Media witch-hunt for the Obama moment!

BY MANOJ KEWALRAMANI

Something’s just not right with the Indian media.

On the one hand, we cringe with disgust at Raj Thackeray’s identity politics as tearing the Republic apart, abhor the fact of vote-bank politics and communal tensions and more-than-politely, yet tactfully, disagree with reservations – particularly in the private sector.

On the other, we shy away from what really needs to be done to rid our socio-political structures of these ugly truths and rather prefer to pander to tokenisms in our debating discourse on TV. Undoubtedly grand debates with hosts ranging from rabid rabble-rousers to patronizing patriarchs in prime-time slots are better at attracting text messages, web votes and pandering to the ‘public need’ for entertainment.

In short, we have a nauseatingly recurring disease of missing the woods for the trees.

While reserving a cost-benefit analysis of this “interactive trend” for a later date, let me substantiate my argument with the Indian media’s understanding of Barack Obama’s historic election victory.

As much as Barack Obama’s win has fascinated India, the media has merely focused on one fact – his race and therefore so-called “minority” status. That has launched, with incredulous rancor, the hunt for a Bhartiya Obama who would be the winner of the single-greatest five-yearly reality TV event.

“Since 1947, India has NOT had a single Muslim or Dalit Prime Minister,” exclaimed some commentators, while lambasting constant Brahmin representation at 7 Race Course Road. Others drew parallels with UP Chief Minister Mayawati, clearly keen to be PM, and the controversial Gujarat leader Narendra Modi, who belongs to the very backward ‘ganchi’ caste.

Ah celebrity culture, how we crucify perspective for hits, views and eyeballs!

In this parochial diatribe, what was brushed under the carpet was the “change” that America displayed and that Indian mainstream discourse has allowed to be shrouded under the fog of noise.

Obama’s win is not historic from the prism of ‘Oh a black (minority) candidate won’ but rather in terms of how a substantial section of America voted for someone who doesn’t want to play “minority-majority politics.”

Just a sample of that was the landmark “perfect union” speech delivered in the city of brotherly love where Obama called, urged African-Americans and whites to understand the underlying and legitimate reasons for anger on all sides and address them through investing in America and not narrow identities.

Apart from proving himself as stronger on the issues – economy, foreign policy and healthcare – his appeal and charm was not in being black or not being black enough, but rather in being American – it was an appeal for renewing the fundamental premise of the world’s oldest democracy, a sense of shared destiny.

So for those seeking an Obama moment in India, the first step is to alter the language of our politics, and in that the media should be the frontrunner – for this change will have to be a bottom-up phenomenon. Wasn’t that the Obama call?

The answer lies in addressing and redressing the wounds of our past while realizing that we need not continue to live as slaves to that history. We need to shred papers and scripts that urge us to discuss tokenisms like the need for a Dalit, Muslim, Yadav, Protestant, Catholic, Bihari, Marathi, Bengali, Brahmin PM, etc, while understanding the concerns of each of these and other groupings as Indians.

The dialogue should centre on not a change where we treat the state not as a community playground, but an institution that stands for good governance, security and prosperity for all – irrespective of who sits at the top.

The Obama moment is not when one or the other community gets a PM, but rather when it doesn’t matter to which community the PM belongs.

(Manoj Kewalramani is a guest writer with Canary Trap. He has worked with top media houses like NDTV before becoming an Independent Blogger and Writer.)