On Thursday morning when I logged into my Facebook account, I saw some of my friends from the northeast expressing their annoyance on the wall. What was it? They said the national media of this country although claims itself to be national, but actually it is more concerned with what's happening at the heart of the nation and not the periphery. They were angry because the media channels were mostly concerned with the Union Budget which was to be tabled by P Chidambaram and not the three assembly polls in the three states in the northeastern India, namely, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland whose results came out on the same day.
The emotional outburst is justified. Our national media is always reluctant to look beyond West Bengal in the east even though on paper, stress is often made on a Look East Policy. The three latest assembly elections are part of India's own politics and were being supervised the Election Commission of India. Even the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, were involved in those elections, the former to a greater extent than the latter. In fact, the Congress is a part of the ruling formation in Meghalaya and is in the opposition in Tripura.
If 12-year CM Narendra Modi gets 24X7 media focus, then why not 15-year CM Manik Sarkar?
The poll results in Tripura were significant for the Left Front succeeded in protecting its remaining bastion in the country. The struggle of a beleaguered Congress against an entrenched Left Front regime led by a popular chief minister, Manik Sarkar, in Tripura resembles the situation in Gujarat where it consistently fails to defeat the personalised rule of Narendra Modi. The three assembly polls in northeast showed how anti-incumbency failed to make a mark this time. But despite all these factors, the northeastern assembly polls remained largely ignored, at least in terms of real-time coverage.
What's national about our national media?
It feels shameful when one of our frontline media personality says that absence of enough OB vans leads to under-coverage of any event unfolding in those parts of the country (if at all they are a part though). The media goes overboard when a woman is brutally raped and assaulted in a moving bus in the national capital but an equivalent reaction is never seen when a woman journalist is shot dead in Manipur. If Nirbhaya of Delhi becomes an icon (even Chidambaram dedicated a fund in her name), then why not the Thanjma Manoramas or Irom Sharmilas? The media doesn't follow up on the case of a gang molestation on the streets of Guwahati in Assam. It takes a Mary Kom to establish the geographical identity of her state before the rest of the country.
North-east: Importance overlooked
The actual violence in Assam fails to find any immediate concern in the power circles but when an reactionary violence takes place in Mumbai, the media finds a great opportunity to justify its ‘secular' credentials. It covers elections in Gujarat with over-enthusiasm for it offers an attractive case of Hindu-Muslim polarisation and hence an opportunity to take moral high grounds. But there is nothing to speak for in Tripura where a marriage between a strong ideology and economic modernisation is gradually taking place.
Neither the border issues between Meghalaya and Assam nor the
crucial mining of uranium in Meghalay find any relevance in any
media programme. Not to speak about the perennial issue of
militancy. And yet, we expect a peaceful northeast free from all
violence and insurgency.
If budget is important, so are polls, wherever they occur
This is not to say that budget is insignificant. But there is a feeling is that the media outlook dominated by the typical middle-class perspective is insensitive enough towards issues relevant at the ‘border' areas of the nation. And while the media remains largely insensitive, the rulers in New Delhi assume a colonial stance vis-à-vis the northeast, something which was seen during the British days. If elections are made to look like matters of less importance, then there is little hope that the border of the nation will ever be integrated into the so-called mainland India and hence peace and development will be allowed an opportunity to prevail.
Why we discourage the north-eastern people who keep great faith on democracy?
The people of northeast keep faith in the democratic process and that is reflected by the huge turnout at the elections, compared to many other parts of the country. If they are ready to come out in favour of democracy, why do we discourage it?
We are not doing a great favour to the northeastern region by staging elections there. It is our responsibility to take care of its well-being through democracy as the means. We must remember that the northeast is a sensitive region where the idea called ‘India' is yet to establish itself firmly and it can be done only through practising democracy. Till now, it's just a historical legacy which has kept the apparently non-conforming entities together. But we are not bothered to cement the links.
This is a tragedy.