Media and Anna-A Perfect Tango

 

There is an old Chinese curse, ‘May You Live in Interesting Times,’ generally attributed to the 19th century story-teller Kai Lung. Scholars debate as much regarding its origin as whether it is just a saying or a curse. The track record of 2011 unambiguously lends this saying a cursedly attire if we look at how tumultuous and interesting the year has had been so far. What began as an Arab Spring was succeeded by an Indian Autumn; Pearl Roundabout and Tahrir Square receded into background while Delhi’s own Ramlila Ground came to acquire the centrestage. The architect of this precocious autumn in Indian political climatology was none else than a septuagenarian Gandhian from Maharashtra, Kisan Baburao Hazare, aka Anna Hazare. Whatever be the individuality, nationality or modus operandi of the 2011 unrests, they were marked by certain similarities in terms of overall character. Resentment against corruption and corrupt governments and the consequent collective actions in form of uprisings has been the common theme. Citizen Kane’s famous line, ‘If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough’, seemed to lose its erstwhile sheen for there was no dearth of interesting news making events and incidents.

Media, in general, and the Indian Media, in particular, desperately sets its eyes upon such interesting times as it is then that it finds its role consummated. In a nation where 24 hour news channels have become an inescapable reality, media seldom gets such opportune moments where the compulsion to manufacture and fabricate news becomes redundant given the magnitude of the news itself. Such a lifetime moment was Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade. It is easy to gauge how our news channels might have behaved then! What followed was a blanket coverage of whatever small or big, trivial or noteworthy, unfolded at the Ramlila Ground. And, with this all the vestiges of civility and all the euphemisms were gone baby gone, gone into background, pushed into backyard. While our print media got lost in such expressions as ‘Government relents, Anna hardens’, little realizing what every word connotes; our news channels kept on flashing the exact seconds and hours of Anna’s fast. ‘Anna to Gandhi,’ ‘Anna Ka Anshan’, ‘Mai Hoo Anna’ were some of the most visible motifs blatantly at display. And, if this was all falling short of stoking up popular emotions, we had a campaign against corruption getting metamorphosed into ‘revolution’, ‘August Kranti’!

If this was revolution, then the Ram-Janmabhoomi Campaign was also a revolution. There was nation-wide mobilization and participation in form of Hindu kar-sewaks and they finally achieved what they had aimed at and brought irreparable chinks in our already fragile social structure. And, what about the Mandal agitation? Did our enlightened reporters and news anchors have the slightest inkling; leave aside comprehension, of what a revolution is? And, how could a movement for a bill be suddenly described as revolution? What radical and profound changes did it bring, or for that matter, how far was the old established order changed? If this was a revolution, then I must accept that we are a nation of revolutions. Thanks to the binocular effect that media presents, we had to perforce look at Anna as Gandhi and his cohorts as Nehru, Patel, and Sarojini Naidu. Such captions as ‘Desh Mei Laakho Anna,’ ‘India is Anna’ deluged our mental and emotional constructs. Sanity seemed to have been inebriated with Anna looming large and gaining strength day by day in geometric progression. What began as persuasion got covertly converted into dictation when Anna indulged in such slogans as ‘laao ya jaao’, forcing the government and parliament to kneel down in abject surrender. Media coverage was so insulated from moral considerations that it had actually begun to believe in ‘the public has the right to see all that I am seeing’ and Anna gleefully embraced their acts, ‘Yeh Prajtanatra ke chauthe khambe ne dikha diya ki woh baki teen khambo se zyada majboot hai’. News channels were in a mode akin to Sensex type reporting: ‘Anna ke Anshan ke 270 ghante poore hue’. While some were content with showing how small children were making ‘paani par Gandhiji ki rangoli,’ others were more than happy in orchestrating six-year old girls perched atop their fathers’ shoulders with a banner showing, ‘Sarkar corruption hatao warna chappal khaao’. This is not news by any yardstick of responsibility and accountability; this is stoking up passion, creating hysteria and mobilizing an entire nation towards anarchy.

Anna Hazare’s eyes and ears, perhaps, did apprise him or might have selectively informed him regarding how he was being portrayed all across the nation and the globe. The thin line between supporting anti-corruption and espousing whatever was happening increasingly got blurred amidst the din which was in full bloom on our television sets. And, wasn’t Anna ‘loving it’ all? A crusader for Lokpal Bill suddenly became the modern avatar of Gandhi. Does Anna not have an identity of his own, does he needs such props for the validation and vindication of his movement? It was sad to see him delivering one speech after another like our well-seasoned politicians, with the portrait of Gandhi lurking in the background. He had suddenly become omnipresent. Switch on to any news channel you would have found him. Sign into your Facebook account, he would already be there in postings of YouTube videos self-proclaiming about his credentials. At one point of time, Anna appeared to have beaten Aamir Khan when it came to self-promotion and the advertisement of his own production. And, our media was there to ensure that he remained invincible at any cost. Poor Ramdev would have been catatonic trying to figure out, where did all his anulom-vilom and lauki ka juice go wrong? After all, he, too, had blown the same trumpet!

