A good wife, my grandmother would admonish her indolent daughters-in-law, is gifted with ingenuity, including the art of producing a meal out of nothing. I must hasten to add that this was long before the era of political correctness and no offence was intended towards women in the household.
My grandmother, in fact, was quite an emancipated woman and wielded absolute power. In her scheme of things, women were supposed to have skills and abilities far more awe-inspiring than those of men, including the skill to conjure a meal out of nothing and the ability to serve it without letting out how she managed the feat.
The reason I recall the words of my long-departed grandmother is to draw a parallel of sorts. To be rated as good, today’s struggling-for-eyeballs media has to be inventive and gifted with the skill to manufacture a story out of nothing and the ability to serve it at prime time or splash it on the front page taking care not to let out how the feat was achieved.
On Thursday we witnessed one such story being manufactured with amazing ease and served with the confidence of a trickster who knows his trickery, even if discovered, will never be exposed to the gullible masses. In brief, this is the story.
The Raj Bhasha Cell of the Ministry of Home Affairs, whose remit is to promote the use of Hindi in official communications, woke up (presumably sometime early this year) to the fact that many Departments of the Government of India had taken to using social media platforms for putting out official statements in English.
After much deliberation the Raj Bhasha Cell decided on March 10 that such communications should preferably be in Hindi or in both Hindi and English. A circular to this effect was issued on May 27 by the Director who heads the Raj Bhasha Cell, seeking compliance by all.
On June 19, media uses this circular to drum up a fictitious battle between the Modi Sarkar and those opposed to such “brazen imposition of Hindi”.
Predictably, DMK leader M Karunanidhi, whose party led a violent agitation against Hindi as India’s official language in the 1950s and 1960s and was placated only after Mrs Indira Gandhi amended the Official Languages Act, was shown the circular.
That served as a red rag to a bull and the rhetoric of the past came tumbling out, warning of dire consequences. Hindi chauvinists, who ironically do not know the difference between Raj Bhasha and Rashtra Bhasha, joined issue and by late evening a right royal row was raging across media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook.
The Times of India put out a story how the circular was in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unease with English and preference for Hindi.In the coming days we can look forward to a spate of opeds by our learned commentariat. Ironically, none of them would have bothered to read the circular, spot the dates and put the issue in perspective.
All of them will rush to berate Modi and alert us about the dangers of Hindi chauvinism. Some will robustly defend the imposition of Hindi, equally ignorant of facts. And thereby shall hang the tale of yet another, to quote a TV channel, “massive political fight”.
In this cacophony of shrill discordant voices will be lost two facts. First, by no stretch of the imagination can Modi be held responsible for a decision taken more than three months before the election results were announced.
Nor can he be held accountable for a circular issued a day after he took oath as Prime Minister by a babu who is either cunning or lazy if not both (there can be no other explanation why a decision taken on March 10 should be communicated on May 27).
Second, it would be silly to point fingers at Rajnath Singh because he took charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs two days after the circular was issued. All this and more will be glossed over. Facts are an inconvenient obstacle to monkey chatter on telly and in the papers.
You could argue that the Government should withdraw the circular. But that would be virtually impossible as it would only turn Thursday’s faux clash into a real scrap in the streets. Hindi chauvinists will see it as an affront; the anti-Hindi lobby will mock the Government; media will do what it does best: taunt Modi and his team.
Whichever way it turns out, there will be another story to be reported after spinning the tale to rid it of factual accuracies. Such are the standards of media today.
The writer is a journalist, political analyst and activist