What does the camera see?
The theatrics of Modi's superhero image
The Balasore train disaster showcased the Modi government's active propaganda machinery. In the preceding months, Mr. Modi and his associates inaugurated numerous Vande Bharat trains, which were presented as bullet trains for the aspiring middle class, generating significant media attention for an expensive transportation system. However, the disaster shattered the narrative of a “developed” India. Tragically, 280 individuals, primarily from the lower socioeconomic strata, lost their lives, their existence reduced to unrecognizable rubble that dominated national headlines.
Swiftly, the focus shifted from the victims of the accident to the Prime Minister and the Railways Minister springing into “action” mode. Cameras were activated, capturing a staged video-op featuring the Prime Minister, Home Minister, and the Chief of Staff of the Army, coached on the details of the accident at the site. Positioned at a long table with Mr. Modi at the forefront, seemingly photogenic, the cameras zoomed in on him as he assessed the situation. Subsequently, at the accident site, Mr. Modi, after changing attire, was observed aimlessly walking and engaging in conversations while in full view of the camera. He declined to respond to any media inquiries (not that anyone bothered to ask him questions), exposing the hollowness of his personality in stark contrast to the 280 lives lost in the background.
The entire narrative revolves around a cult of personality, relying on media amplification of the supposed abilities of this strongman leader. However, upon closer scrutiny of his countenance, the shallowness dissipates from the screen. He appears as a manufactured screen hero, devoid of substance and lacking genuine concern for the well-being of others. People who are exhausted from their daily lives or commutes are too fatigued to zoom in on the face and often fall for the rhetoric being presented. This media image lingers longer than the consequences of the actions.
This narrative strategy is also employed by Mr. Modi's Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who wastes no time in promoting his hardworking common man image to deflect any questions regarding the lapses that his ministry may have committed in preventing the accident. Within a swift period of 51 hours, after a hollow proclamation of nationalistic slogans, the tracks were cleared and the dead were forgotten, with the media diverting their attention from the tragedy to find a new manufactured controversy where the leader appears powerful once again.
In Modi's New India the value of a human life has been reduced to less than zero. What matters is politics for perpetuating the idealogy of Hindutva power, a parasitic political manifestation of the RSS that mines people's religion to bolster statehood and identity. At this pace, the government works only for a select few with the rest let to fend themselves for their dignity and their lives.