The way Anna Hazare and the anti-corruption movement were projected by our media demands serious analysis. How could the tango be so perfect? The same media was silent when two of its time-tested protagonists were accused of involvement in the 2G scam and several of its maai-baap were found to have been complicit in the Commonwealth Games scam. A mountain out of a molehill wasn’t created then! And, to add to the horror, the same two media celebrities were found to participate in discussions and host shows after being in hibernation for quite some time. If this wasn’t archetypal hypocrisy, then what was it? Thanks to media, if there is one word that now the whole of India must be remembering after Jai hind, it is corruption, for day by day autopsy had been conducted on this word: corruption in bureaucracy, corruption in parliament, blah blah blah. However, while this surgery was being done by some of the most accomplished and venerable media surgeons, they did not consider it appropriate enough to have a small peek at what was rotting inside their own purulent body. How could it go unnoticed? How could the same lens which generally displays prismatic colors be so monochromatic? How could you be so munificent and overtly generous at one place and silent in other? So if this wasn’t a diversionary tactic, what else was it?

Such was the fascination, fixation, obsession and enamorment with Anna complete, that whenever he wasn’t visible, the cameras automatically veered away to his team members. It was pitiable to see Kiran Bedi waving the national flag while Aamir Khan and his group were performing the ‘Mitwa’ song. Seemed ‘Radha kaise na jale’ song from Lagaan was being enacted live before the entire country. Commentators on News 24 kept on discussing the prospects of Raju Hirani and Aamir making a film on Anna while IBN7 kept on flashing ‘Anna ka wajan 7 kg ghata’. A day earlier, when the government had rebuffed Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, the duo were found to be complaining like five year kids before the media, ‘aaj hame data hai’. ‘Aaj Hame Data Hai,’ ‘Anna ka Anshan kaise tootega’ were repeatedly shown on all news channels as though some nuclear buttons had been advertently pressed on. There was not even a single channel which didn’t try to vilify the ruling party. What was grey was made to look pitch dark with little or no efforts made to understand the other side of story. Parliamentary democracy had been hijacked and the government put under immense pressure to the extent that the Prime Minister had to speak and speak loud that ‘I am not corrupt’. Never before were government and governance customized to look so dystopian and every dissenting voice made to appear phthisical! The entire Lokpal Bill Movement became a media-facilitated showdown between the government and Anna.

Even Big Boss edits sensitive scenes and conversations before going on air. But, in the live nautanki at the heart of Delhi, news channels kept anxieties building up, emotions running high and the entire nation on the edge. The atmosphere was kept histrionically charged up and finally it became so pervasive that even Arnab Goswami, the most famous face of Times Now and normally one of the most balanced anchors, lost his senses and began predicting events on the day of catastasis, the sizzling Saturday, a day branded by him as historic. He was so ecstatic that he began to behave like a tarot-card reader while the parliament was debating the Lokpal Bill. One of his constant refrains was ‘this is a historic day……celebrations going all across the nation’. May be I am being a bit myopic and failing to configure the hidden historicity in Arnab’s perceptions, but so surcharged was the atmosphere on the last day of the ‘haar-jeet’ muqabla that he forgot that he was a news anchor and tried being Irfan Habib and Yogendra Singh at the same time, fretting and fuming at anyone expressing a neutral viewpoint. The very lynchpin of a democracy is consensus and acceptance of diverse viewpoints, whatever they are and howsoever acrid they may be.

While surfing on Facebook, I found, “Anna ka Andolan ab Desh ke chhote chhote gaao-kasbo tak bhi pahuch raha hai….aur tod raha hai jaati, dharm aur umr ki simaaye….Paanch saal ka bachha ho ya chhiyanve saal ka boodha, koi ab beasar nahi…Dekhiye Maurya ki khaas report.” To me it looks more like the old Vicco-Vajradanti ad, than a sensible news report. Maurya TV was not alone in being blessed with such ‘vishesh’ and ‘khaas’ reports. And, give me a break, what is this ‘khaas’ report? A newsman and news channel are supposed to present what is happening with full fairness and objectivity. The principle of free speech doesn’t entail so much subjectivity where the real issue gets clouded. Why has the obsession with scoops stooped to such a level? In the twelve days tamasha at the Ramlila Ground, gossip news and tabloids which had little social value simply fed the voyeuristic needs of ignorant people. Media’s Anna or Anna’s Media ostensibly triumphed, yet the already oxymoronic concept of media ethics and real journalism lost.

