OPINION Manufacturing Dissent The odious claim that the masses are ignorant and don’t know democracy was just one of the many prejudices and distortions that made one warm up to the Anna crusaders VRINDA GOPINATH
To many of us, watching the surging, television-propelled crowds on the streets of towns and cities in the country, waving the national flag and chanting "Anna Anna", it could look like Arab Spring envy. For, on the one hand you have a gaggle of charged boys and girls of Youthistan, the mass-surge of hard-working 20-30 year-olds from call centres and dotcom companies, apart from the thousands of politically-affiliated busybodies, who all have nothing to say except scream down the government, its venal politicians and bureaucrats; and on the other is the self-obsessed, self-appointed moral crusaders who, instead of asserting their demand to wipe out corruption through persistent engagement and dialogue, have dug their heels in like obstinate camels.
In between is the thick-witted UPA government which, since April this year, instead of dealing with both sides with caution and astuteness, was so overcome by its own delusional cleverness, it allowed the anti-corruption protest to snowball into a gigantic anti-government movement.
Yet, in this din, why are some of us warming up to the Anna crusaders rather than be on the side of reason and rationality? Precisely because of the bull-headed and slanted rhetoric of public discourse for the twittering classes by media hot hubs.
Television anchors, opinionators and influence peddlers have been going breathless calling Anna and his Team names depending on which side they are on -- for or against --from a web warrior to a 21st Century Gandhian, a saint, satyagrahi or a charlatan and blackmailer; and his movement has been likened to Jesus' Second Coming, India for Anna; or just theatre, a farce and a circus. But it is the constant heckling and jeering of the pro-Anna sympathizers and supporters in television studios, from Bollywood Goldies, to sundry authors, that gets one's goat.
In a frightful start, some journalists have suddenly woken up to the sanctity of our Mighty State and Nation, and are rattled by the audacity of the people who question the authority of Parliament and other constitutional bodies. While Anna's supporters rightly demand accountability from parliamentarians and politicians -- after all, it is the people who have put them there, they vainly bleat -- the merely anti-Anna journalists huff and puff at how law-making is the sole authority of legislators and that people cannot have any say in it at all.
This odious claim that the masses are ignorant and don't know democracy betrays these journos' exaggerated self-image -- exalted, lofty and superior -- and also reveals how far removed they are from the public just like the political class they pretend to pour scorn on. This fatuous top-down approach of our patronizing media and rag-tag commentators towards the horror of "mob-rule" is preposterous and nonsensical to say the least. It's grotesquely comical too-- this media's conservative instinct to cling to the Establishment instead of challenging it; in fact, it exposes how these hacks have become the Establishment! And despite their constant lecturing on why there should be less and less government, it is this very media, like the imperious political class, that believes politics and policy-making must be made in some rarefied towers of intellect and punditry, insulated from the glassy-eyed masses.
It is bad enough that a stupefied government allowed Anna's arrest which not just provoked an aroused public, but the media's 24-hour carpet-bombing coverage gave Anna and Team and their followers unexpected power and influence. But those newspersons who refuse to accept this new-found vigour churlishly call Team A and followers bigots, Leftists etc. One matron from the Press arched her eyebrows to denounce NGOs (read Anna, Medha etc) as shady and corrupt and demanded they reveal their sources of income. It's laughable that Leftist is still a cuss word, and that these hyper capitalist brokers who have been routinely exposed of their corruption and cronyism by NGOs, use every opportunity to blindly vilify them.
Worse, some hacks self-flagellate about the media's rotten role in promoting selective public events, and ignoring some very genuine protests, but after a few glib words, go right ahead and indulge in the very same brazen crime they have just confessed to. One show dragged in the brother of Manipur's Iron Queen, Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting unto death for the last 10 years against a callous centre to revoke the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to face sneering anti-Anna panelists who of course ridiculed fasts and satygarahas, since it was the theme of the programme. Similarly, a colleague of Swami Nigamananda, who actually died fasting unto death, to save the Ganga from illegal miners, was paraded for her comments, and after the good deed was done, it was back to mindless bashing of protesters against corruption.
It makes you wonder why there is such a rush from hacks to protect society from NGOs and do-gooders. Who needs these meddling busybodies poking around to expose misdeeds of politicians and corporations, and who actually have the nerve to decide policies, from environment, tribal welfare and even law? Not only that, we are now constantly reminded that media hubs is the only destination for political expression and self-belief. This lewd parading of prejudices and distortions makes one rush into the arms of Anna and Team.