Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mumabi is not just about Taj

After the 26-11 seize of Mumbai ended, the post mortem going into the conduct of the electronic media during the whole sixty hours of operation began to surface.

There are two thought process which have gained wind as we move more into analyzing the way media reported the whole incident. The first one says that the media did its duty in a commendable way and the second one which also has equal followers, says that they were inherently biased. And even in that time of ‘War on India’ as they described it, they were not able to move away from the magnetic force of TRPs.

The first notion is out there in the open for anyone to judge. We all were glued to the TV, we watched every second of the operation. And we can all make out what was happening.

The second one though needs to be elaborated. The terrorist before being surrounded in The Taj and Trident caused mayhem at the CST railway station. But none of the media personnel were present at the CST to bring out the details of those who died. Some people will attribute this to the great socio-economic difference that separates someone walking in the Taj and someone at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

The other reason which comes into mind is that perhaps at CST the action was already over, those who had to die, were dead. The marauders had moved to the Taj. And I can well imagine that an editor instructing his reporters, for obvious reasons, would have told his crew to focus on Taj where the action was still unfolding.

As we watched in disbelief, reporters and cameraperson waited for hours, ducked for cover whenever a blast occurred as they brought out the real picture to us. Even if nothing was happening, the news-anchor, would move to the reporter on-site and ask him to update on the current situation. While people were searching for their dead ones at the CST, the media continued its focus on Taj. According to those who were entrusted with the job of bringing out the news, Taj was a more visible face of Mumbai, known to the world, visited by the ‘elites’. Is not CST a part of Mumbai? I am sure that the ordinary Mumbaikars have spent more hours in and around CST then they have in Taj.

In the midst of all this, the idea of unbiased reporting was forgotten. And also lost was the sense of empathy and compassion. Perhaps overtaken by other materialistic consideration.

Questions about how long will the Taj be shut, who will renovate it, will MF Hussain’s painting don the walls again, will the guest be able to forget 26-11 once they enter Taj , every such questions were asked. But not even a question about who died in CST was ever heard.

The who’s and who’ of the electronic media, seasoned journalist, and veteran editors found themselves moving with the more vibrant side of the whole incident.

It was not an operation that got over in matter of minutes or a couple of hour, but as we all know, it lasted sixty hours. Taking every practical consideration, the networking with the authorities, the sound bytes, the updates, Sixty hours was more than enough for one to focus on CST and VT Hospital. Only if they wanted to.

In one of the articles that appeared in the Washington post after the Mumbai attacks, the writer has emphasized on this very disparity, which even in such testing times, failed to corrode. The article talks about the serial blast in the Mumbai trains that took place more than 2 years ago and says that since if affected the common people, the media sensitiveness was subdued. Even we as common citizens were subdued, no candle light protest, no ‘awaken India’.

Have we started perceiving things as perceived by the media? Does the media’s response decide our response?

Was 26-11 more deadly than 11-07 just because electronic media thought it that way?

India as we all know has more number of the poor and the voiceless. And it is always unfortunate that it is the rich and the vociferous, however less in number, get the attention. 26-11 was no different.

In an open letter to all those who are concerned, one of the journalist who has been on the line of fire, says that “Surely, India has bigger lessons to learn and larger points to mull over, than to expend energy over which television journalist tops the charts or falls to the bottom.”

I sincerely hope that the media too has learnt its part of the chapter and hopefully they will practice what they preach and see the bigger picture.

But then it has never been about the common Indian. Or is it?

Monday, December 08, 2008

The siege

It all started when Delhi, as the media had put it, was under siege. A young writer who was also into freelancing, Abhimanyu could not stop himself from rushing to India gate where a fierce gun battle between the terrorist and the security forces was still raging on.

India gate, like the country itself, had been a witness to many a different vibrant colors. It was a place which saw everything and had seen everything. The peace march, the solemn martyr remembrance, the glory of Republic day, the display of awareness for many a human rights spirit. And now a mindless gun battle. The end of which will be culminated by bodies and blood.

In spite it being a Monday morning, the black and yellow autos synonymous with the streets of Delhi were missing. He decided to walk. The presence of the khaki clad police personnel in the sprawling greens had increased, but the morning joggers with shapes of various contours were missing. The vibrant Delhi was now transformed into a vulnerable child. The silence was strange yet peaceful.

The tranquility was suddenly shattered by the hoarse sound of a security man who was vainly trying to stop a girl from jumping over the barricades that were erected to stop people like her from going too close to the actual spot where the firing was still going on.

The girl was in a white colored suit, with a red duppata that draped her head. An identity card swinging from her neck proclaimed her as a journalism student and read “Meghna”. Nothing was too striking about her, except, perhaps her voice, which was too intense, completely in contrast to her fragile appearance. Abhimanyu had no intention of meddling into what was happening and he deliberately changed his direction so as to avoid the ‘argumentative Indians’.

Soon he was where he wanted, behind a police Gypsy, from where he could get the perfect view to observe and to write, a spot, which could justify the use of word ‘on-the-spot- reporting’ which he would use in his blog. The sound of gun fire had decreased, a sign that the final stand was being taken up by the terrorist who were holed up inside the secured perimeter.

A flock of pigeon flew over the large monument as a loud blast echoed through the area. The earsplitting sound made him loose his ground and he fell. The fall was interrupted by another body; that of a girl whose head was covered by a red duppata. As both flirted with the last few moments of their life their eyes met for the first and the last time. And then without any protest their eyes closed.

