Politics after Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public

Politics after Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public

Politics after Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public

Politics after Television: Religious Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Indian Public

Synopsis

Winner of the 2003 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize In January 1987, the Indian state-run television began broadcasting a Hindu epic in serial form, the Ramayan, to nationwide audiences, violating a decades-old taboo on religious partisanship. What resulted was the largest political campaign in post-independence times, around the symbol of Lord Ram, led by Hindu nationalists. The complexion of Indian politics was irrevocably changed thereafter. In this book, Arvind Rajagopal analyses this extraordinary series of events. While audiences may have thought they were harking back to an epic golden age, Hindu nationalist leaders were embracing the prospects of neoliberalism and globalisation. Television was the device that hinged these movements together, symbolising the new possibilities of politics, at once more inclusive and authoritarian. Simultaneously, this study examines how the larger historical context was woven into and changed the character of Hindu nationalism.

Excerpt

I remember when we first bought a television set in my parents' home in Madras. the year was 1980, about five years after television had come to town. For years we had seen our Marwari neighbor pack his terrace with thirty to fifty people, mostly children paying half a rupee per head, when feature films were shown on weekend nights. We had no entrepreneurial ambitions ourselves, but we were weekly reminded of the draw of the medium by the scene across the road, if by nothing else. There was an air of excitement and adventure about the purchase. We had been trooping to neighbors' homes to watch programs, and there was an unspoken sense that it could not go on, so there was no one arguing against the idea. the amount was not a small one, over 3,000 rupees (then us $375) to buy a nineteen-inch black and white set. a collegemate who had some influence with television dealers told me whom to contact. No discount would be available on the set, the dealer informed us. But we could save money on the accessories we would need – on the blue add-on screen to absorb “glare, ” and on the rooftop antenna, to ensure clear reception. (The sign of a good picture was when the eyelashes of the newsreader were visible, according to an ad for Solidaire tv – “that seldom fails. ”) As we later learned, neither purchase was necessary. the blue screen dimmed the picture, and an antenna was not needed when we lived five miles away from the broadcasting station. But the idea of requiring supplementary paraphernalia for such an important purchase was intuitively acceptable. As much as we perceived television itself, what we saw was its aura of novelty, and the accoutrements needed to contain and to enhance its magic.

What is the effect of television when it arrives as a new commodity? Admittedly, my reception study was performed in 1988–89, and television had existed since the mid-1960s in New Delhi, one of the sites of my reception study. But the viewing population remained infinitesimal until the late 1980s; the experience of regular interaction with the . . .

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