Issues from Malnutrition to Politicisation

By Prabhakar Timble
08 October 2013 09:19 IST

Growing politicization of economic and social challenges is an indicator that we have miles to go to bring the Indian democracy into the stage of adulthood. As we move to the 2014 general election, a picture of two celebrities flexing their muscles for the throne of the Prime Minister is sought to be projected. All other issues from malnutrition to international relations; illiteracy to nuclear power and terrorism to flood relief are analyzed in the context of these two personalities. Every election has a social cost in terms of religious and caste mobilization resulting in alienation. The social cost of this election would also be in terms of the damage it will cause to issues of equity, justice and development as we are blinded by hero worship.

Free malnutrition from politics

Along with Narendra Modi’s ascent to the centre stage, the Gujarat model of development is vigorously marketed. The release of the CAG report putting malnutrition figures in Gujarat at alarming levels with every 3rd child malnourished is taken as an outrage against Narendra Modi. The media mill of Narendra Modi supporters refuse to recognize that the gap and consequent challenge exists. The Congress makes political capital from this report with full knowledge that the Congress ruled states are equally bad and have no laurels to exhibit as success stories.

The industry and chambers of commerce have largely put their fingers in the Modi basket as they perceive him as a single window clearance for development projects. Narendra Modi is rightly credited for rapid advances in infrastructure. Investors perceive him as industry friendly and one who inspires confidence through timely interventions and land acquisition.  The distress and human index reports of all the States (not only Gujarat) are unsatisfactory. The answer to this is not political mudslinging or refusing to recognize the gap.  It has to be seen in our failure to look at deliberate planning to answer these issues by making a deliberate choice of priorities. The theory that investment would result in automatic gains to the less privileged appears to be less credible from the facts of developmental experience.

To a large extent, all the political parties draw their funding from the same industrial houses and money bags. For 2014 BJP could get a larger share from the private corporate cake than the other rival political parties. The BJP through its massive PR investment has maintained high scores and probability of forming the government at the Centre. The fortunes could fluctuate as myths get dethroned and political party alliances change.

Politics in media or media in politics

Of late, the media is pro-active to reduce all problems and challenges to a war of words between political parties.  No issue is kept independent of the BJP and the Congress. Criticism of the policy in a BJP ruled state elevates the person as an admirer of the corrupt Congress. If it is a matter in a Congress ruled state, the person is reduced to a devotee of the communal BJP. Social media and the TV news channels have eliminated all other alternatives and bull dozed their way to provide these two caps to their viewers.

Rahul Gandhi’s statement of “nonsense” stopped the debate on the ordinance and the Supreme Court verdict on disqualification of convicted legislators. The whole focus was shifted to arrogance, loss of faith in PM Manmohan Singh and the Gandhi family sibling diluting the honor of the PM. The main issue of the ordinance attempting to make the SC verdict toothless was summarily killed by the media and a new issue was created by TV news channels. The PM press briefing on board the aircraft from New York back home raised many issues but what was picked up was something not worthy of news. This became the lead story for debates. Earlier, the media caned the ordinance left, right and centre. Probably, Rahul Gandhi stole the show by putting the weight in favor of the media and public opinion. Instead of projecting it as victory of media and public opinion, they preferred to project it as a one man veto on a cabinet decision. After Rahul Gandhi fired the missile, the media lost interest in opposing the ordinance and went in search of something unimportant, out of context but juicy.

 A directive from the Union Home Minister to the States not to detain “innocent” Muslim youth was construed as vote bank politics and appeasement of minorities. Earlier, the media had brought to full public view glaring instances of torture and fake encounters of Muslim youth. As it is, Muslims in India bear the social burden of being lesser nationals, if not anti-nationals. Teasing Indian Muslims to march to Pakistan, if feeling unsafe in India has been the slogan of the self-acclaimed patriots and nationalists. The publicity that is prodigally provided for arrests of Muslim youth is not compensated when investigation reveals total absence of nexus. There is no honorable exit as compared to the dishonorable detention. The families of such detained youth are almost ostracized by the neighbors.  The directive does not mean that criminals should not be hauled up and detained. Sushil Kumar Shinde has erred theoretically or in an academic sense. TV school masters not just anchor the debate on these issue but move into shoes of a debater almost acting like possessed and haunted.

Media tends to project minorities, migrants, unorganized labour, tribals, marginalized sections, scheduled castes, slum-dwellers, agricultural labourers as vote banks. Any public welfare policy meant for such sections is dubbed as appeasing the vote banks. The words are used in a derogatory context and as negative forces which cause harm to democracy, equality and governance. Organizations and groups of the majority community promoting caste, narrow and sectarian interests are not awarded such a negative testimonial.

TV debates, the hold of PR companies on media and the recruitment of organized paid professionals on social media is damaging the springs of thinking and independent judgment. The alternative ways of understanding and addressing issues is coming under a long eclipse.

It is accepted that the issues before the nation are poverty, inclusive development, governance and social empowerment; that the prime concern is human development; that the challenge is to lift the outdated tradition bound society to modern scientific values and to cap it all, even Narendra Modi roars that “toilets” should get precedence over “temples”. This should translate into our thinking and occupy the intellectual space. The overdose of media obsession and the passion of the professional and business classes to oversimplify challenges as BJP versus Congress; Modi v/s Rahul, secularism v/s nationalism and the growing tightening of the noose by crafty religious heads (masquerading as spiritual gurus) on the gullible faithful promising them the golden past which never was so and the future heaven which does not exist are blocks to our parliamentary democracy as India goes to vote for 2014.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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