Monday, June 20, 2011

TN Voter Revolts and Media Sleeps.

It is often said that democracy is messy but in reality compared to its alternatives democracy is the least messy. Representative democracy with all its faults remains the best form of governance. The smug literate Indian voter has often looked down upon his/her illiterate counterpart who votes. When the results of TN election were announced on May 13th it was the largely illiterate voter who had the last laugh. In many ways we should thank the poverty stricken, less educated voter for it is ONLY they who saw through the arrogant power gambles by Karunanidhi.

How arrogant and venal must Karunanidhi be to think that the voter can be hoodwinked by a comedian? Many long time DMK sympathisers shook their head at seeing a party once known for literate orators now rely heavily on a comedian's campaign. A party which once took pride in blackening with tar Hindi words in Railway stations now begged a Hindi actress with a Hindi tattoo on her hand to campaign for them. Irony was that Thiruma, a member of the ruling coalition, once harassed that same actress as a self styled custodian of Tamil morality. Wikileaks cables now show how Karthi Chidambaram had bragged about bribing voters. "Thirumangalam formula" will see us  through crowed their supposedly educated supporters.

On May 13th the TN voter delivered a stunning verdict that left no cover for either DMK or their palanquin bearers. Now the question was "how did nobody see this coming", "how did none of the polls predict this". DMK was shattered beyond belief. Stalin, heir apparent, limped past the finishing line. Azhagiri fort was pulverized to dust. The verdict was so humiliating that Karunanidhi did not even wait for the final tally he tendered his cabinet's resignation within a few hours of the trend emerging. DMK expected the going to be tough but nobody saw this coming. DMK genuinely expected that their Insurance scheme, free housing schemes, money doled through self help groups, Rice at Rs1 etc (not withstanding free TV's and other freebies) would serve as a firewall to protect their turf. "Thirumangalam formula" would secure the seats that were in play thus cumulatively securing them a second term. Whenever I used to talk to both DMK supporters and general public about the inflationary aspect of many of these so called "schemes" I always got one response "the poor don't care, the illiterate do not care, this is all fancy economics you are saying".
See my earlier blog . When I told a person, not a DMK supporter, "well they get rice at Rs1 but vegetable prices are sky high, food inflation is in double digits according to the government itself", the reply was "the poor do not realize and they will not care".

Well the poor care because they are hungry. The poor care because they now see how their children are being deprived. It does not take a PhD in economics  to realise that Rs1 rice alone is not enough. Actually its the PhD in economics who might be numb to reality and prattle about ideology etc. A poor man is pragmatic, he has no alternative.

Seeing Thirumaa and Ramadoss being drubbed today many pontificate that caste politics has been discarded by the voter. Again its the smug educated voter who has never seen the intelligence of the electorate. DMK lost, against much expectation, in 2001 only because they chose to align with caste based parties and doled out seats based on chest thumping by caste party leaders like Kannappan. Ramadoss is often cited as holding a loyal block of voters. That's a wonderful myth. In the past when he contested alone he was drubbed. In recent times his candidates lost pathetically. Ramadoss did become a force to reckon with initially because he did get some fruits for his caste but after the quota agitation success there was nothing else to fight or win. His family's corruption became an eyesore amongst his community. Thirumaa is the worst leader that Dalits could beget. He has no idea of what Dalits need. Jaya's wonderful advertisement showing how he ranted against MK earlier and contrasted it with his fawning today was the best attack ad of the election.

Interpreting a mandate is often a reflection of the person's own subjectivity. Many supporters of Eelam who felt deeply betrayed by MK rejoiced and called this the price for betraying Eelam. Some started calling Seeman, a third rate director and rabble rouser as the next force in campaigns. Eelam probably affected a miniscule voter's decision. TN voter gave DMK a comfortable win, contrary to expectations and desires, in 2009 general elections while Sri Lanka burned and MK carried out a farcical fast. Vaiko, eelam's most sincere and vociferous supporter was trumped at the polls against an unknown. Just watch his election speeches in those days. Vaiko was thundering fire and brimstone about Sri Lanka, about using radar donated by India, about Bofors guns from India AND he lost. As the cliche says "All politics is local". Eelam was a marginal issue.

Why did the media, at all levels, miss the voter fury? Very simple. There is no professional journalism in India. Its all the more true at a regional level. To be sure even in USA we do have our share of surprises. When a republican won from a senate seat held for 40 years by Ted Kennedy in Massachusettes it sent shock waves. But the media was not blind sided like it happened in Tamil Nadu.

NYT report would go to a village start off from a villager, narrate his woes, then flesh out the grinding effect of food inflation, give a human dimension to the story by emphasizing how his/her children are malnourished take the theme on a big picture level, tie it to the inflationary policies and finally conclude with the villager again. This kind of in depth reporting is alien to Indian journalism.

When we talk of corruption again the literate smug intellectual retorted in two modes, "do you think the poor care", "is Jaya incorrupt?". A villager may not care about 2G spectrum or its astronomical sum. Yes Jaya is shamefully corrupt. But the corruption of the past 5 years was of a scope that was staggering. Corruption had eaten into each and every facet of governance thus sticking on the face of the poor like an octopus. Again other than sensational reporting on 2G there was little sensitive in depth reporting by any media. Also for the first time people saw first hand how each minister came to amass hundreds of crores thanks to colleges. Corruption was not even done surreptitiously it was brazen, gargantuan and inescapable. The reporting of that side was seriously hobbled by how the powerful could muzzle media and journalists. Journalists had to fear for their lives if they wrote of Azhagiri or Veerapandi Arumugam (who also is bigamous like his leader and many other colleagues).

Power cuts was another albatross. A few days after the election Karunanidhi announced even more draconian power cuts, now including even Chennai. If MK had announced it 3 months before the election even he would have lost from Thiruvarur. Coimbatore, India's Manchester, erupted in revolt. Thousands of people marched in the streets in a spontaneous protest. No political outfit rallied them, nobody paid them to rally, no biryani packets were used to entice crowds. Yet such an event was grossly underreported. It was a inside news item in a vernacular news paper (Dinamalar). Again the journalistic infrastructure is pathetic that no article could weave a tapestry out of the hardships due to power cuts. In 2011 lack of electricity hobbles job creation, spikes unemployment, affects hospitals, affects the poor weaver, the small scale industrialist who employs tens of poor graduates or unskilled labor. Yet I could not find a single journalist who could write a compelling story on this articulating the seething anger of the people.

Opinion polls are another mess. The media in Tamil Nadu, especially TV, is sharply divided along partisan lines with absolutely no objectivity. The vernacular press also is partisan to a great extent. Amidst this sea of mediocrity and crass partisan reporting opinion polls were a joke.

Sun TV beamed endlessly the hundreds who milled to wave at Vadivelu. Media wrote that in Vadivelu maybe DMK had found a trump card. Yet when the results were announced the joke was on DMK/ Vadivelu and the media. Yes many probably still do love to watch Vadivelu but life is different reality. The sophistication showed by the Tamil Nadu voter should send a stern message to Jaya more than MK. Let Jaya heed the message and realize that in 2016 she could be where MK is today. Well she knows that all too well, could she have forgotten 1996. Its pathetic that MK forgot 1996 could happen to him or completely ignored the lessons of 2001.

No comments: