In an interesting oped titled ‘Messianism versus democracy’ in The Hindu this is what Prabhat Patnaik had to say: “Maulana Bhashani, a popular peasant leader in what is now Bangladesh, used to give marathon speeches that were interrupted when people went home for lunch or dinner, or even for a night's rest, and resumed when they re-assembled afterwards; and the speeches contained much information about everything…”
Here’s another excerpt from the article: “Messianism substitutes the collective subject, the people, by an individual subject, the messiah. The people may participate in large numbers, and with great enthusiasm and support, in the activities undertaken by the messiah… but they do so as spectators. The action is of the messiah; the people are only enthusiastic and partisan supporters and cheerleaders. If at all they ever undertake any action on the side, this is entirely at the messiah's bidding, its ethics, rationale and legitimacy never explained to them…” Well, I don’t agree with quite a few parts in the article but this post is not to debate that. Patnaik probably has inadvertently described religious following itself. The para I quoted can be used for Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad, Moses or any other prophet you can think of. Imagine if prophets from centuries ago had 24X7 media in their time.
Till the time a messiah from the general public, as Patnaik sort of describes Anna Hazare, comes around the role is usually played by those hyper media celebrity anchors and hosts. Each one passionately intent on heaping some agenda on viewers and readers. Desperately agitated and tired with the twittering and twattering of people on the social networks criticising her, one prominent media cacofonix called them ‘Internet Hindus’! If Maulana Bhashani’s marathon speech is an indicator our media celebrity speakers would have to be called the ‘Media Mullahs’.
If Prabhat Patnaik does a casual count of the number of followers our Media Mullahs have on their twitter accounts he will find them outnumbering those out on the streets supporting Anna Hazare. Secondly, to those who dismiss the crowds as not representing all of India one must point out that if social scientologists like Yogendra Yadav can make conclusions for the nation on sample populations of 20000 then the population sample of Anna is far more superior and far more reliable where accuracy is concerned. But in the crowds in the media are also those whose criticism of Anna’s effort is based on sloganeering and not completely on facts. Is everything in Anna’s protest fair? Obviously not. You are unlikely to find any mass movement in history where you are likely to find every part being fair and logical. This is simply because the end objective of mass movements are their stated objectives and that is that. Sometimes even unstated objectives like the partition of India are achieved/conceded. We don't exactly hang our earlier messiah, Mahatma Gandhi, for that.
Some innocent tweets wondered why Barkha Dutt wouldn’t go to Ramlila maidan to cover the protests when she considered it so important to rush to Egypt and Libya. The reasons for her not doing so is pretty obvious to people who have followed her reporting over the years. But taking the cue the other media mullahs rushed to Ramlila. Rajdeep Sardesai went to meet Anna and even had a photo op. Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today is reporting live from Ramlila today. After his return from Ramlila, Mullah Sardesai’s pattern of discourse has substantially changed. You can expect a similar change in Mullah Kanwal’s approach. The media mullahs may also have to slowly admit that the battering they receive from Internet Hindus is not entirely unjust or misplaced.
What does it say about our media mullahs when they invite those who trash people or protests with absolutely no logic at all? Mahesh Bhatt calls the Anna movement Taliban. Does that make sense? Yet he figures prominently on NDTV and CNN-IBN. Nikhi Wagle of the CNN-IBN group also tweets of religious bias and questions secularism of the protests. Since when was secularism the agenda of the protests in any case? Since when was a religious tone or bias the agenda of the protests? But both Bhatt and Wagle would like to tweak facts brazenly to lend some insidious motive to the event. And where Arnab Goswami is concerned, he is already a convert and is doing a non-stop coverage of the event.
What Prabhat Patnaik misses is that when the protest eventually winds up the only messiahs left continuing the messianism will be our Media Mullahs. They may just have to alter their agendas a bit.