Monday, 18 May, 2009

Calling the media's bluffs!

The elections are over and the Indian citizen has spoken resoundingly what his concerns are. While the middle and lower classes of urban India voted for development and stability, rural India gave its vote to a central government and state governments which initiated measures in support of agriculture and rural employment. And tying all these strands together was an overwhelming mandate against the divisive forces of communalism. But now I am ANGRY. Angry at how the English media has begun twisting the people’s verdict to suit some vested interests. The immediate culprit that comes to my mind are the big industrialists – both domestic and foreign; not ruling out US influences either!

One of my concerns have to do with the hullabaloo raised in the TV channels and the pink papers of India about the marginalisation of the Left along with several regional dispensations and how the next government is free to undertake now, economic “reforms” that were blocked earlier. While the media is free to pursue an agenda, what is galling is that it is not even the much maligned political class, but the media which is overpowering and taking the reins of the democracy and governance that it is merely supposed to act as the watchdog over. A few hours ago, Times Now put forward the name of Montek Singh Ahluwalia for Finance Minister, a person who did not even contest the election is being bandied for a most important cabinet position! The media has begun pestering the government over its agenda – specifically what corporates are interested in: labour reforms, privatization of pension funds, full FDI in insurance and banking sectors, etc. It was an eye-opener for me, on how the man to whom these questions was put to yesterday, Kamal Nath, restrained himself from answering these questions even while Messrs. Rajdeep Sardesai, Arnab Goswami and co went to the extent of telling him that his name is being bandied for the Finance Ministry post. While it is easy to dismiss these TV channels, it is alarming and dangerous when one realizes that such reporting is sub-consciously educating the voter with a daily dose of “neo-liberal” policies.

Yet another issue that has angered me is the way Prakash Karat is being taken to task. I am no admirer of Karat, after the way he bungled the issues in the Kerala and West Bengal CPI(M) which lead to the party’s marginalization in these two states, but it seems almost malicious, the anger of corporate India and media against him for attempting to scuttle the nuclear deal and the above said economic reforms. Very conveniently, the media has ignored the real reasons for the defeat of the cpi(m) in these two states and instead pinned the blame on karat for the nuclear deal, his daring to form a third front with “despicable” regional parties and for thwarting reforms. Infact, in the process the media is doing injustice to Mamta Bannerjee who has taken over the leftist position in Bengal and endeared herself to ordinary people. While Karat deserves to be panned for his focus on the Third Front pipe dream without setting his own house in order, the coming days will see more of the media extensively reporting and mal-reporting the oncoming crisis in the cpm. Infact the media would be doing the CPI(M) a big favour by asking them the real question, namely- "How Left are you guys?"

The media’s silence on the UPA’s NREGA policy, farm loans waiver, RTI, successful handling of the economic slowdown, etc as the major ingredient of its success while constantly harping on the failure of the opposition campaign to come up with stronger alliances was pathetic. Only P.Sainath was left among CNN-IBN’s experts who constantly turned the scope of discussions towards rural India which accounts for almost 2/3 of of the Lok Sabha constituencies. In the coming days we will see the media driving the agenda for the ministers who it thinks should get each ministry, the parties that should be supporting the government (we are now seeing the media voice its disapproval of Mulayam, Laloo and Mayawati joining the UPA dispensation…after all these guys are rustics!), the agenda for the next government, the future of the BJP and CPI(M), etc, etc. It is amazing how a lot of what is being shown on TV is just reporters and anchors putting words in politicians mouths and depending on “reliable” sources within 10 Janpath and AKG Bhavan for all their news without the politicians never actually coming forward to say even one of these items that makes for 24*7 TV news.

The BJP has been told firmly and clearly that communalism won’t sell. But history teaches us that fascist tendencies take root amidst competition for meagre resources, poverty and unemployment. The UPA would do well to understand that it is not just its economic reforms agenda which has made it the darling of India’s elites and middle class, but a number of policies of its like NREGA, farm loan waiver, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, RTI, etc that brought them back to power. Unfortunately, the Left will not be around this time to provide the checks and balances that kept the Congress firmly grounded. New policies that I hope the UPA will take up this time would be provision of social security for India’s unorganized sector, reservation of jobs for Dalits and Adivasis in private sector, implementing the Sachchar Committee recommendations and last but not the least providing justice to Gujarat and Kandhamal riot victims.

