TV serials and the rise of Hindutva

Written by ShahNawaz Khan | Published on: May 22, 2019

I would argue Ramanand Sagar, and not the BJP, started laying the bricks of a Hindu Rashtra, although, perhaps inadvertently. The Ramayan – take one, 1986-87, aired on Doordarshan, beaming for 1½ years the Hindu mythological reverent characters in TV avatars over 78 episodes, was the starting point.



image used for representational purposes only

Every Sunday morning nearly 50 million viewers of all hues (almost all of electrified India of that time with any TV sets to spare anywhere in the neighbourhood were the beehive of eager and devoted viewers) were transported to the a world of yore when Lord Rama walked the unadulterated Hindu earth from north to south and then south to north of a geography between ghats of Himalaya to the Palk strait of Lanka (the mythical Ram setu), reigniting the imagination of a Ram Rajya.

The Ramayan evoked a sense popular piety, a surge of religious awakening of the masses. Watching Ramayan became a religious act in itself, an act of worship as if. You suddenly saw an increase in the number of people wearing the kautuka (saffron, or, various other shades of red and yellow ritual threads) on their wrist and making no bones of showing their religious identity on their sleeves. Not only had this, the serialized version of Ramayana, in some way, reflexively fed into the national sentiment that the Muslims are the usurpers of the birthplace of Lord Rama – the Ram janma bhoomi.  And out came the Ram janma bhoomi movement of ‘reclaiming the birthplace’ from obscurity to the forefront of the national discourse, publicized court battles and the show of strength on the roads.

The electoral spinoff for BJP from Ramayan, and its spellbinding effect, can be appreciated from the fact that it increased its Parliamentary seats from a measly 2 to 88 in the 1989 General Elections – a seismic Hindutva shift in the Indian polity had taken place and made BJP, RSS and their affiliates relevant once again. Thanks to the Hindu Televangelism.

The Ram Rath Yatra, the fomenting juggernaut, further harnessed this collective sense of the atavistic loss to the “outsiders” into yet another political bonanza when they roped in 3 digits tally of 120 seats in the next mid-term General Election in 1991 and went on to win a majority in the UP Assembly election in the same year. The Indian political and social landscape was redrawn to aggrandize the Muslims as the enemy of the state. Out came from this the Hindu nationalism and the current situation that we are in.

The current state of Indian politics has been religiously shaped along the way, by not one, but many such serials on the prototype of Ramayan.
The mega onslaught of 300 episodes of Ramayan – take two. This remake of Ramayan by Sagar Arts beamed every day between January 2008 and July 2009 by NDTV. Dubbed in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali and Gujarati, it now covered the entire length and breadth of the country with nearly 80 million viewers. And, as if the viewers (or, by now the backstage politically motivated ones) hadn’t had their full, there was yet another remake of Ramayan series in 2012 and telecast on Zee TV network.

Then there were the sidekick TV serials to further augment the Hindu religious and cultural ethos in the mindscape of the viewers. The most prominent being the 94 episode series Mahabharat in 1988 by B R Chopra. Following closely on the heels of the Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, it had a wider bunch of characters and storyline fuelling the imagination of Hindu righteousness and supremacy in the acts of valour of Arjun, Bheem and Dhronacharya and the political wisdom and reformation of Lord Krishna.  And as if this version of Mahabharat had left out anything unsaid, unreported or un-eulogised, there was a mega dose of 267 episodes of the remake of Mahabharat televised on Star Plus in 2013 -14.
Having whet the religious appetite Sagar had yet another go with Doordarshan telecasting 201 episodes of “Shri Krishna” from 1993 to 1996. Close on its heels came 208 episodes of “Om Namah Shivay” in 1997 by Dheeraj Kumar. The Hindu evangelical shows were having a field day with the “newly proselytized” with their lost faith and cultural identity. The shows were not only doing big business raking in unprecedented money but also doing dharma seva. These serials became the new opium of the masses to make economic and political profit from.

The cultural sweepings in some of the most prominent household shows like “kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi” and many other such productions by Ekta Kapoor and her ilk with dominant middle-class Hindu flavour cannot be emphasized enough for their role in saffronisation of the soap operas on Indian television. In fact, the most insinuating part of these serials has been the mutilation and misinterpretation of history to glorify a mythical golden age before the Muslim invasion of the Indian subcontinent.  Add to this the regional sub-genres beamed across by now hundreds of regional channels across India and one can see how rapidly the minds of the young and old were conditioned into alienating the minorities and the Dalits. The saffronised tele-serials diet worked its miracle. With threat perception of “the outsiders and the others” heightened and minds weakened to make their own judgments, no wonder than BJP made big come back in 2014 and may do so once again.

While most bathed in the glory of the divine incarnation of their gods and goddesses in these serials, some of the politically inclined were roped into by BJP to win elections and a few now have flourishing political careers. Thus the happy marriage of the TV and BJP dates back Modi. He only monopolized it.

Courtesy: Two Circle