Vaidya spoke about the need to look at reservations from a fresh perspective, and see if the practice has yielded results in tune with why it was introduced in the first place.
How much longer the mainstream media will engage in such agenda-driven reportage remains to be seen, but the public ought to know what’s really going on.
It is that time of the year again. Politics is at an all-time high. Five states – Uttar Pradesh (UP), Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur – will decide their next rung of state leadership when India celebrates its New Year in March-April.
The vibrant Indian democracy is gearing up for its ritualistic dance yet again. The three pillars of democracy – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, embroiled in the mess that the parliamentary system creates, become an extension of the poll battle in their own right. Legislators get into election mode, trying to regain their coveted thrones. The executive springs into action to ensure free and fair elections. The judiciary suddenly swells with cases that have the potential to affect poll verdicts and poll battles from all over. In this conundrum, the one hope that democracy offers to the public is the fourth estate – the media.
But when mainstream media itself fails the test of fairness, honesty and ethical standards, what hope is left for this nation? Let us take a look at the recent case.
Jaipur hosts an annual literature festival. It is a meeting ground for all kinds of intellectuals who debate and discuss issues beyond their books, entrepreneurs who are flourishing in their social endeavours, political analysts who are shaping the discourse in this country, and so on and so forth.
At this year’s edition of the annual festival, after a lot of protests by self-certified ‘liberal intellectuals’ of the country against sharing the dais with Manmohan Vaidya, Akhil Bhartiya Prachar Pramukh of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), one of the largest organisations in the country, Vaidya spoke at Jaipur Literature Festival.
In a context very different from what and how electoral politics is played out in the battleground of UP, Vaidya spoke about the need to consider B R Ambedkar’s legacy on reservation, which talks about a time-bound implementation of caste-based positive discrimination by law, to allow opportunities to reach the disadvantaged and weaker sections of society. Vaidya elucidated clearly and lucidly the need to look at reservations from a fresh perspective, and see if the practice has yielded results in tune with why it was introduced in the first place.
Immediately as this discussion began, the mainstream – Delhi-based, North-India-centric, byte-preferring, agenda-driven – media houses in the country churned out headlines after headlines painting Vaidya’s statement as a policy recommendation to end reservations in the country. Editors openly displayed a lopsided preference for the issue, twisting what Vaidya said to mean what they expect a leader of the RSS to say. It did not matter, it seems from the popular media reactions, if the RSS leader in question believed in the media-constructed version of what the RSS believes. What matters, it seems, at this moment is how much the issue can be sensationalised.
With scant respect for public sentiments, zero sensitivity for how this reaction could impact politics on the ground, no nuance whatsoever to understand the implications of politicking that results with such news floating on the eve of elections, these editors and journalists hit an all-time low. It immediately reminded of that time in Bihar when Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghachalak of the RSS, made a similar remark on the need to reconsider the parameters of reservation, a few days prior to the election in the state. It also echoed how the media then interpreted and twisted the facts, creating massive frenzy on the ground with votes being cast, as the media confessed, engulfed in fear and protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
What should an average electorate on social media deduce about the media’s credibility with repeat cases like these? That media chooses to create frenzy just like fundamentalists do on the eve of elections? That media chooses to twist facts in order to further its agenda? That media is far from being unbiased to push forward a certain idea of reportage than dispassionate reportage itself? But the follow-up question then is, whose agenda is it that media is pushing? These questions leave room for plenty of speculation and later, assertions reaped as a similar reaction to what the mainstream chose to sow.
Technically, the media should report from the ground and offer opinions over and above the reportage. Also, the job of the editor is to allow opinions and stories from all sides of the spectrum to feature in their space. But technicalities are lost in an age when news, by and large, has reduced to a product of unethical media trade, especially during elections when media buy-outs are no longer closed-door negotiations between the advertising wing of the media houses and political parties but include top editors in strategy chambers of political parties. To expect unbiased news and views from media houses that run heavily on advertisements paid for by political parties is to expect a mother to be a virgin. But is it too much to expect from seasoned and self-proclaimed journalists, camouflaging as editors – often consulting – to just report, even if they choose to cover select, political cases?
Otherwise, what explains the distortion of Vaidya’s statement? What does a tweet from a celebrated and established TV journalist signify when he chooses to not show the footage of Vaidya’s speech but a text version of what this editor or journalist thinks Vaidya said? What explains the logic of the premium media houses, which suggest that reservation should end in this country because an RSS functionary said so?
Whether the media’s priorities are correct in raking up a non-existent issue to making it the most important issue for one state election is for the lesser mainstream – the public – to decide. Whether the media chose wisely between picking up a remark and spinning it a certain way, or a two-and-half-month-long economic blockade in Manipur speaks volumes about the convenient ignorance and possible amnesia of the Delhi media.
It might also suggest a perfect collusion between the status quo of media honchos at the top and the larger political establishment that has ruled this country for far too long in order to let the ideological state apparatus be – oppressive, select, elite and furthering the cause of a chosen few.
The verdict is upon us, the public, to choose or reject the weaving of media meta-narratives or allow events and opinions to speak for themselves. Should one version of the story dominate as a better version without question, or should the power of words and power of politics decide what is good and what is not? This is a question that we as young, aspirational electorates need to think today.