P.S – Opening up comments for this post. Was written in great hurry…a more detailed and hopefully better-worded analysis of the elections will follow. Having missed the last general election thanks to being abroad and following this election with keen interest thanks to the profession I am in, I think our voters chose as best as they could for the good of the country. Now it is upto the UPA to do justice to the mandate that has been delivered not just from cities, men, upper classes, industrialists but also come from villages, women, labourers, Muslims, Dalits, etc. And as for the English media especially TV reporters, glib-tongued anchors, so-called expert guests, who are unanswerable to none and consumed by hardly 20% of the country, the people of India have proven they are smarter than us know-all journalists! Heading to Calicut. Reporter with The Hindu.


scorpiogenius said...

hello man, happy to see you've open up the comments! How u keeping?

will come back to say what I wanted to say.. ;) tk

Anonymous said...

Absolutely well written. I have had nearly the same thoughts since yesterday while watching the business channels.

Anonymous said...

Has the media been given too much upper hand, as in America?

It is no more for the people. It wants to make the people.

I think nationwide, not only the English media, but as far as I know, even Telugu and Tamil media, behaved so.


clash said...

Very well written. While the mandate is clearly for congress, i suppose things might take a bleak turn if Montek is to sit in FM chair and so on.

We will see reforms predating our best assets like SBI, LIC and sorts, the pension funds will be doled out to be part of the gambling and one fine morning some sheepishly grinning people will call it "quits", taking away huge bonuses and before we realise our savings and funds would have gone completely astray!

Then again to be the eternal optimist : Let us hope “reforming” SBI which has more customers than the population of Australia will pitchfork a world reeling out of recession at our expense !

Arun said...

Great post. Exactly what I felt. Only put in better words. I am definitely ANGRY at the irresponsibly silly media. They got fully wrong analyzing how people will vote or how they finally voted, but now end up twisting the mandate so that its interests (or silliness) gets through!

Sainath words come into my mind:" The poor vote in greater numbers, The rich capture governments by other means."

Ayyappadas said...

Well said.

Even while the results were coming out, only Sainath in CNN-IBN could explain the popularity of INC in villages especially in Andra, Maharastra etc. Others were mostly blabbering about their own pet theories shifting the grounds quite often.

Back in US, the administration is trying to put some breaks on de-regulation and measures to ensure corporate responsibility. The corporates in India wants more and more de-regulation and if they couldn't get it done last time (which saved us from many shocks) they would be doing it by hook or crook.

The Layman said...

Lovely post.
Only one point of contention - I think the left did more than keeping Congress firmly grounded.
I think UPA under Manmohan can do without the left.

Just what I think though :)

Vinod/Kakka said...

I guess since the last election, which BJP lost due to the "shining" campaign, Congress has diligently worked to bandy about economic reforms as a panacea for all the ills. The left takes credit for all the good that came out of UPA rule, but most of it has to do with the Congress leadership and the PM laying stress on "the fruits of development should reach everyone".

They are trying to solve the problems that the left traditionally harps on, but using a different solution set.

I see something common to all the parties that got marginalized - They were trying to play from the Lefts play book of taking all the credit for the previous govts acheivements, but at the same time distancing themselves from it - The "eat your cake and have it too".

If there were a credible alternative to UDF in Kerala other than LDF, it would have been the beginning of the end for LDF. The issue with the LDF in Kerala is not going to be temparory: They have lost 2 of the things that made them admired for a large group - relatively clean image, and relatively secular.

