Monday, January 11, 2010

Reliance - Victim of A Flawed Democracy?

Democracy is a beautiful word. It gives the common man uninhibited freedom to air his or her views on virtually anything without fear of retribution. But the same word takes a repugnant form when used for furtherance of petty personal gains. And when such attempts involve accretion of petty gains at the cost of the life and property of another, they become abhorrent, to say the least.

Such was the effect of the fatuous gossip that was circulated by one TV channel in Andhra Pradesh on the night of the 7th of January 2010. The channel in question, TV5, perhaps succumbed to the perverted idea of giving itself a new-year gift of massive TRPs at the expense of the reputation of a large private sector company, which would explain its decision to sensationalize an unsubstantiated, obsolete piece of graffiti from an obscure overseas publication in a manner that ensured a public outcry of gargantuan proportions. Add to that the pugnacious gusto of the ubiquitous party worker (read “goon”), and we have the perfect recipe for a night of mayhem. On the evening of the 7th of January, TV5 filled its screens with images of YRS Reddy’s unfortunate accident superimposed by visuals of Reliance Industries’ facilities in Andhra Pradesh. The background audio stentoriously declared over and over again that Reliance Industries’ Chairman, Mukesh Ambani, was behind the alleged sabotage of YSR’s chopper, which crashed into a hillock on that fateful day. The basis for the wild allegation was one paragraph published in some tabloid in Russia that insinuated some linkage between the chopper crash and Reliance’s Gas business in Andhra Pradesh. The TV5 report was enough fodder for all the goons waiting on the sidelines to switch into crash-n-smash mode and start wielding their cudgels at everything that had a Reliance logo on it. Within a space of a few hours, Retails stores and petrol stations belonging to Reliance Industries were targeted and damaged all over Andhra Pradesh. Work in offices of Reliance Industries in the state was affected for two consecutive days. Not unexpectedly, the rumors soon turned out to be unfounded and the situation returned to normal. However, the damage had been done to several Reliance establishments and the scars of unjustified public ire will take long to efface from the face of the company in Andhra Pradesh.

The TV5 report and its aftermath once again brought the inherent flaws of a free democracy to the fore. In a country like India, where the poor and the illiterate can be maneuvered at will by the unscrupulous political forces either through the lure of lucre or through pure deceit of speech, democracy is nothing but a convenient garb for the powers that be. The power to create and destroy is in the hands of a powerful few who are the darkest minds among the laity. The petty neighborhood gangster stands the biggest chance of getting elected as the leader of a constituency not by dint of his popularity but through his achievements in the nether world of crime. The country is being ruled by a set of politicians, many of whom are criminals who control another set of criminals who control nerve centers of public opinion either by force or through deceit. The majority of “emancipated” citizens are reluctant to exercise their franchise, leading to a state of affairs such that the people of the country are at the mercy of a few goons and street smart politicians who have the dexterity to machinate the democratic norms to their advantage. As such, it is but natural for the poor, the unemployed and the illiterate to take recourse to violence in their efforts to climb the ladder of politics. They jump at every visible opportunity to get a share of the “limelight” in situations that demand unrestrained muscle power. And these are the pockets of public desperation that are spurred on by irresponsible journalism by certain sections of the media lurking under the all-pervasive blanket of “freedom of speech”.

The question that naturally comes to mind is whether the democratic set up in the country is as effective as it should be. Do we have the necessary checks and balances required to prevent unscrupulous politicians and media from hijacking the system and reducing it to a bane rather than a boon to society? Should we not have more stringent penalties for social offenders and abettors of violence such as TV5? Or should we discard our garb of democracy and embrace autocracy for as long as it is required to get us inculcated on the principles of discipline and aesthetic social behaviour? The solution may lie in either of the answers to the above.

Trapped in The Web

With the turn of the century, I graduated from inland letter cards to email; from landlines to mobiles; and from social visits to socia...