Why are we obsessed with politics?
On the day India scaled new heights in space with the launch of 104 satellites in one shot, on February 15, the accomplishment was rivaled or even dwarfed by the ongoing political drama in Tamil Nadu. For media persons, whether they are in print journalism or on digital platforms, including the TV, both events were top stories – with a difference. While ISRO’s mission was over in a matter of one hour, the dramatic political developments in Tamil Nadu continued for another 24 hours until the Governor invited Edappadi K Palaniswami, the tainted chief minister aspirant Sasikala’s proxy, to form the government.
So, which story should take precedence over the other? On such occasions, newspapers, generally, won’t have any problem in giving equal importance to both by devoting a quarter of the top half page to each news item. But the problem arises with TV channels and online media which have to keep updating by the minute for ratings and hits. In the morning news bulletins, while ISRO hogged the limelight, by sundown, it was Tamil Nadu all the way and by nightfall, all the TV channels were showing Sasikala’s mysterious prayer at Jayalalithaa’s grave at Marina Beach and her inexplicable action of smack-banging her mentor’s final resting place with her palm.
No doubt, Tamil Nadu developments, in real time, have been dramatic in the last three-four months and as captivating as a Tamil soap. But should they seize all of our time and space in newspapers? To put it the other way, should regional political skullduggery become the staple of our 24X7 news channels all the time? In fact, news bulletins in every language are pronouncedly political and the raucous debates that follow are either convoluted or coloured opinions. How ISRO and Tamil Nadu were featured, projected and discussed in the media in general and on the TV in particular on February 15 illustrate this point.
On the day the world applauded India’s space feat — constant critic China said ‘this is perhaps the first widely followed world record India has made in the field of space technology and gives food for thought to others’ – most of our TV channels were debating who would be the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu and Sasikala’s bed and breakfast in Bangalore jail. A few anchors had gone to the extent of describing how much quantity of food would be given to her and at what time and her nature of work during incarceration. To boot, they had legal and civilian opinions about her filing a review petition in the apex court and how successfully she can run Tamil Nadu through her nominated successor sitting in prison.
Though none has any doubt about it – we have many precedents – the whole scenario is bizarre. The Supreme Court has upheld the verdict of lower court which found Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and others guilty of amassing wealth disproportionate to the known sources of income. That means the culprits have to serve the jail sentences and pay the fines imposed by the apex court. If everyone is equal before the law, why should Sasikala be given a privileged treatment? There is no rational explanation.
We are adept at adopting double standard and it applies much more to political classes and their cohorts. Over the years, corrupt practices have been perfected at different levels and evolved into various manifestations. So, when a political heavyweight or an ambitious power-hungry person loses the prospect of occupying a seat of power, it will have a cascading effect on others surrounding the person. In such a situation, it is difficult to accept the harsh reality.
In Sasikala’s case, although power ambitions and corruption charges are inextricably linked, making a virtue of both is hypocrisy. Still, the debaters with the blessings of TV channels, love to rant and pontificate about turncoats, defectors, political horse-traders, etc, all in the name of democracy. Or, is it in the name of Amma’s legacy or her voice?
The 24X7 emphasis on politics is a reflection of our obsession with politics and their players of every hue. The result is developments in other fields are relegated to backburner or noted for record sake or summarily dismissed as irrelevant and unimportant.
When we look at ISRO’s achievement, it was given, of course, due importance. But, how many TV channels, particularly regional, had explained its importance and relevance to the viewers? For that matter, why are we marching ahead in space, not on the ground? Ironically, India is a Third World country in all human development indices and the country’s rankings in some key areas are well below those of least developed countries whereas in space sciences and research India is among the top five in the world.
The dichotomy is appalling. Why and where are we going wrong? Can’t the mass media do its bit to educate the people on socio-economic developments, our own scientific progress and other such issues instead of running hours of silly political debates?