medical management. I don’t know on whose behalf were they speaking but one thing is sure they weren’t speaking for those 34% who use public sector medical facilities.

I don’t know if ‘Smart Indians’ have ever visited a government hospital themselves. If they had experienced the problems in a private hospital, how is Modi answerable for that is beyond my comprehension.

In such clubs, there are also a lot of one-sided discussions on how ‘there were no beds and oxygen’ available for the common people. India certainly can’t boast of a great medical system. Yes, it’s true that for some time there were shortages as, in the second wave, cases were multiplied by four times.

No nation can ever prepare for such an exponential increase in cases. How we fought and came out of the crisis is also exemplary, yet it does not take away that people died due to shortages and mismanagement.

However, the narrative that the media created was also not true. I am surprised that not even one Smart Indian on the panel held the ‘vulture reporting’ (as coined by Rajdeep Sardesai) and ‘cremation pornography’ responsible for creating exaggerated panic and chaos.

If the media wants to enjoy all the privileges of being the fourth pillar and a watchdog of democracy, it must equally take the blame when it fails democracy.

A few days ago, CVoter, one of the most credible research agencies, conducted a survey to find out “What was the ICU bed and oxygen shortage amid COVID havoc and how much did the government support the citizens?” If the results are any kind of indication of reality, it’s a very sad commentary on the understanding of India by ‘Smart India’.

When asked if the respondents were satisfied with the government’s work on the pandemic, 74% of the people answered ‘yes’ (satisfied) and 21% of the people were ‘dissatisfied’. When quizzed ‘How difficult was it to get a bed/ICU or oxygen during the second wave?’, 32% of the respondents said it was ‘easy to get’. Almost 14% said there was a ‘slight problem’, 6% said there was ‘too. much trouble’ and as many as 9% said that all ‘this was not found’, while 39% said that ‘it was not needed’.

Most importantly, when asked if they feel whether the risk of coronavirus was exaggerated (by the media), 52% of the people said ‘yes’, while 37% ‘did not believe so’. The remaining 11% did not answer.

Now the question arises who was exaggerating it? Was it the prime minister? The central or the state governments? Doctors, frontline workers? Common citizens? The answer to all these questions is a big ‘NO’.

The fear, panic, chaos and exaggeration were created by the media: especially, television news.

I am surprised that none of the ‘Smart Indians’ on the panel spoke about it. The fact that almost 71% people didn’t have any complaints about beds/ICU and that 74% people remained satisfied with the government’s efforts speaks volumes on the ignorance of these ‘Smart Indians’.

This also reveals a scary trend. Most of these public intellectuals, influencers and celebrities use Twitter for their world view. Twitter feeds on outrage. Outrage is always focussed on the danger and never on the solution.

It’s like in a huge room if you focus only on a cockroach, all the members in the room will start jumping on couches, tables and chairs instead of looking for umpteen solutions available in the room per se to get rid of the cockroach. Their chances of falling off the furniture and hurting themselves are far higher than getting hurt by the roach.

This is what Twitter’s outrage is meant to do. This outrage is amplified by Smart India by making superficial and illogical contributions to this outrage. The media, which is always looking for sensational stuff, picks it up and mainstreams it as news. The same news comes back to Twitter in its most sinister, hateful and decisive form which is again debated, glorified and amplified further by Smart Indians.

This is then picked up by international media which is seen as the seal of authenticity, and slowly, it becomes perceived reality. If one goes through Twitter and Clubhouse debates, it may appear as if every single person in India is angry with the Narendra Modi government, although in reality 74% common people are satisfied with his governance.

When I brought this truth of ‘common man’ to Ramu’s knowledge, he said, “I am sorry, I am 3 Vodkas down and all I know is that nobody is talking to me about the COVID situation…” So, just to humour him, like one does to a drunk person, I told him that if one is truly interested, one can always find the information like how does he know where to get his Vodka from…” and it is true that COVID-related information is as easily available as vegetables in a vegetable mandi.

But Smart India is always on a tangent with reality and nobody could have demonstrated it to a thousand-plus audience better than Ramu himself.

He refused to listen to any logic, reason or facts, and went on and on repeating the same thing only to conclude, “I don’t care about the middle class or any Pyarelal or migrant labourers or a poor man or a beggar… I care only about myself… it’s about me… and I am not informed by the prime minister… that’s all I care about… and right now my girlfriend is sitting in front of me and she wants to kiss me so I am leaving…”

And he left.

This is the reality of Smart India which influences millions of young, impressionable minds.

 -Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri is a national award winning filmmaker, bestselling author and a thought leader.

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