The siege had ended.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A party of, for and by Madam

The home minister was finally persuaded to have an honorable exit. Its not that Shivraj Patil knew when or where was the next strike going to take place, I am sure that if he was aware of any such details, like all of us, he would have tried his best to see to it that the bomb blasts, the Mumbai attack are not executed. But where he failed was in doing his best and leaving the rest to the god.

We have the concerned head of ministries so that an accountability and responsibility is visible. A horse chariot even with the finest pair of horses needs a good charioteer so as to make sure that the horses do not run aimlessly. Our former Home minister in this context behaved as if he was trudging on a bullock cart.

A stricter law was being demanded by everyone. Maybe he opposed it personally or maybe his party members were against him. Whatever the case he should have made it clear. But then maybe he would have lost his chair, but ultimately that happened and he was asked to leave, an exit which he would not have hoped for when he sat on that position four and a half years back.

He had the political wisdom to equate Sarabjeet and Afzal Guru, he had the personal wisdom to change clothes when Delhi was still reeling under the after shocks of the blast, but the only thing that he did not have was the courage to come out with why he was opposed to a stricter law.

Critics argue that stricter laws have resulted in violations of human rights. Is not there the Judiciary to take care of it? We have more than belligerent human rights activist and organization in Indian who are forever on street. We have the NHRC and most importantly we have a media that is heavily loaded against any human rights abuse. So we do have the right kind of checks to stop rampant violations.

No one can demand a lax law just because a stricter law will curtail human rights. Is not living under the sound of guns and watching Ak 47 totting terrorist causing mayhem on the streets violation of human rights? And what about those who lose their near ones? I guess their human right of being happy is taken away the moment their dear one fall dead.

Since the present government has come into power it has always been a reactive one. That too would have been acceptable had they reacted on time , but they stopped this ‘reactive’ tendency months back.

After the Mumbai attack, announcements for a federal investigative agency was done and also was announced a stricter law. What is new? Has not the county demanding this for a long? When the MNS goons were rampaging on the street, for days the Congress high command did not react, and when ultimately it did, the vandalism stopped immediately. By the time they reacted the damage was already done. What were they waiting for?

Exactly has been the present case. Too little may be too early to say but too late; definitely.

That brings me to the larger issue. While watching the news of Mr.Patil being removed, the driver at my home said “ Lagat ba Madam khisiyan gayil” ( seems Madam is angry). He was referring to Sonia Gandhi.

I guess 8 out of 10 if not 9 will tell that it is Sonia Gandhi who decides how the present machinery will function. We have a president who has been handpicked by her and who is as good as non-functional. The benchmark that the previous president had set has been thrown into oblivion. We have a PM who wakes up in the morning wondering whether he is still the PM or not. And we had a Home minister who was more interested in having the blessings of the high command rather than figuring out why the terror strikes had gone up.

It is time that Sonia Gandhi is also brought into focus. At least she can dispel the myths if any about her stand. Whether she wants a tough law or not ? or whether the ministers are only accountable to her and not to the people who have elected them? How does she intends to tackle terrorism?

She may be working in the background but is it not true that even the kingmaker should also be held accountable?

Considering everything, what have we to bank on? BJP? It might have some individuals who can deliver, maybe someone like Arun Shourie. But as and when the power arrives people shift their focus on how to retain that power. The promises that are made, the expectations that are nurtured, all are left to wither away.

The past week has left me perplexed and it is because of these very questions that are so hard to answer.

A hung assembly in offering?

The fortunes of many a leaders from the major various parties including 1369 independents who are contesting for the 230 state assembly seats is now decided and, Who will win and who will not will be clear on the 8th of December when the counting of ballot paper begins.The elections were marred by violence as a former minister and sitting BJP legislator,Sunil Nayak,was gunned down outside a polling booth allegedly by brother of his Congress rival.

The ruling BJP and the opposition Congress had different aspirations before going to the poll, but all that seems to have changed now. The BJP which was earlier hoping to win comfortably is now nervous that whether it will be able to reach the magical mark of 116 or not. For the Congress it is the opposite as political pundits who earlier gave it no chance to form the government are now divided and are of the view that Congress may just sneak in.

According to surveys conducted by various bodies post-polling, Congress will perform better than expected and will be able to win in more than 90 constituencies. The Congress leaders drawing heart from the above assessment are working on formulas and alliances which they might have to use in case they fall just short of the majority.

The lesser parties have done too much damage for the BJP. All predictions point out that the gap between the number of seat won by the Congress and the BJP will be too less for any of them to draw comfort.

Candidates of Uma Bharti’s BJS may well emerge in more than 10 seats. Similarly BSP is also expected to win more than 5 seats. If we count the Gondwana Gantantra party the expected loss of seat to non BJP and non Congress may well be in the region of 35- 45 assembly seats.

In some areas the vote share of the BJP candidates in particular has been eaten away by BJS candidates and this may well have a large bearing on the final picture.

With no party gaining majority one cannot rule out a scenario where the state witness a hung assembly or not will be decided by the independents and the lesser parties.

Independents have played crucial role in government formation in Madhya Pradesh once before, in 1969, when the Independent legislators helped Govind Narain Singh to form a government. The outgoing assembly has only two independent legislators, though it should not be forgotten that they still managed to garner 7.7 per cent of the total votes polled.

The BJP might seek the help of the estranged Uma Bharti and Mayawati in case it needs support. For Congress it will be Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP, and the independents if the need arises to look for partners.

The last ditch, whirlwind campaigning taken-up by Pachori is sure to help his party’s and his own cause. For he alongwith Union minister Kamalnath is a front runner for the post of chief minister. Similarly the general perception of the BJP leaders among the voters, specially the working class, is that of being corrupt which political pundits say has dented the party’s image.


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