Defense Against Defence Propaganda?

Death Machines. Taken by the author at an Army base.

Death Machines. Taken by the author at an Army base.

It is God’s duty to forgive the enemies, but it’s our duty to convene a meeting between the two

Note: I am no intellectual, I am merely sharing an experience and my musings on the same with a neutral audience.

I sat through a discussion consisting of intellectual elites and of course, the regulars. Some were enthusiastic, some trying too hard to make jokes and most were just zoned out. It was quite a set up and I, running a fever, was only waiting for it to get over.

It began post a presentation on the various achievements of the Indian Armed Forces; while the oration was sloppy, it was cleverly accompanied by two short documentaries highlighting the progress made by the various wings in the past few decades. With (for lack of a better word) badass visuals of warships, fighter jets and tanks accompanied by a high tempo soundtrack, it was a great watch. What nobody will talk of is how most of the data provided flew right above our heads as we were too busy watching missile launches and other advanced defence machines in action. But, wait, that’s not even the best part.

After the introduction, came the real reason why I even sat through the damn presentation instead of recuperating at home:

  • What is the government aiming to achieve releasing such videos for the layman to watch?
  • Is the government trying to manufacture consent?
  • Why is the government spending money trying to justify it’s defence spending?
  • Why would the government dramatize the video and try to ‘sell us the idea of nationalism and patriotic ideas’?

Sitting where I was, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of these questions myself. The same was mistaken as me blushing over, well, romantic ideas of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Understandably, I am not contributing to discussion, so it’s correctly assumed that I have no opinion and even better that I’m dreaming about Tom Cruise and his Ray Ban’s, right? Hey, no questions raised there.

Firstly, these videos aren’t specifically made for the public. They are mostly used in presentations in Parliament and other domains where decision-making is involved. There’s no particular channel on which they’re displayed, there’s no advertisements for the same and if you still don’t agree, watch the video, one is able to understand a very small portion of what’s being conveyed. Yes, they’re made available in public domain like ALL other central government departments, maybe? But no questions raised about the spending on Railways. Not even on the day the annual Railway Budget is announced. Because, just.

Secondly, why? It’s common knowledge that a majority of the public doesn’t really know about the workings of the defence and thus would question the spending. However, if you’re claiming to be smart enough to think of propaganda, why can’t you zoom out on the map and realize the importance of having a strong and equipped force? It’s only a percentage of the tax you pay anyway.

Thirdly, the question about ‘nationalism and patriotic ideas’ arises. One has to be extremely imaginative to come up with an answer for that, correct? Why would the government try to force the military, whose job is to protect the citizens and the physical borders of the country, to make you feel towards them? Isn’t that inherent considering the nature of their job vis-à-vis yours? Obviously, they’re guilty of stealing you of your money and creating expensive content you can make movies about every couple of years.

I’m not offering solutions; I actually wasn’t fantasizing about Tom Cruise but was just marveling at the importance being given to this topic over a whole lot more that I regard as a contemporary issue.

But, what the hell, thank you, Noam Chomsky.

Independence Day Eve Musings

 “There are miracles. All indicators are negative, but we don’t want to lose hope.”

– Admiral D.K. Joshi, Chief of Naval Staff, on the INS Sindhurakshak Mishap

My father was posted in the Andaman Islands at the time of the horrific earthquake and tsunami which struck the Indian Ocean back in 2004. It was a normal day and I woke up with the intention of doing absolutely nothing, which, for a student enjoying his/her Christmas vacation is only expected. As I freshened up and walked to my parent’s room for the customary morning greetings, I found them glued to the television. My father was talking on the landline worriedly and I ignored the conversation as I crossed him to cozily slide into my parents unmade bed beside my mother, however, the visuals I saw as my eyes scanned the screen seemed to clog all the blood that ran in my system and I felt weak.  Once I began to slowly digest the reality of what had happened, having my family with me at home was a feeling I couldn’t describe. He had taken the Christmas week off and had come home to spend time with us in Bombay and had luckily escaped the clutches of nature back in the Islands. It was an odd feeling of simultaneous relief and immense pain.

