It would, of course, be an unwarranted insult to the intelligence and solicitude of the cross-section of society taking to the streets against corruption to brand it a rabble roused to frenzy by media wiles.
The credit for bringing things to this pass goes, perhaps even more than to Anna Hazare, to the government strategists who thought up the incredibly foolish plan of taking him into preventive custody and soon found themselves at a loss to handle a detenu determined to overstay his welcome in Tihar jail. Hazare and his cohorts couldn’t have asked for a better opening to this, the second round of their campaign for a Jan Lokpal bill. The government, which has clearly lost the plot, now seems reduced to a face-saving role in Hazare’s script.
For the media, this is, no doubt, a delectable situation replete with possibilties. And, indeed, the generally barbed coverage fully befits the occasion. But, in the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of having sprinted ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will run, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none and keeping the news-in-the-making illusion breathlessly alive.
This hybrid genre of an agitprop news television is, by now, a familiar even if never pretty sight in India. The type depends on a number of props to keep the buzz going. Hyperbole is its figure of speech. The Hazare movement is instantly catapulted into: a revolution, the second war of independence, South Asia’s ‘Arab spring’. Nothing short of the entire nation, we are repeatedly told, is watching. So the man on the street, or the VIP in the studio, speaking to the TV channel is, ipso facto, speaking to the nation. It doesn’t matter that the channel in question may only have a single-digit viewership. If there is a lighter side to Benedict Anderson’s concept of a nation as an imagined community, this must be it.
The relationship between such media and their essentially middle-class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they aren’t so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It’s more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news. Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicos are routinely debunked. Even representative democracy doesn’t seem to cut it.
No channel in the league seems able to resist this strange, aggressive, white-collar evangelism. On the contrary, the more strident and hawkish ones in the pack seem to set the tone and tenor of the discourse and the rest follow helplessly as if driven by some inexorable law of the market. It is all so oracular and self-referential. The positions taken are almost always maximalist and hardly even nuanced. A ratings mindset demands that the pot be kept boiling.
Arguably, the media enables such friskiness at its own peril. A revolution of rising expectations, even if not alarmist at present, might prove more and more difficult to cope with in the long run. Apart from the implicit risk to human sensibility of a relentless, adrenaline-pumping media, the law of diminishing returns is bound to kick in sooner or later. Truth-telling, at the core of journalism, may then become vulnerable to the market dictate of giving the people what they want—this already serves as an alibi for the dumbing down and tabloidisation of the news media. This argument, as former NBC president Reuven Frank argued, is a dope-pusher’s excuse. Journalism, surely, is a higher calling.
Anna Hazare and his struggle for an effective Lokpal bill against corruption are not creations of the media. But there is a gnawing sense of a convergence of the civil society, which sustains the man and his movement, and the media market. It is at this nexus that ‘brand Anna’ takes shape, independent of its author. It is this brand that drives the media into its high-pitched hard sell. It is a rare confluence of big cause and huge profit. The irony is that the man who, more than most, paved the way for such freewheeling market-friendliness suddenly finds himself estranged and isolated. Manmohan was for long celebrated by the middle classes he enriched and pampered. Suddenly, his government is the butt of their ire and new expectations abound.
Apropos of Sasi Kumar’s column Oedipus Vex, why so much euphoria for this ‘civil society’? What about those who do not come under the purview of the so-called civil ones? Every hegemonic group—man, white, rich, higher caste etc—consider “the significant other” represented by the woman, the blacks, lower castes, drug addicts, sex workers, lgbts etc to be uncivil. How can one be sure of the antecedents and biases of these “chosen ones”? Do they even represent the whole of our masses? And talking of them, how many of them even know the real content of the bill? I fear that with the present players, a “uni-dimensional” act will be the result. Hopefully, both government and civil society will know how to respect the other’s view. We can’t become a victim of ethnocentric jingoism. For dissent is the very spirit of democracy.
Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal, Rae Bareli
Obviously, being a Congress sidekick, Outlook is unnerved by the possibility of a strong Lokpal prosecuting its bosses. Don’t worry, you have lots of company. Almost the entire Engish print media is working overtime to dig up dirt on Anna. You are a worthless bunch. I am glad at least the TV media is doing its job.
Ravi Jain, Hyderabad
This is nothing but a ‘Ba ba black sheep, have you any wool’ charade.
Harikumar, Coventry, UK
The Jan Lokpal bill will only be effective when bribe-givers are also brought under its purview. I am not referring here to the nukkad-traffic-havaldar variety, but high-level corruption perpetrated by the greed of our country’s industrialists.
