Save Media and Save Democracy 

ARUNACHAL PRADESH, INDIA - 2018/09/05: A poster that says, save democracy save freedom press is seen during the protest. Media persons marched for their rights and freedom in the northeast Indian city Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. Political parties, separatists, insurgents, businesses and government agencies all confirm the increase of violence on media persons in the region. (Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(Brig (retd) GB Reddi) 

If India implodes and disintegrates in future, highly partisan and divisive media will be its root cause. Save media first from internal decay and atrophy as a fore runner to save democracy.

In the quagmire of Indian vicious politics, sans ideologies, even the media too is rapidly traversing on the path of self destruction.

Media is the “Fourth Pillar” of the India’s political system – key to the democratic process.

Surely, freedom does not give license to abuse each other in public. Of course, media community is mobilized when it comes to safeguarding their freedoms. But, they dismally fail to self regulate their houses in a modicum of responsibility.

If any, freedoms must be exercised with a great sense of responsibility.  Realize media must that they are in the forefront of high-decibel information war campaign or active precipitators or colluders in the name of freedom of press, speech and liberty.

Never too late for the media to realize that if they fail to adapt to dynamic transformations shaping their futures, they are only risking failure as the “Fourth Pillar” of the political system.

Let me recount media’s role: to cover the news in an unbiased manner, but also serve as an intermediary between the government and the people. In reality, they are increasingly becoming champions of spreading divisive politics.

Undeniably, media’s reach or spread including social media today is all over. So, its power is enormous in swaying people’s emotions and sentiments vital to shape their opinions and beliefs. It can make heroes out of zeros; build bigger than life-size images of their masters/patrons; and vilify, demonize and denigrate its opponents.

More importantly, media can create crises out of nowhere by ingenuous dissemination of vicious fake news thereby resulting in disproportionate crisis escalation.

Are the present media narratives, debates and discourses the most dangerous and ingenious internal security threats in being confronted by the nation? In particular, adversary nations are deeply involved in the ongoing murky electoral processes to usher political instability.

Today, even a layman knows about the existing fault-lines of the Great Indian Society – pluralist society, multi ethnic, multi caste, multi communal and multi class, divided horizontally and vertically. Even a minor tripping can ignite and inflame the divide into horrendous civil war.

“Unity in Diversity” is yet another slogan very well known to majority. Those raising slogans against it certainly constitute threats to national security interests.

Let me list the names of the “Big Media Honchos” who are controlling, directing and spreading vicious information campaign – fake and fraud news of the most sinister order. Some highly partisan big names include: Arun Shourie, Aroon Puri, Prabhu Chawla, N Ravi, N Ram, Shekar Gupta, Chandan Mitra, Prannoy Roy, Karan Thapar, Ashutosh Gupta of farmer AAP, Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai and Zakka Jacob among many others.

All of them are accompanied by a growing band of young editors and sub editors what with each one attempting to appear more intelligent than others vociferously articulating partisan and divisive views with woeful lack of understanding of national security affairs.

Quite a few make attempts to adopt self righteous indignation at the daily happenings across the nation.  But, they too get carried away by their partisan prejudices and biases and become part of acrimonious debates. For many among them, sensationalizing views – making a mountain out of a mole hill – to gain TRP (targeted rating points) is their prime time pre-occupation.

Persisting with such misplaced obsession with monotonous consistency – 24×365 – they fail to realize that they are working at cross purposes with journalistic norms of informing and educating the people through various mediums to shape their opinions to enable the nation to traverse on the path of peace, progress, prosperity and universal brotherhood. Also, they fail to realize loss of their credibility among masses what with self portraying themselves as hot-beds or crucibles spinning intrigue and spawning hatred and distrust on narrow sectarian lines.

Next, I dare challenge all of them to lay claims to spearhead the most vital strategic issue – mother of all strategic challenges faced by modern India, that is, population explosion or demographics.  NONE in today’s context! Why? After all, the root cause of unemployment springs out of uncontrolled breeding of low quality human resources.

Of course, media can be credited to champion the issue of corruption; yet failed to counter it effectively. And, corruption is as usual undermining national security interests.

Yet another critical issue that media must spearhead is “Dynasty vs. Democracy”.  Instead of exposing the fraud of democracy by “Dynasties”, media endlessly champions the same by giving their prime time viewing to “Dynasts” championing the cause of “Save Democracy”.

