Ask "Why" First, Then Who, When, Whatever.
by Arun Krishnan
In his long thesis on life called Metaphysics (or one of those complex books where words like "and" and "or" are italicized), Aristotle says that what differentiates the scientist or the artist from the common craftsman is that they seek to explore the reasons behind occurrences and phenomena.
It is only fitting that the media follows these timeless words and through astute reasoning cause some people to introspect and swallow the bitter cup of poison (not you Plato). This is also a good time for the media to examine future news coverage methodologies to ensure focus on the true cause of hate and less on the rhetoric of leaders.
The case at hand is Kashmir. A towering Armageddon. Lakes clear as glass, once captured lovingly on camera in scores of Bollywood movies are now destined to be the setting for the mother of all mushroom clouds.
Millions of troops are staring eyeball to eyeball across the border. One tiny spark will cause a huge explosion. The Indian Prime Minster, when not selling his poetry on MTV, gets infuriated with cross border infiltrations. "We are losing patience," he warns. What he means though is, "We are losing popularity." For the BJP, after having fared miserably in all the state elections, is now trying out the time honored trick of “tug the heart and fog the mind” in an attempt to regain lost ground. This time however, the consequences could be to say the least, disastrous.
And ground has been lost. Indians, irrespective of religion are in a deep state of shock over the atrocities committed against Muslims in Gujarat. A Muslim minister of the legislative assembly was beheaded and his daughters were raped. A fetus was torn out from a pregnant woman and flung into the fire. Official figures say that 800 people lost their lives in the riots. The reality, people on the ground say is closer to 2,000. And all this happened with the approval of the BJP run state government. Muslims were killed with the support of the police. Signs painted by the "spontaneous" rioters on mutilated walls proudly proclaim "Sabko pata yeh baat hai, Police haamare saath hai" ("Everybody knows the truth, The police is with us.") If one were to search the dictionary or one's conscience for words to describe these events, ethnic cleansing would readily pop up in both cases.
And what was the government's reaction? Was the state government dismissed? Were there days of national mourning and introspection? Did allies of the BJP led government withdraw support?
On the contrary.
At a special meeting convened by the BJP, Gujarat's chief minister was commended for "holding examinations on time," The home minister Mr. Advani pinned the blame on "undesirable elements in Pakistan" (one day even the blame for the poor quality of many Indian movies will be laid on these undesirable elements) and "pseudo secularists". Prime Minister Vajpayee speaking after a meeting with a woman's delegation said "there was some truth in their complaints, but most of it was exaggerated". When the international community likened the happenings in Gujarat to that of Nazi Germany, they were sternly warned "not to meddle in India's internal affairs".
And on and on and on. Voices of protest were loud. They were drowned out by the chant of war drums. The BJP wants us to forget Gujarat. And focus on Kashmir. It will be a pity if we do.
The fact that Pakistan sponsors terrorism in India is true. Without a doubt. But to enter into a war, where the losses would be catastrophic as compared to the gains (especially given the fact that most terrorist camps are mobile and can be easily assembled elsewhere) is inexcusable. I have long left the realm of statistics, intuition tells me that if I were to run a multiple regression on the BJP, election gains, Kashmir and fundamentalism the coefficient of correlation would be one.
The BJP has two faces: soft-spoken, liberal poet Vajpayee and DCM Toyota driving mosque destroying Advani. But the BJP's soul which wears khaki shorts and carries a saffron flag remains the same. A callous wolf is no different from a callous wolf wearing a sheep's clothing.
We will protect Kashmir. But somebody needs to bite the bullet for Gujarat first. If Mr. Vajpayee truly believes that the BJP he founded is different from his parent RSS that Keshav Hedgewar founded in 1925 (to protest against Gandhi's philosophy of non violence and civil disobedience) then he knows that in all poetry, clichés rhyme true and actions do speak louder than words.
He owes the Hindus this much. I am very deeply confused as to which path of Hinduism does this tri-headed "trishul gone wrong" movement intend to tread on to reach salvation. It is definitely not gyana (knowledge). Its not karma, even if one were to stretch ones imagination all the way to the horizon. And killing of innocent people, especially vulnerable women and children will not bring even a dropful of bhakti (devotion) from our water taps flowing with blood.
I do hope that he helps me removes the sense of shame I have. Not because I am a Hindu. But because I am an Indian.
Which brings us to the second question: what of the media? Are they doomed to cover rhetoric from leaders for years and ages to come? Or can they put themselves in a position where they are true agents of change? So that situations like these seldom arise?
Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen has argued correctly that development is made up of many "freedoms", which are interconnected. These include political freedoms, economic freedoms, social freedoms (access to health care, education, etc), transparency (trust) and security measures for the most vulnerable (it is a bit too much to go into detail here). The press can be not only monitor the performance of governments on these measures on a regular basis (that's true investigative journalism) but also act as a forum where people can establish societal values. The media can help people understand the importance of these freedoms and provide people the opportunities to avail of them. In countries like India, people are deprived of voice, economic self-sufficiency, education and face difficulties on a day-to-day basis that they shouldn't have to face. These people are the first to fall victim to rabble rousing rhetoric. But if they are well informed, they would be less susceptible to emotions rising out of lack of reason such as hate.
This might sound Utopian. And boring evaluations and discussions might not make for a racy read during the morning commute. But it might result in a truly developed population (and per capita income and GNP will only be some of the factors contributing to this state).
And then we can call ourselves the world's largest democracy in the true sense of the word.
Arun Krishnan works for an international relief organization in New York
City, after giving a lot of Powerpoint presentations in ad agency
boardrooms. Prior to that he studied Communications Management at University
of Southern California (Los Angeles) and Mechanical Engineering at VJTI
(Bombay). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org