The Possible Histories of Indian Television
D Satish Poduval
Today, how can we not speak of television?1 This question evidently has a double inflection. First, the seeming ubiquity of television (the cultural significance attributed to it by those who are either wary or excited about it, and its apparent emblematic status in the larger ideological and economic changes now afoot all around us) makes it impossible at present not to speak of television. And second, as an imperative, how not to speak of television today: by learning to historicize its career as a communicational, but also as a social, technology.
Televisual technology has always been charged with a certain telos of functioning, with setting agendas and directing change. In one powerful mode of critique, Armand Mattelart has argued that the mass media serve as instruments for creating a "community from above"—a community in which everybody can share a common superstructure but only by passively "buttressing a system which [contains] history within unanimity and redundancy."2 In a different, less determinist, mode we might think of television as a stake in the tactics of government, that is, in economizing the domain of political rationality or of the community.3 If we then recognise that history—in impulse if not in substance—is inevitably about laying claim to the future,4 how might we imagine the possible histories of Indian television for today?
Till the middle of the '90s, Indian television seemed caught in an arm-lock between two major and often conflicting discourses of legitimation: state-led national developmentalism versus free market-driven economic growth. The former was, of course, the vision of the pioneering media theorists and Indian technocrats who believed that television was a "modern information multiplier" that could induce development through "electronic injections of modernity," enabling us to bypass both illiteracy and the slower indigenous technologies.5 The latter-day proponents of this creed were less upbeat, yet argued that Doordarshan could not abdicate its rural welfare initiatives (nor its duty as one of the official custodians of our culture) to the new metropolitan consumer interests. Meanwhile, we know, there was growing criticism about Doordarshan's shady past: of state misuse, paternalism, and bureaucratic complacence—concerning basically the problem of monopoly. One indication of a decisive