The Banias who run Star TV

So Nikki Bedi and her phalanx of teeth are off Star TV, for reasons she could not possibly have anticipated. Her chat show specialised in mild sexual titillation, which is why she. invited Ashok Row Kavi, the celebrated gay journalist of Bombay, to participate. Little could she have imagined that Kavi would call Mahatma Gandhi a b….. bania, arousing the wrath of so many Indians that Star TV first apologized and then took the Nikki Tonight programme off the air.

Inevitably, critics are shouting about cultural imperialism and the way it has corrupted our moral fibre. I find it astonishing that a remark by Ashok Row Kavi can be called cultural imperialism. It was in bad taste, and I sympathise with those who feel offended. But can the bad taste of an Indian journalist constitute cultural imperialism?

Critics of cultural imperialism include many who were educated in public or convent schools, who think and write in English, wear trousers, and spout socialist or Marxist ideas. They have no doubt imbibed indigenous values too, but subscribe to a wide range of cultural values imported from the West.

Listening to their anti-western tirade, you might imagine that_ Marx was a Bihari peasant, not a German Jew who lived in Britain. What these critics really imply is that their own brand of westernism is patriotic whereas other brands of Westernism are imperialist. This is sheer hypocrisy.

Imperialism is foreign rule imposed by force and extracting tribute from those conquered. It has, basically, a kshatriya ethos though sometimes accompanied by a Brahminical touch of ideology (as in religious wars aimed at killing people in order to save their souls, in the White Man’s Burden during the British Raj, in Marxist expansions intended to create perfect man). Imperialism is the demonstration that might is right, indeed glorious.

Satellite TV imposes nothing by force, extracts no money by force. Viewers are at liberty to subscribe or not, and to switch on or off. Nor is it a western imposition-the vast majority of programmes watched on satellite TV are in Hindi and Indian languages (Zee TV beats Star hollow), with English-language channels accounting for less than 10 per cent of viewership.

Thanks to satellite TV, Hindi films are seen in Pakistan (where their import is forbidden); Man-Mohan Singh’s budget speech and the Republic Day parade are broadcast live to far more countries than Doordarshan can reach; and Indian audiences can watch Pakistani’s famous soap operas. This is cultural interchange, not western imperialism, and is missed only by critics incapable of looking beyond Santa Barbara.

What is noteworthy is not Ashok Row Kavi’s unwarranted expletive but Star’s reaction. It has not just apologised but cancelled a whole series on which had spent a lot of money. Surrendering so tamely is very non-imperialist and non-kshatriya. BBC, which is brahminical more than kshatriya, generally ignores protests of Third World governments against its programmes. It might just have apologised for an expletive carried through oversight, but certainly would not have abandoned an entire series because of a single error.

What then accounts for the low posture adopted by Star TV? The answer is that Star’s ethos is neither that of a Brahmin nor a Kshatriya but of a bania. Brahmins may fulminate about matters of principle and Kshatriyas about matters of honour, but the bania is concerned mainly with profit. Star TV sees its main task as one of making money, not spreading western culture or defending western honour (after ail, it was started by a Chinaman, Li ka- Shing, not by a westerner). And the bania knows that profit depends on keeping the customers happy.

The imperialist (kshatnya) may think that might is right, and the intellectual (brahmin) that ideology is right, but for the bania the customer is right. This is not necessarily so in monopoly conditions, but certainly is in competitive conditions, where the customer has to be wooed.

Unlike the warrior caste, the bania cannot extract tribute through force, and has to persuade people to buy his wares. In this ethos, the bania may regard the customer as foolish, exasperating, unreliable, gullible, dishonest, and given to making spurious complaints but nevertheless right. The bania may personally despise the views, manners and culture of a customer, but will nevertheless greet him with a sycophantic smile because that is how a clientele is created and profits generated.

Some will point out that corporations have also been neo-imperialist the United Fruit Company virtually ran banana republics in central America, and multinational oil companies virtually ran the Middle East oil sheikhdoms in the 1950s. However, these were in fact kshatriyas thinly disguised as banias. They clearly believed that might was right, not that the customer was right.

Star TV has behaved very differently. It has grovelled and apologised. This is because it is run not by imperialists but by a bunch of b…. banias. Ashok -Row Kavi, are you listening?

What do you think?