Why is media silent on a single family having 4-5 individuals wielding power in the name of democracy? Quixotic it is to see gerontocratic-cum-senile individuals who cannot even walk without being assisted like Mulayam Singh Yadav or Deve Gowda remaining in electoral battles instead of gracefully retiring.

What about electoral and administrative reforms? Hardly, there is any worthwhile debate?

Ironic but true, when the “Media Honchos”, who claim to be paragons of virtue, morality, probity, propriety and par excellent super intellectuals donning the three-in-one roles of gate keeper, store keeper and watchdog, presiding over their vast empires turn a blind eye to the murky happenings in the society in the name of democracy, they are only belittling and degrading their images in society at large as intellectual frauds of the most demeaning order.

At the cost of repetition, visual media, in particular, has become a prey to its own self destructive trap – sensationalize news and events to gain “TRP” as prima donna in the field in pursuit of its commercial interests instead of advancing national security interests.

Whoever is talking about “Save Democracy” or “Free and Fair Democracy” are living in a “fool’s paradise” and intellectually bankrupt.

In retrospect, India never had democracy in the past. Kleptocracy – rule by the few for the few and of the few – has been the norm in the past. “Dynasts” or “Neo-Maharajahs” have seized the nation in the name of democracy. Their sole obsession is “I-Me-Myself-My Progeny”.

Who is responsible for such a phenomenon to consolidate? Media must own up its responsibility for such hijacking of democracy. Their partisan affiliations are the root cause – servants of their masters playing to their tunes at the cost of national security interests.

Having closely followed electoral processes and malpractices from the first elections held in early 1950s, let me highlight that elections were never held in a “free and fair manner” at least in the Rayalaseema region Andhra Pradesh. During the elections held in 1950s and even in 1960s, voters, like slaves, obeyed the “Diktat” of the Village “Feudal Lord”. “Dalit’s” did not dare to enter the polling booths to cast their votes. In fact, they were given ‘liquor’ in large quantities to get drunk and stay away from exercising their franchise.

 “Booth Capturing” and “Rigging” was quite common in rural areas. Faction leaders used to take complete charge of the booths.  Hardly any police protection was provided to the booth. Those of my college colleagues who used to perform “electoral duties” used to openly admit their helplessness to conduct free and fair polls.  In sum, it was “free for all factionists/feudal lords” in the name of democracy in rural areas.

By 1970s, money power started playing a critical part. Rs. 10/- per vote was the norm distributed in the slums to poor people through their group leaders. Subsequently, alongside liquor, money power started playing a critical role in deciding the outcome of elections.

Since media was confined to print medium only and the journalists were few, the coverage of the murky electoral practices largely went unreported and unrecorded.

Following my deployment astride the GT Road Amritsar-Lahore during 1977-79, I followed the “criminalization of politics” – nexus between smugglers in border tracts of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat and political leaders was an established feature. MPs and MLAs were on the pay-roll of Village Chiefs –Sardars – of border villages.

Yet another example to cite is the fallout of “imposing prohibition in the State of Andhra Pradesh” in the past.  If any, it resulted in bonanza for the political leadership. Every single vehicle transporting liquor from neighboring states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Orissa filled the coffers of elected representatives of the bordering constituencies.

Add to it, loot and scoot of all natural raw material resources – mica, iron, coal, forests, sand, human hair, crushed animal bones, and more importantly, over two million tons of monazite mined from the sand, equivalent to 195,300 tons of thorium at 9.3 per cent recovery from the Tamil Nadu and Kerala coasts in the past 10 years, has taken place mostly in connivance with political leadership by mafia’s of all colors. And, then the pontification of promoting “Value Addition” industry over the past 3-4 decades and creating job opportunities besides highlighting “thorium based nuclear reactors” as the future energy source.

To sum up, enjoying absolute freedoms, Indian media today is in the forefront of traversing on self destructive course and taking the “democracy” on self destruction. Media allows its corporate houses, journalists, panelists and even ordinary individuals not only to express their views but indulge in ‘high-voltage verbal duels short of coming to blows in public view” and also vulgar diatribe.

In reality, almost all media mediums are encouraging, polarizing and inciting the society to tear apart on narrow parochial lines. Consequently, it may pave the way for inevitable disintegration of modern India in its geographical contours.

If so, the dire need is “Save Media” conjointly with “Save Democracy from Dynaties”.