2 of the seats that UDF lost, they lost because of their poor judgement in candidate selection - Kasargode and Attingal. And Palakkad was so close.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i agree with most of your points and feel that messers Arnab, Rajdeep must stop pontificating endlessly and let the experts do the talking. I however feel that politicians like Mulayalm and mayawati are not being ignored because of their rustic nature, rather because of the arrogance and disdain which they treated the Congress with.. Most of them deserve it... and reforms must go on, not on a massive scale, but at a level that ensures more capital inflow, that can be used for building infrastructure, a healtcare and efficient education systems.. Might be too unrealistic a picture, but i hope that armed with such a mandate, The congress can at least make an effort to turn things around and indeed work for the people...Extremely well written piece

Jiby said...

thanks scorpio. am doing very good. waiting for your detailed comment.

readerswords, i sort of knew a lot of ppl were thinking like me, and just gave went to my anger here.

kajan, what you said is right about the tendencies being exhibited. but one thing about regional language media is that they are more in tune with people's sentiment and don't cater to just the elite or middle class.

clash, let what you said not happen! The sarcasm that dripped through your sbi reforms was apt.

arun, sainath couldnot have been more correct.

ayyappadas, the worst part about the deregulation we will be seeing is how furtively it will happen. remember, the sez act was passed by parliament in just a few hours in 2005 with hardly any debate!

deepak, the upa certainly can do without the left. all i am hoping is that the upa continues to give equal focus to their socialist policies as they will to the neo-liberal agenda.

vinodcheta, on the contrary i think the left wasnot able to place before the people effectively, the work it did to get the nrega, rti, farm loans, stalling of deregulation, etc. i don't know if the end of the LDF is near... there is no credible third force yet in the state. what will be interesting is to watch the strategy of the edathupaksha ekopana samithi from now to the panchayat polls and then the assembly elections.

anon, i agree to your argument on why the congress hates the laloo-mulayam-maya combo and other allies. but in the media harangues angainst them, i spot a condescending attitude towards these leaders...probably because they are perceived as a shame to our modern super-power aspirant status because of their caste politics by the elitist media.

scorpiogenius said...

Right now, its all about telecasting to the viewers what you want them to see and believe, isn't it?

Most of our print and visual media are magnanimous towards their 'opponents', like Manorama is to the left. They have their own agenda man, some hidden and some clearly visible. So tomorrow if they feel some clueless novice could be seated in the Home Minister chair, then thats the right way for them.

Re the failure of Left, I think the anti-nuclear deal did play a part. True, we had other very good reasons for the whitewash of the reds in Kerala, but they needed this shock treatment very badly. Opposing anything and everything in which US is involved...well, you know how detrimental is the lefties' attitude for our country. In a sense our mainstream media is severely prejudiced against them, but I wont complain. ;)

The BJP has lost again, but it sure isnt the end of their policies. I fear their communalist stands tightening further, well lets wait n see.

The good news is that now we have a stable no-BJP, no-left Govt, and lets hope it augurs well for our nation.

Its good to see you've opened up the comments, hope it stays so. :)
see ye man :)

Anonymous said...

The media is just another business house now! :p They are bound to protect their interests, news be damned! :)

Jiby said...

scorpio, i don't think the anti-nuclear stance of the left was a factor in their decimation in kerala, bengal or tripura...but the tv channels and some newspapers would certainly want its consumers to believe that. i agree that communal tendencies are not going away anytime soon. what cheriyathura teaches us is that even one man's actions are enough to inflame a thousand other minds. i don't know how india suffered because of having the left supporting the upa. on the contrary, the people and the upa should be thanking their stars for the anti-deregulation stance of the left which saved us from the global recession.

anon, well the media bosses have interests to protect and to serve, but for a determined mediaperson, i believe the space is still available, however small its becoming...atleast thats what a year in j-school tells me to believe and to work for.

Babin said...

I agree with you that it was the leftist friendly socialist programs like NREGP that sealed congress victory and media is not giving due credit to it.. I was also puzzled why even congress did not made a big touting of NREGP during the campaign time... atleast i didn't hear about it as much as i expected.. May be it is the program that do not need any marketing.. word of mouth should do..

