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Despicable demonetization debate

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By Sidharth Mishra

In the past fortnight, left to following demonetisation news, as nothing else is getting reported, convalescing on the bed, I have started to ponder on what is making the debate deteriorate to a fathomless sinkhole. If I were to best summarise my feelings, it was encapsulated in a WhatsApp group message, which said, “If you are watching Zee News on status of exchanging cash, there is no problem; if you are watching Aaj Tak, there could be some problem, and if NDTV, the chances of catastrophe are very high.” Then the message went on to pun, “Thus, try and stand in the Zee News queue.”
Then there was this clip going viral of NDTV’s Ravish Kumar being questioned by a young man in Haryana, a ‘Jat Bhai’, for trying to do a negative report on demonetisation. Worse, to overcome his frustration at being outwitted, Kumar, who is celebrated by many, went on air saying that ‘Jat Bhai’ was phoning his friends to come and do whatever to him. Now is this dramatisation of news of any consequence as millions battle crisis to run their daily chores.
The other viral clip is that of the BBC correspondent getting even with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The interview which was supposed to focus on demonetisation was finally promoted as showing Kejriwal as a bully who would shout down the interviewer. The followers of the Notebook know that your reporter, right from Kejriwal’s halcyon days of Anna agitation, has been no admirer of the Delhi Chief Minister. However, the way the interview evolved, I could see the ‘celebrated’ broadcasting house of the once ‘celebrated’ British Empire trying to monetise from the Indian market on the issue of demonetisation.
Why I say so, people may ask. Those who follow Delhi Chief Minister’s media plan would notice that Kejriwal seldom believes in giving exclusives. Thanks to the administrative logjam in the national Capital, his government has nothing much to offer as exclusive. What makes Kejriwal remain in news is his politics. And he doesn’t break news on political front exclusively but through social media, lately through video clips and more frequently through tweets.
Therefore, what was the news that the BBC team of reporters went seeking from Delhi Chief Minister. It would not be an overstatement, they sought sensationalism and he gave it to them in plenty. Though the Chief Minister should realise that BBC managed huge viewership by keeping its image intact and painting him in not too likeable a hue.
The question is who is benefitting from such a media scenario? The answer is not far to seek, of course, the establishment. In the midst of the hue and cry, in the rat race to pump up or dump down the policy, nobody has tried to examine what made the government do it. In 1991, then Prime Minister Chandrashekhar allowed precious gold to be shipped out to save the nation from the economic crisis. Narasimha Rao government which followed Chandrashekhar’s restored stability with a slew of measures leading to the opening up of the economy.
Was such a crisis glaring at the nation, when the Narendra Modi government decided to go for demonetisation? I really do not know, I have tried to find out for myself but am yet to come across any article which doesn’t begin with the indication where it would conclude. Incidentally, I am yet to come across any scholar who has deviated from their known stand vis-à-vis Narendra Modi the politician in their analysis of the demonetisation policy. Unfortunately, scholarship is increasing getting taken over by ideology.
For me, worries are not of my country’s economy. This nation is resilient enough to overcome bigger challenges than those posed by the current situation, I am not even confident to call it a crisis or a humongous opportunity. Rather I have had my share of sadistic pleasure of seeing my real estate developer and iron scrap dealer neighbours with sweaty eyebrows.
We are also enjoying preaching domestic helps and society guards of having money parked safely in bank accounts. I have also shared the pearls of wisdom passed on by my father, like many of my generation, of making investments through post-office. I am also confident that in due course the matter would go out of headlines, overtaken by something else.
My greater worry is one screaming headline getting replaced by another. In deciding the font shape and point size, focussing too much on design, we are losing out on the content of news. Where are the incisive reports which can put a government in the dock? Where are the opposition leaders who can hold the government by scruff by the depth of their argument and commitment to the cause which would go beyond seeking a political harvest?
And where is the government which has the erudition to share the details of the scheme, through its machinery of publicity and not schemes of propaganda. And where are the media helmsmen, who can rise above their act of playing ideological oarsmen.
This could probably be the darkest hour of public dialogue. There is pandemonium in the Parliament, there is cacophony in media. In such times, is there a forum where knowledge can be sought without the fear of it being clouded. I am reminded of Tagore’s prayer, “Where knowledge is free; … Where words come out from the depth of truth; … Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way….”
(Sidharth Mishra is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post.)

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