Paranoid prognosis

BY SEVANTI NINAN| IN Books | 02/06/2018
Ravish Kumar’s chronicling of fear and hate in the times of The Great Leader and his IT Cell.
SEVANTI NINAN reviews the volume


Book review
The Free Voice--On Democracy, Culture and Nation
Ravish Kumar
Speaking Tiger, 2018


NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar has been a unusual phenomenon in TV news,  forging his own brand of journalism, combining melodramatic rants  with the missionary zeal to expose a great deal that the ordinary Indian endures on a daily basis.  He is possibly the only anchor around whose ventures into mofussil India are not confined to elections and droughts,  but driven by the need to keep exposing institutional decay.  Hats off to him for that. 

The melodrama in his journalism has been building up since the advent of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its troll army, and has lately acquired an obsessive edge with the anchor asserting in articles and on his show that the Right Wing hate army is out to kill him. That sense of  paranoia comes through in this book. 

Other anchors originally from the NDTV stable have faced the ruling party’s online vitriol, but have not spoken of having to run away from physical attacks.  Does he face worse because he is out on the street more, or is watched more being on a Hindi channel, much as he likes to call himself a zero TRP anchor?  Or is it because he is speaking out, something India’s top shot TV anchors are definitely not doing that much? (Though with each by-election lost by the BJP, their courage seems to be returning.)

Ravish’s sense of being hounded is the backdrop to this book which begins with the Justice Loya episode and the growing climate of self censorship which has been engulfing India’s public sphere. He goes on to talk of the BJP’s IT Cell and the mob it unleashes online, and takes a detour to describe how fear  have been part of his persona since childhood. 

 What are the free speech challenges in Narendra Modi’s India as framed in The Free Voice? This first chapter titled ‘Speaking Out’  looks at the IT Cell which looms large in the author’s  imagination. It has converted citizens into trolls, he says, ably aided by The WhatsApp University which he sees performng a dual function: it propagates hate speech effectively, but it also comes to the rescue of those who want to speak without fear of the conversation being tapped. Bureaucrats, for instance. 

A series of bald assertions are made about right wing hate speech and fake news becoming routine, clubbing together many instances over four years of this government. Sometimes what is being said is elementary to the point of being banal but if  you put together the pithier takeaways from the first couple of  chapters here is what you end up with:


  • Ravish Kumar’s colleagues think his speaking out might cost them their jobs, focused as the NDA government  allegedly is on fixing NDTV.
  • The Mob in Modi’s India is greater than the Constitution. 
  • PM Modi trots out malicious fake news at an election meeting in Gujarat and the next day’s headlines pick it all up without any attempt at verification. Consequently,  fake news engenders fake debates and fake debates  result in fake politics.
  • News channels create false realities on the basis of spurious issues and counterfeit agendas are driven by government and big business.
  • Power has shifted reality with the aid of media: the media legitimizes communalism as nationalism, among other things.


All of which is certainly true in some measure but how paranoid should level-headed Indians become about what India is being reduced to?  Not paranoid perhaps but certainly seriously concerned.

Ravish however thinks The Apocalypse is at hand. He paints a horrific picture by stringing together  the communally-tinged killings the country has been witnessing post 2014,  a reliving of every incident that has shaken him.

He lists at length the  long list of fake news purveyed mostly via social media about Jawaharlal Nehru including a video claiming he had died of AIDS.  A chapter called “The National  Project for Instilling Fear” is followed by another titled “Wherever a Mob Gathers it is Hitler’s Germany”.   “Being the People” is a series of observations on how citizens are becoming supplicants in the rule of  The Great Leader.

You get the picture. 

There is sermonizing towards the end on all manner of subjects, including how we need to recognize the institutions which can save this country, the Supreme Court being one of them.   Anchor Ravish has transferred his pulpit from his blacked out  TV screen to a little volume that was most likely proposed to him by a clever publisher.  Will it become  a handy bible for a gathering Opposition in their quest to halt the march of The Great Leader? Only if they can mobilise a WhatsApp University and IT Cell of their own to propagate its assertions.


Sevanti Ninan edits The Hoot.


The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

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