During March ’05 my family and I packed our bags and flew down to the Andaman’s to spend our summer vacation. As we were landing, I saw the islands, like encrusted emeralds in the blue ocean, glimmering under the sun, beauty that will never cease to exist. The following two months we toured the islands and along with feasting upon nature at its best we saw the ugly side of what the natural calamity had done, literally, it had changed the face of the islands forever. The Indhira Gandhi lighthouse, which marked the Southern-most tip of the Indian territory had now been grudgingly claimed by the Indian ocean.  We even made a stop at Nicobar before heading back home, which was a sight I will always be in awe of. Clean, crystal blue water lapping against the golden shores, marred with debris. I distinctly remember the remains of a three storey building with whatever was left of Maruti 800 vehicle.  The Islands have made a special impact on me and are much more than I ever imagined they would. Their enthralling beauty mixed with horrifying events that once shook the living out of them only makes them more extraordinary and somehow very dear to me. What adds to the surreal charm is the popular story of a particular temple situated on one of the islands, small yet untouched by the ravaging oceans as they uprooted hundreds of trees that surrounded it within seconds. As I visited it, there was this eerie calm as the idolized goddess smiled at me, omnipotent and omnipresent.

As we go about our daily mundane or otherwise activities, we seldom reflect upon the value of security and human life. I for one do not thank my stars or life or even those who have been instrumental in shaping my existence. I woke up normally just as I do daily, half an hour earlier actually to make time for my pet before I ran off to work and waste time existing there too and found my parents, both wearing unanimous worried expressions watching the television which usually is ignored till about 2030 hours. With a heavy heart I sat down and watched the sad news of the explosions aboard INS Sindhurakshak and prayed that all the personnel survived. The pet was ignored and was left outside to entertain itself. It had occurred around midnight and there was no way to begin rescue operations, not till the flames were doused, trapping the sailors and officers inside.

As the time passes, the chances of their survival seem bleaker and it becomes difficult for me to swallow the lump forming in my throat. Somebody’s father, a husband, a son, a soldier serving his nation and doing his duty is trapped inside the gutted 2,300 tonne machine and is hopefully, alive.

Almost as customary as my morning greetings, are the ranting of news channels which have anyway lost their purpose amidst their 24×7 droning. Immensely insensitive yet ‘crucial’ statements pertaining to the ‘security and preparedness of the nation’ and ‘possible sabotage’ are as expected taking importance over the condition of those unfortunate soldiers doing their duty. Personally, I agree that the above are important takes on the tragedy as well, the very cause for the fire is still unknown and should be investigated to ensure the same does not repeat again, however, the insensitivity with which the incident is being reported, hurts. I believe that there is ample time to discuss the same, once the need of the hour, which is rescuing those affected the most, is taken care of. Instead, it is appalling to see the way the Indian media decides to report the same.

I will go on to cite an example, which itself speaks volumes about where the attention of the media really is, a leading news channel (unnamed) releases an article online and explains “The disaster at midnight explained in 10 points”. The title itself irks the writer but I let it be because who has the time to read about tragedies like these anyway, right? The points are concise and help the reader paint a picture about the tragedy, focusing on what type of submarine it is, it’s previous repairs and costs, it’s weapons systems and how it is a blow for the nation perceiving threats from her not-so-friendly neighbor. 

However, the unpardonable error comes in where the channel gets the name of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, inaugurated just days back by the Honourable Defence Minister, INS Vikrant wrong.

“The accident comes just days after New Delhi trumpeted the launch of its first domestically-produced aircraft carrier, the INS Arihant..”

I make a note of the word “trumpeted” and clarify; the INS Arihant is a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and NOT an aircraft carrier. But who cares about such errors anyway? It is only a great moment in history as India joins 4 other countries in the world to achieve this. But we are too busy flinging mud at each other, defaming anyone if and when we can and separating states for political gains and blatantly ignoring serious threats to national security.

One day before the country celebrates her 67th Independence Day, proudly hoisting the flag while singing the national anthem and merrily wishing one another, while singing odes to those long gone heroes and martyrs who laid down their lives dreaming that we would see such a day and rejoice and thanking those currently serving by raising a toast towards them. However, I am no longer brimming with joy and no longer waiting to wish my fellow citizens.

 The patriot inside all of us is dying a painful death, patriotism having lost its real meaning to the people of this country, amidst all the hatred, communal distress, LoC violations, Black Money scams, continual discrimination and abuse of women and the pitfall of the rupee and thus the economy whilst the political system is failing, the bureaucracy cowering under it, filled with criminals who are now taking a stand against the higher courts regarding the law which will eliminate them from the Parliament like a water filter. Not to mention the obstreperous abuse of our privacy by security agencies and great misuse of power and authority; which was not envisioned by the forefathers of India who, with their sweat, blood and sacrifice gifted us our motherland.

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So before celebrating this year, take a minute to reflect, do you really think of our soldiers who gave up their lives for the motherland? Do you really mean what you say while chanting the national anthem?

Do you really respect the Armed Forces of your country?