TV Prophets and Brand Anna

Amit Sengupta
There is a cynical stream of consciousness stalking the Indian landscape, angry and angst-ridden, seething with disgust at the web of corruption which has trapped the regime, the system, and Indian democracy. Shifting moments in public perception, or the apolitical stance of a vacillating middle and upper middle class, cannot really provide that Machiavellian moment of relief to the regime, when it might still appear to be democratic, even as it actually operates on multiple undemocratic paradigms. Realpolitik waits for shifting sands of events, understands that one moment of revelation can suddenly change what seems a priori now and forever. Power politics has not always moved on the wings of idealism or ethics.
 
The morbid B-grade Bollywood ‘political thriller’, despite the mindless blood and gore and bombastic dialogue, is not completely off the mark. Even the most absurdly perverse screen depiction might reflect an iota of inverted truth. That is, you might appear to be a statesman in terms of your screen presence, but in the hidden public perception you might be a wily old crook, a diabolical monster, or even a sinister, backstabber waiting for the inevitable night of long knives.
 
It’s as clear as the eternally failed met department’s monsoon prophecy in Delhi that the UPA-II wasted the secular aam aadmi mandate it had got after the anti-democracy fascists of the NDA were first removed in 2004 by the collective will. Despite its overt flexibility to link up with the social conscience, with institutions like the NAC, it has shown itself as stunningly myopic, in eternal drift, in suspended déjà vu, enclosed in its dogmatic cocoon of a market fundamentalist model which is not taking the nation anywhere, except for fattening the fat wallets of the fat cats in the game of infinite profit.
 
Perhaps it all starts from the insipid, unimaginative, emotionless top.
 
Corruption flows so much from this political economy of greed, that even the upwardly mobile sections which benefited from liberalisation have become disillusioned. While most regimes care two hoots for the millions of poor and marginalised, as long as they can manipulate them electorally (witness the millionaire Dalit ki beti’s success story in UP), or crush them manually, it is this upwardly mobile network which thereby usurps the mandate of political conscience, and pushes the agenda of pompous self-righteousness, often without the remotest idea about protracted grassroots struggles, tragedies and suffering in simmering conflict zones, or about shifts in social consciousness on the ground, and new aspirations and awareness in a changed global context.
 
This is exemplified by the television channels and their anchors who ran glorified 24x7 running commentaries on the Anna or Ramdev grand show, like B-grade movies, turning a protest into a pseudo-melodrama of high morality versus immorality. Indeed, in this immorality-is-commonplace scenario (witness the Radia tapes), there is selective application of objectivity, turning prejudice and bias into universal truths, and non-entities and mavericks into new role models.
 
Witness the fact that the News of the World actually shut down, a former editor landed in jail, others came under the scanner, several resigned, and the Murdoch empire was told to back off from a multibillion deal of absolute monopoly, and a shamed Rebekah Brooks had to answer all the difficult questions — while the whole world watched how she fudged, fudged, fudged… Compare this with Indian journalists caught on the Radia tapes — totally compromised. They are still so shamelessly thick-skinned, calling the shots, protected by their equally thick-skinned managements, all over television screens in rain or shine. These are the diabolical creatures who will be the first to adopt a high moral ground on corruption etc.
 
In this context, floating on wings of pomposity in a vacuum created by the absence of a discredited and stunningly lazy mainstream Left, or an authentic alternative national movement, they floated Anna and Ramdev, backed by the RSS, as national role models. Even the term ‘Team Anna’ is like an ad mantra, selling a commodity by mindlessly repeating it endlessly. So much so, these Anna regulars have got obsessively addicted to television, their relentless rhetoric like an endless stomach disorder, their stubborn self-importance bordering on arrogance and fascism.
 
Are they the new media products of Indian salvation? Or will the fizz fizzle out once the brand outlives its verbosity, chest-pumping, and this ephemeral tryst with destiny?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2011