Getting out of UPA because of nuclear deal was a strategic stupidity from Karat's part.. It united Mamatha and Congress in Bengal against them- which very well going to end leftist rein in bengal.. They should have known better... Too much over confidence i guess... still i am amazed why they risked Bengal for nuclear deal... It shows how stupid Karat is politically..

Being too stubborn on the possibility of post poll alliance with Congress was also a strategic mistake by Karat...I don't see how any intelligent minority would want to vote for the left if their vote is going to weaken the chance of the strongest secular alliance to be in power..

Karat was out of touch with their electorate.. much worse than the media elites.. anubavikkatte..

Going forward, i am sure UPA will be better off without leftist (ideally also without mamatha)!

For the sake of increasing economic activity to fund the govt socialist programs and uplifting the poor, India need more economic liberalization , more deregulation..... it may sound counterintuitive but thats the dynamics of long term economic undercurrents.. India is still a half closed market... it need to be opened up at least 3/4th of the way...

scorpiogenius said...

It was interesting to note your idea of deregulation and recession. but Babin got some points there Jiby.

India is still considered a closed economy. Its crucial to regulate retail, aviation and co, all right, but to reap dividends from this globalized world we have to walk the way the world is going.

Remember, we dont have a single successful example of a Communist state/economy which has become prosperous. (Dont tell about China, they are into total capitalism :) ) So why go behind failed ideologies... Karat has some serious introspection to do.. Period.

Jiby said...

Babin, I doubt if the the reasons for the left loss in Bengal can be solely attributed to Congress-Trinamool tie-up. The NREGA was not implemented well in Bengal, the public health sector in Bengal is one of the worst, Nandigram and Singur had caused a loss of confidence in the left, the minorities and lower classes in Bengal were totally weary of CPI(M) rule which used them as votebanks for 30 years. Yes, Karat will have to pay for his Third Front misadventure. But I don't share your confidence in liberalization and deregulation...well, time will give us the answers. let me tell you that the US recession is still not over, contrary to media claims some of my friends in the US say that the worst could still be coming up ahead...Hopefully that wont be the case. You will be surprised to know that the public sector undertakings in kerala have registered a profit for the last few years. So I don't understand what's the need to privatize PSU's? Can't they be used as a revenue generation mechanism for the State? Also why are all of you silent on taxation? I read an article which said that if the state went strict on tax collection, India's 30% of population under the poverty line( some economists say the number is closer to 50%) could be easily given the lifeline that they lack today.

Scorpio, i don't know the way the world is going. on one hand we are seeing countries like india and china going all out towards open markets while on the other hand ex-capitalist regimes like of latin america are falling into the hands of leftists like nine pins. i don't discount that private entrepreneurship is essential for job creation but probably you haven't read more about the achievements of Cuba. It has the highest HDI among several developing and developed countries. You may not call it prosperous but I think that is one country where all its citizens are provided the basic neccessities of health, food and education. of course they don't have p[olitical freedom yet but I think that can be explained by the fact that the US is their next door neighbour and factoring in the fates of other Latin American countries whose polity got manipulated by the CIA. By the way, I hope I have provided some answers to Babin's questions. It's surprising how easily you would call communism a failed ideology - its less than 90 years old as put into practise and only in a few countries while capitalism is atleast 250 years old. there has been more perversion of the left ideology than sincere attempts to put it into practise. Trust me, the left ideology is in no way a failed ideology, its coming back strong in the world and in India - its taking different forms - we have the latin american ones, we have the naxal resurgence in india...wherever ordinary people feel threatened its the left ideology that is providing them succor. even in india there are several small and large people's movements against big dams, environment degradation, anti-sez protests, labour struggles, etc that draw its inspiration from marxist ideals. the moment they all link up we'll have a new left alternative in the country.

Guys, even I have held my cynicism against the left. But the profession I have been in has opened to me a wider world view than the one i possessed while i worked in the IT industry. I believe there should be a clear cut left movement with both parliamentary and grassroot standing for the country to progress as one.

Babin said...

