Sunday, November 28, 2010

Despair and Hope: To No End

It is indeed not surprising that things have come out to the surface through the ‘Radiagate’ as it is now being called. As a lot of journalists who have given their opinion to the media watch dog have expressed themselves, its better late than never that all this much has finally surfaced, exposing the true journalists from people who pretend to be elite power brokers who wield their power to decide the fate of our nation. There are, however, certain things that have troubled me as an Indian for the past few days now – certain thoughts and questions that have been troubling me to the extent that it makes me worry about the future of a nation. I am currently studying outside India and having talked to people across a spectrum, I certainly reiterated something to myself – the freedom of speech has been indeed a valuable fundamental right that Indians were guaranteed. Have we used it to the best extent possible? I am young, so I cannot dwell on what I have not seen, and would rather like to focus on what I see.

A fantastic 2005 documentary that independent filmmaker Robert Kane Pappas called ‘Orwell Rolls in His Grave’ had dared to expose how the media plays to the tune of corporate interests in the United States of America, arguably the land of the idea of freedom of speech. Seeing that documentary made the hair on my skin rise in fear, for I could see so many parallels being followed in India, it made me wonder as to whether we really are a people whose power to remember is really so short lived we tend to be played by people who are far removed from me but definitely claim to represent my voice on the news channels, screaming 24X7 that ‘I want you to answer me Mr. XXXX, who has given you the right to sit in that chair when so much wrong has taken place?’ Indeed, one simply needs to look at the current crop of journalists to realize that most of them

1. Have not and will most probably not see a village in their lifetime

2. Do not read newspapers or magazines to understand what is going on

3. Have no clue as to what morality really means

4. Are elitist and snobbish, and absolutely dumb if one were to weigh the intellectual merit of the questions asked sometimes in press conferences.

Do not get me wrong. I do not dare to paint the entire media spectrum with the same brush stroke. I have grown up reading and listening to the English language media, so I can only comment on these people, though Hindi channels are equally culpable of sensationalism and cronyism of the worst kind. What saddens me the most though is the manner in which the media decides what is important and worth coverage; who deserves the trial by media and who deserves a clean goody good image in the media. Lobbying is not a secret for those who follow the independent media and especially those who follow the ‘anti development’ environmentalists who have often been at the receiving end of such activities along with the babus (in themselves a corrupt elitist crony exclusivist group) who sit in absolute awe of these sophisticated accented English speaking suit or tussar saree wearing men and women while they jot down the points dictated to them, claiming to turn the wheel of fortune for India and charting its destiny. I have seen it happen in subtle ways around me; I see it in happening in a brazen fashion as well, and the media big wigs currently represent the ground between these two extremes, though no less guilty.

I often worry sometimes that our country is failing itself on the grounds of true democracy, and that we are seeing a convergence, albeit a rapid one, of the corporate, political and media interests, thus forming a coterie of sorts which tries to dictate the voice of India, deciding on what merits a ‘serious discussion’ and what does not. It is shameful to see at times that guilty parties are asked on public television whether they are guilty s charged – has a seasoned criminal ever accepted his/her crime when asked about it? This powerful convergence of interests of people from select families is leading to the formation of a new ruler class or oligarchy that has, sixty years down the line since 1947, replaced the Britishers so successfully it becomes Orwellian in nature the way they speak. Let us just take the instance of the way issues of political discourse are covered. One can often see how friendships between these journalists and their ‘politician’ friends results in a strange kind of bonhomie where these journalists fail to ask anything hard or tough. Just looking at Rahul Gandhi’s press conferences and the kind of questions being asked of him makes me wonder whether India as a country is so bereft of intelligent people who can challenge what he claims or says in a matter of seconds. Or take the case of easily the whole electronic voter machine issue was trashed by ‘Dr.’ Prannoy Roy by asking Mr. Qureshi, the Election Commissioner of the Election Commission of India, by asking him, the accused – are you guilty of using fraudulent machines? And accepting the negative response, Dr. Roy was satisfied. Take for instance the coverage that Arundhati Roy garners in our media space, and projected as the anti development anti India NGO face, when she barely represents these people – do these people ever dare to highlight the work of such people as Dr. Rajendra Singh, Anupam Mishra or Chandi Prasad Bhatt? If I were to ask some of today’s journalists who these people are, I know that I would be met by stony silence and a shrug of shoulders, for let alone see them, our ‘journalists’ have not even read about them or their work. All that they care about is how much money can selling sex violence and glamour on news channels can get their channels. “We subscribe to the people who pay our salaries” is the mantra of journalism today, a far cry from what luminaries of journalism such as Raja Rammohun Roy, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Mahatma Gandhi would undertake during their times of media stewardship. Journalism then perhaps had a sense of purpose of freeing our country; today’s media has a sense of purpose of ruining our country.

You may say, after reading my diatribe, that my cynicism has no space in India’s future. I am not a pessimist – I believe we have a bright future to fight and perhaps perish for that our country represents. But seeing what is happening justifies my middle class hypocritical cynicism. Hammam mein sab nange khade hain got a new meaning today, and that it is for the worse was perhaps my misfortune. An institution that dared to fight an Emergency today needs to fight an emergency of another kind – of purging itself of the corrupt elements from within, and the sooner the better. I pray for my nation to be rid of this cancer of oligarchy that we have developed – else I can only pray for peace in this country of angry frustrated people whose limits of patience has been crossed, and for whom no institution is free of blemish, reiterating their cynicism all over again.

I feel that I have failed my nation and its aspirations. As the hope of the nation today, I have nothing but cynicism and vitriolic humour to offer instead of hope and a breath of fresh air. But why is it that I feel so helpless and dejected, and believe that I cannot make a difference? Is it because I have been trained by the system to be so? Or is it because I have let the system do it to me? A mix of both perhaps; but what if I want to rebel against it now? What option do I have? Do I pick up the gun and share the field with those whose politics and ideology I do not believe in, whose idea of India is repulsive to me? Or do I enter the ballot field disadvantaged by the lack of any political base, especially family base?

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