Steve Bannon, the former investment banker who was editor-in-chief of the right-wing US website Breitbart before he became a key architect of Donald Trump‘s 2016 presidential election victory, has been arrested, masked and charged with swindling nearly $1 million (approximately Rs 7.5 crore) in the name of building the wall on the US-Mexico border.
But less than a week ago, on August 15, Steve Bannon, seen to be the unseen hand guiding right-wing demagogues across the world, was grandstanding on WION, the ‘World Is ONe” news channel launched by Subhash Chandra, the Zee founder who became a Rajya Sabha member with the help of the BJP (and invisible ink).
On India’s 74th Independence Day, WION’s editor-in-chief Sudhir Chaudhary, who himself spent quality time in jail on charges of allegedly trying to extort former Congress MP Naveen Jindal in 2012, tweeted the Steve Bannon exclusive.
In his intro to the August 15 simulcast, Jack Maxey, the anchor of The Pandemic Warroom, waxes eloquent on India, the “largest multi-cultural democracy in history”, “led by their great prime minister Narendra Modi, fantastic friend of Donald Trump“.
“Today, for a special day for us particularly and a special day for the world, we are going to be on WION channel, one of the greatest news channels that you can watch if you are trying to understand what is going on in the region.
“Every night they have got a fantastic programme called Gravitas, I recommend everybody take a look at it. Americans are trying to catch this great TV station. They are on Dish 765.
“We are going to switch to Steve K. Bannon, the man of the hour”
Steve Bannon, for his part, acknowledges his gratitude to WION:
“I couldn’t be prouder or happier. I really want to thank WION for distributing this in India, one of the great stations, Gravitas is a great show, watch it all the time.
“In 2014, when I was at Breitbart, I had a radio show on Sirius XM. When Narendra Modi won in 2014, I said he was the Ronald Reagan of India. Now he has become Trump before Trump. He has shown the world what leadership is”
The Trump-Modi reference is presumably in relation to India’s stand on China after the loss of land and lives in Ladakh: the ban on Chinese apps, the cancellation of Chinese projects, etc.
Although he has fallen out of Trump’s orbit, at least publicly, Steve Bannon is seen to have been a prime player behind the US President’s anti-China rhetoric, and has been a major votary of calling Coronavirus a “Chinese virus”.
In late March, Palki Sharma Upadhyay, the host of Gravitas on WION, claimed she had been the subject of trolling for reporting China’s criminal negligence on the Coronavirus outbreak, “esp from blue-ticked activists.”
Let the record show, Twitter is not available in China since 2009.
Gravitas on WION commands suspiciously abnormal viewership on YouTube.
The headlines of some of its shows leave little to the imagination on its inclination and motivation:
- Is China debt trapping Bangladesh?
- Chinese avenues to invest in India are shrinking
- Is China running out of food?
- China’s state mouthpiece backs Biden presidency
- China’s biggest purge since Mao
- Chinese-made airport leaks in Islamabad
WION is not the only news outlet on which Steve Bannon has been showering his love in the second term of Narendra Modi.
On April 21, a month before the Chinese aggression in Ladakh became public, but three months after the Coronavirus outbreak, Bannon appeared on Times Now owned by The Times of India group, laying out the direction India needs to take vis-a-vis China.
In an interview with Rahul Shivshankar, the channel’s head, Bannon said India had a big role to play in forming strategic alliances and stopping the Chinese from controlling the Eurasian landmass.
“To be brutally frank, the most important countries in this [alliance] are Japan, India, United States, United Kingdom, maybe Brazil. That’s the new coalition to confront the Chinese Communist Party. Obviously, there will be Germany, France and the rest of Europe.
“India is the key that picks the lock. India is the most important. India takes its rightful place as the central part of this strategy to stop the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing from controlling the Euroasian landmass. They are trying to use the One-Belt-One-Road, the Huawei 5G rollout, the predatory capitalism of the old British East Company.
“India can see it every day. Modi can see it. This is why the free men and women in India become the bulwark of democracy to stand up to this.”
In his “outro”, Rahul Shivshankar extends a warm hand to Steve Bannon: “Let us hope we can meet up and do more of these conversations.”
The BJP twitter joyfully handle retweeted the Steve Bannon’s certificate to Modi: “PM Modi is a hero, he has stood up to the predatory capitalism. He understands history and can’t be bought off! He is a symbol for the world.”
The choice of media outlets of Steve Bannon in India, and the timing of his appearances, are a dead giveaway on the manner in which the global far-right is reshaping the “narrative” in India using embedded sections of mainstream media.
Bannon, in fact, had appeared on WION, on May 31, 2019, within a fortnight of Narendra Modi‘s election victory last year, offering his thoughts on “how US needs India to counter China’s hegemony”.
Sudhir Chaudhary was the esteemed host.
Inter alia, Bannon bloviates on the significance of the Modi win.
“This is why this victory is so important. So important to other leaders in the world. What Modi did is what Reagan did. Reagan spoke to the common man and they connected.
“The media tried to destroy Reagan, they tried to destroy Modi. The same exact media companies that attacked Modi attacked Reagan 30-40 years ago. Modi did not flinch, he did not back off, he did not apologise, in fact he doubled down and tripled down.”
Naturally, the Bannon-Chaudhary interview got wide play on the channel with the host of Gravitas, Palki Sharma Upadhyay, doing the honours.
In the May 2019 interview with WION, Steve Bannon appeared alongside Shalabh Kumar, an Indian-American industrialist who took a group of US legislators, including the far-right Newt Gingrich, to meet Narendra Modi in 2013 when he was Gujarat chief minister.
‘Shaili’ also worked to get Modi’s visa ban lifted by the United States.
A 2016 profile of Shalabh Kumar in The Telegraph, Calcutta, called him the “common bhakt” of both Modi and Trump.
Indian officials were quoted in that story as saying Shalabh Kumar was also “responsible for bringing 50 US Congressmen and Congresswomen to Modi’s September 2014 address at New York’s Madison Square Garden”
(In October 2016, NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain credited Shalabh Kumar with fetching him the first “interview” with Donald Trump.)
In the Telegraph profile, Shalabh Kumar claimed the wall with Mexico would be an “electronic one”.
With Steve Bannon arrested for embezzling funds for the wall in a “comically flagrant scam”, that claim takes on an added meaning. The wall with Mexico was clearly an “electronically wired one”.
Also read: The Steve Bannon playbook in Brazil