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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 45, October 26, 2013

Amid Warped Priorities and False Gods, the Most Political of all Presidents

Saturday 26 October 2013, by T J S George


This much is true: but for the media’s competitive derring-do we wouldn’t know how our politicians are plundering the country. But that blessing is accompanied by a curse. The media trivialises half the news and sensatio-nalises the other half. The result is mayhem. People at home mistake the selfish for heroes. People abroad think India is immature when it is not belligerent.

Issues that impinge on the quality of life and the fortunes of the country get little attention from the print media and virtually none from television. For example, there ought to be more than passing mention of the seriousness of the economic setback under UPA-II and the governmental ineptitude that caused it; even as they talk about reducing expenses, they increase wasteful spending on VIP security, funding of legislators, privileges provided to civil servants and so on. The spirit in which Raja Rammohan Roy helped eradicate cruel social traditions seems to have died with him; today Haryana’s elected Chief Minister justifies the illegal Khap Panchayat punishments while sectarian politicians instigate caste riots in places like Dharmapuri. Protecting minority rights has come to mean allowing Saudi Arabia, a “friendly” ally of India, to promote Muslim radicalism.
Fundamentalist churches in America, another ally, fund Christian evangelism especially among vulnerable sections. Meanwhile, minority educational institutions function as a law unto themselves. On these issues, the media, like the government, plays safe. Safe for whom?

All caution is abandoned when the media sees opportunities to whip up easy excitement. The perennial favourites, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, were joined lately by Sachin Tendulkar. It is a sad commentary on our culture that the mere mention of Tendulkar’s name is enough to send sections of the people into raptures. Otherwise intelligent men write treatises and books on the man. Otherwise great newspapers write editorials on him. And who is he? He wanted his countrymen to pay the tax on his imported Ferrari which he later sold. He never paid even token respect to his Rajya Sabha seat. He did not put the weight of his prestige on the side of propriety when improprieties shook Indian cricket. He did not even retire when fading form and dimming lustre told him to; he clung on to score some personal points of glory. Tendulkar is a man who puts Tendulkar above the rest. By comparison Rahul Dravid conducted himself honourably.

Tendulkar symbolises the tragedy that marketing brought to cricket. England which invented it and Australia which exalted it did not lose their balance over cricket because they treated it as a sport. India turned it into a business. A lethal combination of politicians and business tycoons tickled cricketeers with easy money and converted the game into a profiteering racket. Cricket became an industry in India, a corrupt one. It was the media that made this possible. The cheer girls did not work the magic for Lalit Modi. Television did.

Amid this unbecoming melee, a sober note was introduced by the appearance of Pranab Mukherjee’s name in some newspaper articles. (The channels were too shallow to do even that in any meaningful way.) It appears that in some recent political developments Pranab was an active, if unseen, presence. He is of course the most political President in Indian history, having held every key portfolio in the government. It is now a witticism that he was the best Prime Minister India did not have.
India did not have him because Sonia Gandhi did not want him. Sonia Gandhi did not want him because he was not a yes-man, although he ruffled no feathers as a Cabinet Minister. Sonia Gandhi is used to implicit devotion. So she preferred Manmohan Singh and nonentities like Pratibha Patil. She tried to do another Patil job, but Pranab Mukherjee neutralised her by winning the support of non-Congress parties. Sonia was forced to suffer Pranab as President. Pranab is too seasoned a politician to seek vengeance. But he will be nothing like a rubber stamp if a hung Parliament emerges. What Prime Minister Pranab Mukherjee could not do, perhaps President Pranab Mukherjee might.

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