Reflecting on post-Watergate journalism in ‘The Idiot Culture,’ investigative journalist Carl Bernstein noted, “Good journalism is popular culture, but popular culture that stretches and informs its consumers rather than that which appeals to the ever descending lowest common denominator. If, by popular culture, we mean expressions of thought or feeling that require no work of those who consume them, then decent popular journalism is finished. What is happening today, unfortunately, is that the lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism.” Our media, amidst Anna’s fast and break-fast, went light years beyond redemption and reproach.

………….Amitoj Gautam…………………….

(amitojgautam@gmail.com)

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INDIAN ELECTIONS 2009

INDIAN ELECTIONS 2009-A POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE(This article was written for Insight-India An Indian Vision, an upcoming magazine for NRIs from Adelaide, Australia. The article can be accessed online at http://insight-india.com/?p=19)..Reference to this article is found in the Summit Report of the 2009 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy held in Seoul in September 2009 (http://www.iri-europe.org/fileadmin/user_upload/media/Booklet-Dok.pdf)
Amitoj Gautam

Sonia-Manmohan-1“Mankind will never see an end of trouble until lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power become lovers of wisdom.” ….Plato in the ‘Republic.’ Nothing brings out the appositeness of what the great Greek philosopher uttered in the classical period, than the recent elections to the 15th Lok Sabha in India. In the world’s biggest exercise in democracy, bitterly contested by some 360 parties and plethora of independent candidates in a month-long process spread over five phases, the ever unpredictable and enigmatic Indian electorate, braced up with choosing among a bewildering variety of symbols, ackratically divergent issues and cacophonous claims and counter-claims over moral and secular credentials, did what is expected of sane minds to do. They chose stability and continuity over chaos, efficiency over jargon, inclusiveness over exclusiveness, assimilation over revanchism, secularism over communalism, responsible and serious governance over media-created ‘India Shining,’ and finally nationalism over regionalism. And, when the results to the elections came out on May 16, 2009, it was amply manifest that if there was an entity that came out mature in terms of judgment; it was the ordinary Indian who handed over to the Congress, the 124 years grand-old party, the mandate of presiding over the fate of India for another five years. In realistic terms, the victory has been the best from the Congress in the last two decades ever since Narasimha Rao somehow managed a ragtag coalition in 1991. The resounding victory prompted Manmohan Singh back to the saddle again when he, along with his colleagues, was sworn in on May 22, 2009, in the first phase of government formation, thus becoming the first after Jawaharlal Nehru to have stormed back to the reins of power after the consummation of the first stint. Even the most astute in the analysts’ fraternity wouldn’t or couldn’t have imagined the ‘unpolitical’ Sardar making a comeback, and that too in such élan.

Barring aside the positive reactions that came from different quarters, from within or without, the Indian industry was unanimous in welcoming the return of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power. The UPA ensconcement in the South Block was unequivocally embraced by the Indian industry and market as a verdict for unbridled growth, and ‘development’ in every sense of the term. So it didn’t come as a surprise when the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) whole-heartedly welcomed what the Indian electorate had proffered. They deciphered in the new government that will, proclivity and conviction to bring the country back to track amidst the overall ambience marred by the current global recession. A clear reflection of how far will the new government be conducive for growth and prosperity, the rupee shot stronger by 152 paise or 3.08 per cent to a high of 47.88/89 on May 18, 2009, against the dollar on the likelihood of heavy injection of capital in to the economy in the impending months. Stock Markets also espoused the sentiment prevailing in other quarters with a gain of 2110.79 points in one single day. The Dalal Street suddenly seemed to have come out of the fear that had overwhelmed and gripped it ever since recession raised its nefarious tentacles in August 2008. All these trends and symptoms when seen holistically, buttress and vindicate the faith that the vast multitudes of India have posed in the old government again. After all, markets don’t run on mere sentiments. Sheer economics rule how they comport and explain the casus-belli behind their finickiness. They turn volatile even at the slightest prospect of instability, they turn wildish when things go as they prefer. So overall, what the market has found in the new government is assuredness of stability and a catalyst to wholesome development. With Dr. Singh at the helm of affairs, these expectations do not seem preposterous.

