One of the most common clichés thrown around during our numerous political debates is the one describing the four pillars of India’s democracy and how each should be strengthened for the Indian society to remain free and just. For the few who may not know, these pillars are the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, and the Press.
During almost every instance of discussion, what we have seen is that the first two of the aforementioned pillars are almost always at the receiving end of unrelenting criticism from all quarters. Hardly a debate goes by in which the participants do not qualify their remarks with a statement of revulsion towards the main constituents of the legislature and the executive – the political class. In all fairness, this is not an attitude restricted to just those who frequent TV studios or the ‘intellectual’ cocktail circuit. Skepticism and wariness towards the politician is a sentiment which has become intrinsic to the general public the world over.
While it is true that the politicians have – to a large extent – only themselves to blame for this predicament, an overdose of the ‘sab neta chor hain’ attitude and the intellectual laziness which accompanies it has led to a situation where the politician is seen as the sole reason for all that is wrong with the world.
And while a watchful politician is – most of the time – in the larger interest of the nation, making him the sole focus of criticism has allowed some of the nation’s other institutions to walk away scot free. In just the past two weeks, we have seen consequences of both the media and the judiciary getting a free pass from the public.
The first is the conflict between the BCCI and the Supreme Court appointed Lodha panel. It may or may not be that the BCCI’s hints that the England tour could be in jeopardy was a bit of grandstanding but there can be absolutely no doubt that some of the recommendations of the Lodha panel are unworkable and reflect a genuine lack of understanding of how sports administration works the world over.
Recommendations around keeping politicians out of cricket bodies, One State One Vote or a three-member selection team might sound good for the general public to hear but, in actuality, they will serve no other purpose than debilitating cricket administration in country today.
And the BCCI need not especially feel hard done by the court. At least it did not have to suffer embarrassment like the Indian Parliament, which had to bear the spectacle of having a historic and bipartisan Constitutional Amendment – aimed at bringing more transparency into the judiciary – being overturned by the Supreme Court itself.
The latter judgment has resulted in a situation where, in India (unlike any other major democracy in the world), judges will continue to appoint themselves. So, while both India’s democratically elected leadership and its most successful sports bodies are answerable to the court, the court – in turn – is answerable to nobody.
The second event we have seen over the past week or so has been the decision, and the outrage thereafter, of the Union Government to impose a one-day ban on NDTV India for its coverage of the Pathankot attack, which is said to have compromised national security.
India’s media elite have gone to town crying that the Narendra Modi government has assumed dictatorial tendencies and about how this signifies the return of the emergency. The channel, in their defence, stated it is being ‘singled out’ as ‘every other channel and newspaper’ had similar coverage and that it is examining ‘all options in this matter’. The Editor’s Guild of India opted to take a more theatric stand, stating that “The decision to take the channel off-air for a day is a direct violation of the freedom of media and therefore the citizens of India and amounts to a harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the emergency.”
Ignoring, in the interest of time, the laughable comparisons to the Emergency (one doubts whether the Editors Guild would have been allowed to put out such colorful statements during 1975-77), let us note that nowhere in the responses from the media worthies is any indication of how the ban is flawed from a legal standpoint.
The only sentiment being expressed by the representatives of the fourth pillar here is that – just by the virtue of being the press – they wish to be placed above scrutiny.
This entitlement is absurd for an industry which has not exactly covered itself with glory over the years. Moving past the spectacular capitulation of the Press during the actual Emergency, in the recent past, the Indian public has been treated to revelations about paid news and the unethical participation of journalists in the crony business-politician nexus.
In almost all of these instances, the media organisations have seldom demonstrated any capability to self-regulate, with most of the journalists caught involved in nefarious activities still continuing on in their plum posts.
Now, none of these luxuries of being placed above scrutiny and periodic assessments are afforded to the political class and rightly so. Political leaders are expected to be accountable and if they do not perform, they tend to hammered by public opinion and eventually, take their case before the voting public.
At times, they are not even afforded the luxury of proper assessments. Take the example of the Prime Minister, the leading figure of hate for most of the media establishment, whose name is constantly being dragged into the tragic suicide of soldier due to what, in actuality, looks to be an administrative error which neither he nor any other political leader would have had any control over.
And while the public has every right to expect the best from its elected leadership, it also has the responsibility to demand accountability from other public institutions as well. The judiciary and the media have an equal responsibility to be accountable and transparent in their functioning. And if they are not, the citizen is more than within his rights to demand for it.
This may not be easy in today’s world, where the people’s minds are predisposed to look to scapegoat the nearest neta, but sometimes the devil is in the details (and not the khadi kurta).
Praful Shankar is a political enthusiast and tweets at @shankarpraful.
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