There has been an air of despondency among the liberal democrats of Pakistan during the ongoing tension with India. No, it is not because they love India and resent the upper hand that (till the publication of this piece) Pakistan seems to have; most of these liberals do not conform to the caricature that the conservative ‘Pak Studies’ types imagine for them. In fact, in the minds of the liberals, the embers of pride regarding our armed forces (residual emotions left over from the liberals’ own Pak Studies days) surfaced up when the PAF jets downed an Indian plane.
No, the truth is far from that. You see, in the minds of liberal democrats of Pakistan, India represented an ideal (warts and all) to aspire to. Yes, there certainly were horrible blots on the Indian polity, like Kashmir, or what happened in Gujarat in 2002, or even the suppression of indigenous rural folk in the effort against the Naxalites, which is an operation far more grand, in spatial terms, than what any insurgency in Kashmir, Punjab or the restive North-East could be. But it was still India that was emulated.
Issues of caste are far more entrenched in Hindu society, so the democratic enterprise was bound to take longer by way of translating into social progress. And though there are many problems in modern India, we also see cases like that of Mayawati Kumari, called a ‘miracle of democracy’ by late Indian PM Narasimha Rao. Mayawati, an untouchable woman of caste, has served four terms as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a province so large that changes in its political landscape can even make or break national level political alliances.
If only we were to stay the course and stick to democracy, went conventional wisdom, things would improve here. So it pains those hoping for a better future here in Pakistan to see the Indian polity gone berserk. Forty years ago, the ANP was the only mainstream political party that wanted unconditional peace with India; now, perhaps the Jamaat-e-Islami is the only one that doesn’t. The same can certainly not be said for India, where a hawkish stance against Pakistan is a hot political commodity, with many trying to sell it.
The Indian polity is increasingly xenophobic, increasingly majoritarian and increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices. Is this to be our fate if things go well on the democratic exercise were to be continued? Shudder.
During the current crisis, the Pakistani media has gloatingly brought up how mature its own response to the crisis has been in comparison to the Indian mainstream media. As opposed to the rabble-rousing, baying-for-blood Indian media, their Pakistani counterparts have been, barring certain exceptions, relatively more muted. Don’t get me wrong, the Pakistani talking heads on TV haven’t been showing some sort of graceful etiquette; they just look better in comparison.
This is something that the Pakistani civil society has also commented on, as has the political class, most notably, the prime minister himself, in his address to parliament.
What makes this an even more grave comment on the Indian media is that it is free. The Pakistani media isn’t. Starting from about a year ago, Pakistan has seen just about the worst form of press suppression in the country’s recent past. The envelope, so to speak, is nearly flat on the ground. Viewpoints thought of as courageous now didn’t even raise eyebrows a couple of years ago.
Is that fire-breathing demeanour what the Indian media has done with its freedom?
Despite the sad state of affairs in the Indian news media, a more careful look reveals a more nuanced reality.
On the reserved state of the Pakistani commentariat: the military establishment itself is showing reserve. Both the ISPR and the political government have constantly been reiterating the desire for peace. Just how much of the desire for peace has the Pakistani news media been showing of its own volition and just how much is it toeing the line? Plus, was it as peaceable when the PAF hadn’t shot down the IAF jet yet?
On the Indian media: true, the worst that the Indian media has to offer is much worse than the worst of ours. And true, the median level of imbecility of the Indian media is far worse than our representative aggregate. But here is where it stops. Because the best that the Indian media has to offer is certainly better than the best that we have to offer. Ours is a limited spectrum, with not much of a conceptual difference between best and worst; on that side of the border, we have some rather gutsy – and intelligent – punditry.
What is the most scathing question a Pakistani pundit would have asked the government? Now compare it to the searing questions some within the Indian commentariat have been asking. Indian journalists are asking their government to show any proof of the ‘300’ Jaish-e-Muhammad terrorists that have been killed. They are questioning whether an F-16 actually has been downed by the IAF. As opposed to their compatriots who insist on the PAF jet’s fall, these intrepid journalists acknowledge the fact that we don’t have any proof to show for it.
Even in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, some of even the otherwise jingoistic publications asked how such an attack was possible and whether it was the failure of the intelligence agencies. Contrast this with the Quetta attack of 2016. In one fell swoop, the dastardly attack wiped out the entire legal fraternity’s top-tier and scores of younger lawyers as well. And Mahmood Khan Achakzai was tarred and feathered in the national press for daring to suggest that it was a shameful intelligence lapse that such an attack could take place in a garrison of a city that Quetta now is.
A notable mention here of Ravish Kumar, Vinod Dua and a host of others, on the Indian mainstream media.