Analysis of the result

The 2009 general election was an election which belied the best of political pundits and analysts who had oft-repeatedly projected a fractured mandate again, much like what transpired in the year 2004. It was not before the fifth and last phase of the election that the NDTV pragmatically projected the UPA to emerge as the largest alliance in the Lok Sabha with 216 seats and the NDA expected to get 177 seats. In relative terms, the projections this time were, however, far more near to reality than what had happened in 2004 when some political think tanks gave the NDA seats in the vicinity of 240 to 250.  The ‘India shining’ campaign not only foxed and bamboozled those who were behind its genesis, it served no good even to the mentors, i.e., the BJP and its umbrella grouping, NDA, which finally had to be content gracing the Opposition benches in the 14th Lok Sabha. So, though not up to the mark, the projections were at least not absurd or disastrous this time. It wouldn’t be injustice and condescending if the entire act of exit polls for the 2009 elections is at best termed as an act in ‘trend-reading’ and not projections per se.

A microscopic appraisal of every whit that came to wean and constitute ‘Election 2009’ makes one thing lucid unambiguously—the projections somewhere missed out that it was 2009 and not 2004.  Amidst the din caused by Varun Gandhi’s vitriolic speeches, and over-inflated ambitions of local satraps like Lalu Yadav and Mayawati assuming more than life proportions, the Congress-led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) won handsomely to the extent that ‘kingmakers’ suddenly metamorphosed into ‘paupers’ with no one even looking up to them for providing that frequent succor synonymous with the period 2004-2009. The Congress won 206 seats out of the 543 which went to polls and the UPA churning out a comfortable, though marginally inadequate, 262 seats finishing ten short of a simple majority. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) finished well short of the magical figure with a total tally of 158, marking the political obituary of Lal Krishna Advani. The man who spearheaded the ‘Ramjanmabhoomi Movement,’ the man who orchestrated the dismantling of the Babri Masjid, and the man who was widely perceived as the hinge of BJP and widely hailed as the modern incarnation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, became the man whose dreams were pulverized and brought to a dead-end on May 16, 2009. Suddenly Advani has become anachronistic in today’s polity. The phoenxian rise, the crescendo, which the BJP had been witnessing over the yesteryears, has suddenly been jolted and ossified midway. The Third Front, a motley association of the Left Parties, BSP and others, suffered disgraceful defeat relegating it to political inconsequence even in its traditional strongholds in Kerala and West Bengal. Prakash Karat, the maverick Leftist leader, led the Left from 59 to 24 seats, the worst performance of the Communists since 1952. The Fourth Front spearheaded by Lalu and Mulayam Yadav did no better, despite the fact that the Samajwadi Party did well by emerging as the single largest party in the split verdict of Uttar Pradesh.  But, if there was one man who proved everyone skeptic wrong in predictions, he was Dr. Manmohan Singh who rightly said after the verdict was out: “The people of India have spoken, and spoken with great clarity.” He was true as was his government became the first coalition government to be back in power after a full term. On the regional front, the states which went to polls along with the general elections, i.e., Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim, also saw clear mandates. The mandates which Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Naveen Patnaik in Orissa, have got is a mandate for good governance, secularism and stability. Incumbency factor didn’t come in their way! Similarly, B.S. Hooda in Haryana, Sheila Dikshit in Delhi, Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, and Nitish Kumar in Bihar, were all able to muster votes for their parties in an incredible fashion. After all, Lalu Yadav sitting pensively and remorsing over the election results, ‘Netaji’ Mulayam Yadav and his showman Amar Singh dieing to prove the Samajwadi Party’s indispensability in new government-formation, ‘Behenji’ Mayawati fretting and fuming over results, and Sharad Pawar eyeing the top-most job in the country, was nothing short of an spectacle none would have dreamt of seeing! In this election, everything seemed to be possible in each politician’s lexicon! Perhaps sky was the limit which could satiate their hunger for power.