Aditya Jambhekar, on e-mail
The Anna team’s recent comments of not allowing communal forces like the rss to come onboard the anti-corruption agitation was extremely painful. It’s a shame that nobody, particularly our so-called ‘intelligentsia’, protested against this fascist, lopsided view of an organisation which is probably the most secular and nationalistic ‘civil’ organisation in the country.
Yogeet Sharma, Jaipur
Anna Hazare’s fight was not against any foreign government. He is part and parcel of the Indian people and, in his own words, every Indian is a ruler of our country as a responsible voter. He and his vigilant volunteers have to point out wrongs, try to correct things, show the right way. Agitation has brought him the limelight, but that alone won’t bring about results.
S.C. Srivastava, Allahabad
Kudos to Anna team for letting us discuss the issues of corruption. But a query haunts me. It is called a civil society. Is it not a modernist perception to talk about civil society? I stress the word civil. Why is so much euphoria for this civil society? What about those who do not come in the purview of this category of the civil, those who are uncivilized in the ordinary sense of term. Every hegemonic group—man, white, rich and higher castes etc.--- consider ‘the significant other’ represented by woman, the black, undercastes, tribals, drug addicts, sex workers,bisexuals, homosexuals and lesbians etc . to be uncivil. The term civil itself is a misnomer, as it does not include the multiperspectivist mélange of Indian society. Setting aside this argument, does this so-called civil society group represent whole of Indian civil society. How can one be assured that these social activists represent the whole of the masses? The mad rush of people on the streets in their support does not mean that they have the supp ort of whole of India. The only indicator of people’s representation is the parliament. If they have such a mass appeal amongst the Indians, why do not they get elected and pass whatever bill they like. Why do these people not ask their followers to shun their apathy for casting the votes. Indian middle class rarely votes. By this process, they can get all the bills passed according to their whims.
Next, in democracy, there is the presence of the multiple point of views. How can they say that their version of Lokpal is better than all others. They should not evade debate. Laws should be made after thorogh discussions among the diverse groups of the society and the parliament is the miniature form of Indian society. Even then, they may be allowed to discuss the issues relating to Lokpal.
Next, why does not team Anna ask his followers to stop bribing the corrupt officials? If they do it simultaneously with the Lokpal bill, it would be a great deterrent on the corruption.
If too much power is invested a single institution, who would assure that that isnstitution would noty become dictatorial in due course of time. There should be checks and counter checks on the Lokpal too. More importantly, the appointment of the Lokpal should be through public. We, the people , should have the right to elect the members and officers of this institution, otherwise it would turn out to be anarchist oligarchy with power in the hands of the select few.
At this juncture, even referendum is no solution, as public opinion, filled with herd mentality, is swayed by Anna wave. The mob cannot think; it acts as it is asked to think. So, the results of the referendum would not be objective. Moreover, how many people know the real contents of the bill. So, this bill should be passed after thorough discussions amongst the various sections of the society, otherwise Govt. may pass a ‘uni-dimensional’ act. Both government and civil society should also know how to respect the other view to avoid looking a victim of ethnocentric jingoism, as dissent is the very spirit of democracy.
Despite your disapproving tone, the wide TV coverage of Hazare movement is exactly what the country needs. You must be a Congress sidekick, who is unnerved by the possibility of a strong Lok Pal prosecuting your Congress bosses. Don't worry, you have a lot of company. Almost the entire Engish print media of the country is working overtime to dig up dirt on Anna and cast the anti-corruption movemenet in negative light. You are a worthless bunch. I am glad at least the TV media is doing its job.
Arundhati Roy,and the less abrasive Shashi Kumar now, have their own views, of the Anna Hazare movement on differing counts and hence, at varying notches. The bitter flavour is not exactly unwelcome; as the present din, brightlights and mirages swallowing the populace will make the logically ordained, final disappointment when it occurs, lead us, (including the excited middle class in action) into greater cynicism that much faster! As elaborated in 'The Future of Freedom", all factors of life have had parallel change of standards; hence leaders, issues, media, politicians and columnists,... all have hit new highs or lows. Thus, Arnab Goswami and Shashi Kumar tend to depict differing levels of sobriety. Quite natural.
A minor CORRECTION in my post. In line five, please insert "that" after "the lofty hills", so that it reads: "......the lofty hills that the Gramsci masterpiece is."
Thanks, Manish Banerjee and Fedup Indian, for opening my eyes to the great masterpiece of the genre of which Sashi Kumar is a persistent, though as yet undistinguished practitioner. May his persistence be better rewarded and may he soon at least reach the foothills of the lofty hills the Gramsci masterpiece is. Am I making sense, dear Manish and Fedup?
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