I’ve a habit of sifting through various news websites every day. I regularly hop between sites like The Atlantic, Guardian & Indian news sites like Scroll & The Wire. Since the past four years, I’ve almost given up watching Indian news channels. Partly because of the substandard shows that simply love to sensationalize every damn thing & mostly because the Indian media & particularly the news channels have lost credibility in my eyes.
I remember back during the UPA-II regime, Manmohan Singh’s government was mired in knee deep corruption. Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum allocation & the coal-fields corruption scandals; one after the other disillusioned the public, prominent cabinet ministers & those close to the ruling party, INC were indicted of gross embezzlement. Former PM Manmohan Singh who’s otherwise lauded for his personal integrity, sage & conduct was shamed for presiding over the most corrupt governments in decades. Rightly so, as the head of the government he’s answerable for the conduct of his colleagues who embezzled fortunes during the heydays when foreign investments were pouring in & Indian economy was growing at a breakneck pace. The media became the judge, jury & the executioner & the masses hailed a truly “independent” Indian press which was fearless in taking on the establishment.
As the unpopularity of the Manmohan government grew the slogans for purging corruption & making politicians accountable gained momentum across the length & breadth of the country. Amid the chaos & popular sentiment turning against the regime, Anti-corruption crusaders like Anna Hazare; who the media hailed as the new Gandhi & others like Arvind Kejriwal & Kiran Bedi openly challenged the government & demanded immediate formation of an anti-corruption authority/ombudsman as a check against future cases of malfeasance. The movement popularly known as the Jan Lokpal movement gathered momentum like nothing before. Many opposition parties including the now incumbent BJP sensing electoral dividends joined the bandwagon for demanding the enactment of a stern Anti-corruption law.
Three years into Modi government, the Lokpal is nowhere in sight. In the guise of introducing amendments in the Lokpal Act passed in 2014, the government has conveniently stymied the appointment of the Lokpal. With only two years left for the next general elections it’s highly likely that the government might just be bidding time. The erstwhile Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare has maintained a deafening silence over the past three years. As for Mr Kejriwal, the anti-corruption movement catapulted him to national politics. Mr Kejriwal now heads the government of Delhi & Kiran Bedi bagged the plum position of the Governor of Pondicherry. As it appears both of them no more need Lokpal; such are the allures of power.
Curiously, since the BJP led Modi government has come to power, the media has rarely raised this issue of appointment of the Lokpal. This is only one among a dozen of issues that the media outlets regularly shy away from highlighting. In PM Modi’s own words after the reprehensible flogging of Dalits in Una (Gujarat), “most of the Gau-rakshaks (cow-protectors) are involved in anti-social activities which no society approves of”. Despite his words, nothing tangible appears on the ground. The Gau-Rakshaks or as I choose to call them, “Cow- terrorists” run amok across North India. Three days back a Muslim man was assaulted by an irate mob in Dhanbad on the suspicion that he was carrying beef. For the past two years, vigilante violence against Muslims have alarmingly grown to the point that now there’s no outrage in the media when Muslims are killed in the name of beef. There’s no “tough questions” no “summary debates” across the news channels seeking justice for the unfortunate victims.
As the dust settles after the chaos of demonetization, it’s amply clear that Mr. Modi’s pet reform; the demonetization drive was a monumental failure. The Parliamentary committee on the impacts of demonetization has noted that “in the process honest, hard working and taxpaying citizens of India were made to suffer”. The recent GDP figures bare the reality of government’s knee-jerk demonetization project; growth has fallen to a paltry 6.1% over the Jan-March period. The manufacturing sector is in shambles, capital spending is falling & no body actually knows how severely the unorganized sector that accounts for nearly 90% of the workforce was impacted. There were reports of scores of migrant workers in the unorganized sector leaving for their homes in UP & Bihar as the small scale industries were either forced to shut or work on partial capacity amidst acute cash-crunch across the country. Nearly six months after the demonetization blunder no media house has the gall to openly hold the ruling clique accountable instead day in & day out abstractions like “nationalism” & “pseudo-secularism” are the prime concerns for the servile & craven Indian media.
In a democracy, the media is often seen as its fourth pillar; the one who’s duty is to keep a check on the government by asking tough questions on the issues that matter to the electorate. On the contrary, we live in an age where the media loves to “toe the government line” & serves as an extended propaganda tool for the ruling dispensation. In times as such, it’s incumbent on us as concerned citizens to uphold the truth & ask those uncomfortable questions that need to be asked.