Rahul GandhiThe election 2009 can be called the triumph of one man, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Amidst the vociferous attacks against Mr. Singh by Lal Krishna Advani and his cohorts, the country, especially the bourgeoisie, seemed to have stupefied at the very probability of having some illiterate and uncouth politician shaking hands with Barack Obama, or delivering speech at the United Nations.  Some say fear is the conscious expression of subconscious mind. The Indian middle classes in particular and the vast masses in general, were seemingly aghast at some regional ‘neta’ coming to power due to their own creation of throwing up uncertainty in New Delhi. The hoi-polloi was already reeling under increasing joblessness, sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities, and finding it tough to make their pockets listen to what their needs were.  In such an uncertain environment where everything seemed to be going tough and tortuous, there was one man whom they could trust. So it was an amalgamation of realism coupled with optimism that propelled the Indian people to act decisively. Dr. Manmohan Singh became the best bet that the country could ill-afford of not having in such a precarious time. The covert desire for stability and responsible governance was no less important. So the ‘Manmohan factor’ is not a monolithic factor, rather it is a close concatenation of several factors, the soul of which permeated every porous mind. The 2009 elections marked the political ascension of Rahul Gandhi as well. The Prince Charming of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty held 106 rallies in all, and politically pervaded 230 constituencies with his sheer presence. His campaigning, though guided much by his Team One, catapulted him to be the busiest campaigner for the Congress to the extent that his mother was suddenly relegated to play the second fiddle. Refraining from any political diatribe and focusing on the local issues served Rahul well in terms of imparting a new freshness Indian polity desperately seeks today. People remembered his ‘Kalavati’ speech in the previous Lok Sabha where he preferred to speak on the agonies of common people in the Vidarbha region, rather than on the Indo-U.S. Nuclear agreement which the major political parties were deliberating upon then. Resembling his father, the maturing Indian populace could delineate in him the spoors of Rajiv Gandhi. Vocal and non-sparing in his criticism of any non-performing government seems to have struck right chord where it should have been. So, in a sense the election has seen the arrival of Rahul Gandhi in a big way. He is going to stay and that too in a grand style. The people of India have got a future Prime Minister in the making. Only time will tell when the Congress decides to transfer power to the precocious Rahul!

The 2009 Indian election was an election where almost 8,000 candidates affiliated to 369 political parties were in the fray. However, at the end of the election, only 36 parties could succeed in sending more than one ‘winner’ to the Lower House of Indian Parliament with more than 300 parties failing even to open their account. A close look at the composition, of those who were fortunate enough of making it to the Lok Sabha, reveals that there are 150 new Members of Parliament who have criminal antecedents and at least 73 of them have grave criminal charges in abeyance against them. So apart from the euphoria over the victory of democracy in this South Asian giant nation, we are also faced with a situation where crime and polity are moving juxtaposed to each other. This is one area where the Indian policy makers have to do some introspection and look towards a future where such personalities do not behove the Lok Sabha benches. Such cases should be a rarity, not the norm. On the brighter side, it is indeed a matter of great pride that about 60 women were elected to the Lok Sabha. Indian democracy has never seen such a large contingent from the fair sex! This augurs well for the future where gender equality could be a goal worth pursuing. Looking at how big purses fared at the election, it is nothing less than revelation that there are about 300 crorepati Members of Parliament in the new House. The 14th Lok Sabha had 154 such MPs. So an increase of about 94.8% in the gross number of crorepati MPs shows how money power still wield a major role in Indian elections. India seems to be toeing the U.S norm again! The age-pyramid of the newly constituted Lok Sabha reveals that it is becoming younger. In comparison to 2004, the 2009 Lok Sabha has 82 MPs whose age is less than 42 years, implying that there has been infusion of young blood in a house dominated by senior citizens. Last, but not the least, history was made when four members of the Nehru-Gandhi family got elected this time.  So Varun and Maneka Gandhi, sitting in the same house with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi on the treasury benches would be an interesting view. Overall, the 15th Lok Sabha is a variegated House with several dimensions stemming from its composition. It is as diverse as is the Indian nation, yet it is a cauldron for change and transubstantiation.

Conclusion

The Indian elections have thrown open a vast range of opportunities before the Manmohan Singh government. Though the government is still a coalition one, yet it will have enough stability and much-required space where growth and sustainable development can be pursued in a more prioritized and systematic manner. With Dr. Manmohan Singh, the architect of liberalization, India can now look forward to have a future where the well-being of common people gets adequate attention; where regionalism and nationalism can co-exist with the former subsuming in to the latter; where bread and butter hogs much media space than ‘Mandir’ or ‘masjid’, where people are polarized on issues of national importance and not on the basis of caste and creed; and where economic growth becomes the anthem of governance. India can now also imposit itself in international affairs, welding the North and the South blocs around its fulcrum. The Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement was perhaps one single issue where the venerable Indian parliamentarians locked their horns over some ‘issue’ of national importance. The helplessness of what happened then to the UPA government will perhaps not be repeated this time. Horse-trading, MPs hurling packets of notes while the full House was in strength, were some of the ugly reminiscences of the previous Lok Sabha. Self-sustaining entrenched interests have to make way for common interest. A pan-India interest needs to take centre-stage now. The soul of India has voted for change in the direction of betterment. The government needs to be alert on this count as performance should match expectations. In the Oscar winning 1992 Al Pacino movie “Scent of a Woman, there was one sentence worth remembrance: “There can be no prosthetic to an amputated soul.” Our Prime Minister and all the parliamentarians need to remember this!!!

By Amitoj Gautam