Two days ago, a minor glitch on the part of the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi where he spelled “Lotus” as “Louts” made front page news in newspapers. People from the opposition were quick to point out what they said was a “Freudian slip”. Supporters defended him, saying that he, as a human being was not infallible after all.
A sudden thought entered my mind. In the frenzy of 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha, have we not lost track of the real issues? Why are such incidents given precedence over real issues which affect us as a nation? An election is supposed to be a thrilling affair. Personal attacks and rivalry contribute a lot to the environment in the run-up to a high profile election. But, mature democracies and democratic institutions should not remain aloof to basic issues at hand, especially in an evolving democracy like India.
Free press (includes television media and print) is also an important institution which helps in sensing public opinion. It is a shame that it has played an important role in promoting people who thrive on blatant subversion of justice. It is unfortunate that unverified and non-existent CDs, high-profile press-conferences where allegations based on unverified content are hurled are being used as political tools rather than ideological opposition based on real issues. Media has lost its credibility and the crumbling down of the fourth pillar is a dangerous sign for the world’s largest democracy.
Media has become an industry with a very low-quality labour force. People who have very little idea of what constitute a functional democracy and the role of a free and fair press in it have become political experts. Sycophantic servitude has made them rich and famous. Many have risen through this system to become editors. They, in turn, have recruited people who have no compunction in selling their souls to create sensationalism. At a time when this low-quality media feeds us news, it has started to decide the agenda for 2014 polls. Even videos of political leaders speaking at public rallies show that the focus is on multiple issues at hand and not merely sensationalism. Media has acted as a filter where they throw out real issues and focus mainly on unimportant rhetoric.
This irresponsible behaviour comes at a time when the country is faced with multidimensional problems which not only require extensive debating but also increased public awareness. At a time when information and disinformation have been fused together to create an unholy mix, it is perception which has started driving our democratic debates. Belief in individuals has taken precedence over belief in policies. Anyone who holds a difference of opinion gets suffocated in this new political space, as difference of opinion is now viewed from the perspective of bad intent rather than genuine and constructive criticism. Media has only used it to its own advantage.
Have we come under the impression that merely exposing the dirty designs of elements which are detrimental to the interests of the nation is enough? Have we become a society where we have figured out who is responsible, but have no idea of what (and not who) the alternative is?
We all know what the major problems that we face as a nation are. Primary education is in shambles despite increase in literacy rates. Higher education is in a sordid state for the average student, and is mass-manufacturing graduates with low quality education on an average. Economic issues like inflation, lack of infrastructure, poor quality of health should have been the most important issues in the run-up to 2014. Though we have made progress in many fields, low quality employment and doles have led to shortage of agricultural labour in many states.
Middlemen have become richer by the day, and because food prices are now no longer decided by market forces but by illegal elements backed by the corrupt polity. The consumer as well as the producer has to face the music of inflation. Industrial growth has slowed down remarkably, and unemployment and under-employment have become rampant. Internal as well as external security is not in a desirable shape. Social policies which focus on reverse discrimination instead of furthering equality of opportunity and change in outlook have taken precedence and have increased fissures. Many domestic conflicts not only remain unresolved, but there appears to be no solution in sight for the immediate or far future. Corruption at high and low places has scaled heights. As a solution, people are being fed the idea that one overarching institution is the panacea for all ills and some of the very educated among us are actually buying the argument.
There cannot be a quick-fix or a one-dimensional solution to all the ills afflicting the nation. Amid this crisis, it is highly important for us to realize that our attention span has reduced thanks to the new-age media and the fast world of social media. We are guilty of losing sight of the larger picture at a time when the nation needs it. We should not lose sight of the fact that at this juncture because we are faced with a choice. A choice between the old and the new. A choice between the slow wheel of failed 65-year old desi socialism (and its intellectual justification despite the rotten state of affairs) and a new order. A choice between effective governance and inefficient centralized control. A choice between progress and glorification of poverty. A choice between obliterating age-old fissures and furthering them.
National pride without activity to complement it is a wasted emotion. We need to confront the forces which have been trying to manipulate us. We need to introspect our failures as a nation in the last sixty five years in an objective manner. We should learn from our successes. We need to create a situation which forces both the media as well as the polity change their direction and become more constructive.
All of us have our own little spaces. The tax-payer’s hard-earned money is being siphoned off to feed corrupt politicians and shenanigans in the media. The answer to this kind of unholy nexus is not necessarily active political participation, but a reasonable sense of knowledge about the issues at hand that will affect us and our posterity. Elections set the agenda for political parties. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they start becoming points in time which help in deciding our priorities as a nation?
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