Welcome To Propaganda Hour On Primetime

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 was 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 turned the judge, jury & the executioner.  The masses hailed a truly “independent” Indian press which was fearless in taking on the establishment albeit a feeble one.

As the unpopularity of the Manmohan government grew the slogans for purging corruption & making politicians accountable gained momentum.  Amid the chaos & popular sentiment turning against the regime, Anti-corruption crusaders like Anna Hazare; hailed as the “new Gandhi” & others 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.

Where went Lokpal?

Three years into the 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 its appointment . 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 others; one heads the government of Delhi & the other 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.

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From Anti-corruption crusaders to joining mainstream politics, Arvind Kejriwal & Kiran Bedi (From Left, Source: Hindustan Times)

Curiously, since the BJP led Modi government has come to power, the media has rarely raised this issue of appointment of the Lokpal.  It’s as if corruption & cases of malfeasance have virtually disappeared from the public life even as India’s ranking in the Corruption Perception Index betrays mainstream media’s optimism.  What do we make of the media’s self-imposed censorship?   That they’ve shamelessly chosen to prostrate before those in power; that they’re ready to serve at the whims & fancies of the ruling dispensation & sing paeans.

Over the past three years, there’s a new trend of loudmouth anchors hosting high-decibel primetime shows, where the anchor appears to be hell bent on pushing the government’s line. These days the government doesn’t even need the IB ministry. Some news channels have gladly appropriated its role. As the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan recently said that journalists should sometimes avoid telling the unpleasant truth. She’d be delighted to know, most of the scribes are already conforming.

The issues that matter

Even as I write this the PM has condemned the recent spate of violence in the name of cow.   Despite his words, nothing tangible appears on the ground.  The Gau-Rakshaks run amok across North India.   A Muslim man was assaulted by an irate mob in Dhanbad on the suspicion of carrying beef. A young Muslim boy was recently stabbed to death when an argument over a seat turned into religious slurs. And to top it all a Muslim trader was lynched to death near Ranchi on the suspicion of carrying beef in his car the day PM Modi condemned gau-rakshaks.

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16 year old Junaid stabbed to death as Anti-Muslim hysteria spreads across the Hindi heartland (Source: Indian Express)

There’s a chilling pattern in each cycle of violence; a whatsapp rumor spreads, an irate mob gathers egged by “gau-goons” lynches anyone suspected of carrying beef, the police is either a mute spectator or arrives theatrically late as if it were a Hindi movie only to book the dead under the reprehensible anti-beef law & allowing the mob & their leaders to walk scot-free.

For the past two years, vigilante violence against Muslims has 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. There’s an ominous silence, efforts are made to ensure that such incidents get the least possible space lest the “nation’s image suffers”.

As the dust settles after the chaos of demonetization, it’s amply clear that PM 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 a year 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” & “secularism” are the prime concerns for the mainstream press.

In a democracy, the media is often seen as its fourth pillar; 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.

(This post also appeared on HuffPost India)

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