Media more casteist and communal than the voter?

By: Smitha Mishra
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The heat and dust of elections, especially in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, is settling down and we have the wisdom of hindsight to ponder over what went wrong as much as what went right. Since the purpose of this article is to limit itself to discussing the media coverage of the polls there is more reason to discuss what went wrong than otherwise.

Media more casteist and communal than the voter?

There is neither any need nor benefit of discussing what individuals wrote since that serves no purpose. However, understanding and analysing common trends is certainly the need of the hour. Some things stood out with such frequency that it becomes imperative to raise them here.

Almost every assessment, story, blog, write up on Uttar Pradesh elections started with the high percentage of minority population in the state. It was invariably presumed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was untouchable for this section of the voter. It was concluded on the basis of past voting trends of course. But it did not stop at Muslims. A large chunk of the population, Yadavs, were similarly declared untouchable again on past trends. A big section of Dalits was added to this category. The water tight compartmentalization did not end here. A case was made out that even among upper castes, Most Backward Castes and non-Jatav Dalits, the BJP candidate did not stand a chance if BSP chief Mayawati or Samajwadi Party fielded a candidate from any of these sections of society. Hence proved that BJP was weak and struggling.

As election campaign progressed, new issues and narratives were added on. The first among them being demonetization. Almost every section of the media reported that the traders, always termed as the 'core constituency' of the party, would pull the rug away this time. Such was their anger against demonetization. As an add-on many top notch columnists also reported the rising 'anger' among Brahmins against Narendra Modi's aggressive OBC push.

Anyone who would follow these commentaries and 'reports' would conclude that the odds were heavily stacked against the BJP and there were larger segments of society voting to defeat the party rather than endorse it. We now know the opposite to be true. It was clearly an election where the UP voter was voting to defeat all those who were challenging the BJP. Reams have already been written about the issues and promises which catapulted the party to this historic mandate. They will continue to be written for at least some more time. What should worry all of us here, however, is why were the political pundits so blinded? While there could be individual and perhaps organizational reasons also, the most common factor appears to be the refusal of our experts, commentators and reporters to see the new aspirational Indian trying to break free of the caste, community, religion matrix. While our most celebrated columnists are quick to recognize and write about the mobile phones, laptops, gadgets and branded underclothes being worn by people in the rural hinterland, they fail to gauge what goes on the in the minds of these people when they queue up to vote. Could it be that the political pundits are 'seeing' the change but refusing to 'understand' it...something like those time warp games my son loves to watch on television.

Of course, it would be naïve to say that the aspirational Indian has suddenly appeared now on the horizon. Actually, he and she have been around for quite some time. It is just that the strategists and planners in political parties might be living in a similar time warp refusing to move beyond caste, community, religion to recognise the aspirations of the people. Narendra Modi has fired the imagination and galvanized this new Indian with the promise of an India where politics and elections mean much more than just about who commands what percentage in the caste and community list. Hopefully the news stories, commentaries, reportage on elections would also move beyond these 'percentages'.

(Smita Mishra is an Advisor with Prasar Bharati)

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