Does real-time coverage of terrorist atrocities and the public reaction in its wake inform people or make them angrier? Does it herald a new kind of politics? Perhaps the question is misplaced: After all, it’s not the images themselves, but the happenings that are the source of anger. But such is the nature of the medium that confusion between the two is very likely. What happened in Mumbai on and after 26 November is an example of this.
A similar problem ails our public representatives. They have chosen to blame the messenger. There is angry talk of TV “whipping up” mass frenzy. As in the confusion between the images and the event, politicians have confused public anger with its images on TV. Is TV to be blamed then? Yes and no.
It’s routine for politicians to go for mass contact during electoral campaigning and then disappear for the next five years. Because a majority of the population until recent times lived in rural constituencies, events that evoked anger could not coalesce into difficult situations for our leaders unless they were local grievances or of extraordinary intensity.
As India transforms into a country of cities from that of villages, real-time communication in the form of television is changing this.
Television may broadcast the images, but at the root, the problem is clearly that of politicians facing middle-class ire and not being able to give an adequate response to it. Clearly, our representatives don’t have a strategy to face this new kind of politics.
Rural settings permit political divisiveness, but this is less likely in urban areas as the problems faced by a large number of citizens are similar, if not identical.
As a result, the usual formulae to win elections—maintain legitimacy and continue a hold over popular imagination—fail to work.
It has been pointed out that spontaneous outpourings of public anger and its broadcasting cannot be equated with the desire for “change”. Historian Ramachandra Guha pointed out that such urban gatherings should not be equated with the will of the Indian people. He’s right. But such events are certainly pointers to a different politics, one that our legislators are unaccustomed to.
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