Jiby, I also think taxation in India is very low and it should be at least doubled! Indian governments tax revenue as a percentage of the GDP is only 17% while developed countries have a tax to GDP ratio between 30 to 45 % range..

This single ratio explains why Indian governments are very weak in its effectiveness and substandard in providing services to its citizens.But the way to increase Tax GDP ratio should not be increasing the already high income tax rates but expanding the tax base,increasing tax revenue through property based local taxes,etc.
I don't think its governments job to invest capital in companies... Capital is make or break money.. why take the risk with people's money? Governments can easily make more revenue from a company without taking any risk by taxing various revenue/expense streams of a private company than the profit (if any) made by that company's risk taking investors... It is a simple model..

The key to prosperity as recognized by all the developed market based democratic countries is to:

1) Allow capital to do its thing and create jobs/economics activity

2) Set up a large enough tax net so that 30 to 40% of this economic activity come into governments' pocket as tax revenue

3) Use this money to support social programs, weaker sections of the society, increase the power of the state and as a result - create a more fair judicious society .. a fair, law abiding society will result in more economic activity and thus repeat the loop which eventually lead to long term self sustaining prosperity (sort of a governance nirvana:) )

Only catch here is that if 1) and 2) are not executed in full thrust 3) may not be achieved.. MMS is finally trying to give India enough thrust to pass through steps 1 and 2 to achieve a self sustaining 3 level.. Give MMS another 10 years without any distractions from leftist forces... #3 will be achieved soon!

If it fails, then i would say leftism is the other alternative... but the governance nirvana a leftist government can achieve is no way close to what a market based democratic government can achieve.. We need constitutional liberalism and economic liberalism to prosper!

Orchard Resident said...

The major problem that I have with government run services is that sooner or later, apathy from the employees run the service into the ground. Its not just with Kerala or India, but anything the government runs. MBTA, the organization that runs public transportation in and around Boston, is almost as badly managed as KSRTC is.
The issue that the left needs to face up to is how to combine private entreprenuership and efficency with responsibility to the general public.
In the context of Kerala, for public transportation, we have KSRTC on one side and private operators on the other. The private operators are profitable, but has an image of being rash. KSRTC is the basket case of inefficencies that are so ingrained that it will never come out of huge losses.
Current law prohibits private operators from owning more than 10 buses.
Suppose we had say 10 large private operators, and mandate that operators with large operations should provide healthcare and other benefits to its employees. Also, prevent any operator from having more than 20% marketshare in any route - These would have been difficult to impose a decade back, but now should be easy - we might have a great public transport infrastructure that doesnt suck taxes.
For healthcare, the amount the government spends on maintaing hospitals, and the amount of corruption that goes on, might be better spend on universal single payer health insurance.
I am against free market reform of the insurance sector.
The problem with the left lately has been an inability to propose new solution to old problems, where the "traditional" left formula has failed.
If being "Left" means changing society, government and economy to serve those who are marginalized, there is no Left in India. All we have is a movement bereft of original thought.
Coming back to NREGA, it would have been implemented worst in left ruled states, since these are the places where buerocracy has been most stifling.

Karthick RM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karthick RM said...

The "national" English TV channels get over 85% of their revenues from corporates. Their "media ethics," its a bad joke. They just represent the sentiments of the urban, upper-caste, national bourgeios which they shamelessly try to sell as the general opinion of the country. Not surprising - for it is this elite class that provides the decision makers, the planners and the thinkers of this country.

I doubt whether the UPA would provide a people friendly agenda. Of course, there will some waivers here, some populist schemes there, but on the whole, a liberal agenda will be pushed. I see more SEZ's and their accompanying disempowerment of the people in the future.

Ream said...

You were a good writer and thinker at the other blog. Now your words sound clich├ęd and hollow.

V. Krishna Ananth said...

Hi Jiby,
You promised a considered analysis. Isn't it time now for that.

Will be great if you can analyse the polls and the outcome sometime now.

Charakan said...

Good analysis.I agree with what you said. But in many ways Karat is helping the decline of CPM, dont you think? Actually cpm is confused in what line to take.