Watching TV, as is my calling in life -- apparently -- I got thinking. I was watching Sreenivasan Jain on Witness (NDTV) explaining the Malegaon blasts -- the Sadhvi and that insane gang who find the RSS inept and corrupt (as they apparently took money from the ISI??). Last I checked, the RSS, VHP and Shiv Sena were pretty much the bottom of the barrel when it came to non-Muslim extremism of any kind in this country, so I kept wondering, who the hell is going to take Abhinav Bharat's place, thinking them to be neutered? Lord.
We can't run away from the fact that we are a predominantly Hindu country and that there will always be factions who will prey on minorities to solidify their status. They will want support by inciting fear of the unknown, by playing identity politics, instead of actually doing society any good. That is old school politics and should end. My father and I had an argument the other day about the "Indian Obama". He said that Mayawati could be compared to him, for the reason that both have had a decent education and are minorities. I vehemently refused, because I said, Obama never asked for votes because he is Black, while Mayawati's entire rise was based on her identity as a Dalit. The day someone in India shoots to power because of the vision they have for the country, is the day we can compare them to Obama.
I see reports in the paper everyday that Obama's election -- plank and use of multimedia -- is inspiring politicians back home. That's good. But think about this: I read in a column in Mint the other day that India has always aspired for greatness, but never really done anything about it. I was mulling over that thought (I suppose the nuclear deal was a recent effort to acquire greatness), and I started watching late night TV.
My ex-colleague, Akash Banerjee, now with Headlines Today, was hosting a show called Ground Zero. The question he was asking was: after Sadhvi Pragya hit the headlines, has the conversation in Madhya Pradesh become about religion and not development? The usual suspects were there; Advani crying about Pragya's alleged abuse in jail, and Rahul Gandhi trying to remind people that the BJP only promises "temples" "terrorism" but never develops. And to be fair, if you look at the national media (save a few half an hour specials thrown in), the entire public discourse is around Sadhvi Pragya.
But the Indian Express carried a small piece about the inside details of the MP election. They said that speeches about Sadhvi Pragya and gang is left to the national leaders, the local leaders find that they cannot deviate from development issues. People understand that they need water, roads, food more than they need fluffy pillows for Sadhvi Pragya. It was most telling -- and reminded me of last years UP elections where Mayawati was doing all her campaigning on the ground, away from the glare of national media -- and that's why when she won, everyone in the Delhi studios were zapped, because for the most part, they had been on a different tangent. And again, reports have been published that it seems the BSP is going to gain in the state of MP. So again, it seems, not for anything the BSP has actually managed, it will be because everyone else has lost focus of why they are actually standing for those elections.
So, then, a question -- do we need to settle the question of Hindutva once and for all, or are we, Dilli-valas, so enamoured with the discourse that we fail to see that during election time, people are getting increasingly wary of these issues and rather focus on development issues. And aren't we media savvy enough by now (NDTV is celebrating a 20 yr anniversary for heavens sake) to admit to ourselves that talking heads in all out prime time debate shows (perhaps not Times Now as much, I find Arnab Goswami quite good) are increasingly pointless.
There was a time in the US (well, it still continues) that politics was being carried out by news anchors and talking heads. They came, they spoke, they argued: all about the issues they deemed important, and the audience was ... captive. The Jon Stewart "Spin Alley" moment was a turning point in my head (watch this) and ultimately, this election, you had people finally desperate to hear something substantial -- and Obama was the right man at the right now.
We in India are falling victim to the same issues. We don't need Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Rudy Pratap Singh's views on every issue, every night. We need some real people, experts, people from the states about which we are talking. News is increasingly going the spin alley way. In fact, this US election, an anchor called Campbell Brown hit the big time, mostly because she said, its one thing about giving everyone equal time, but its quite another to hear someone tell you its raining outside when its not, and not call them on it. (I like Arnab because he seems to do that. Perhaps not sitting in Delhi and therefore meeting politicians socially allows him this distance.)
Well, MP results will be out. Then we can see what is true: is talk of Sadhvi Pragya more important than talk about development? Are national leaders simply on a different tangent than local ones? Are our English channels really having a meaningful dialogue?
Watch and learn.