The prominent, and mostly predictable, participants come in many categories. You must expect to encounter in every program of TV polemics at least one from each of the two squads entrusted with media management - Manish Tewari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Jayanthi Natarajan of the Congress on one side and redoubtable Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Tarun Vijay, Nirmala Sitharaman and Shahnawaz Hussain of the main opposition party on the other. The six-strong BJP brigade has an obvious edge over the Congress trio
If you want to see 'democracy' in action, you will find it in India's television studios. In clearer terms, if you want a demonstration of the system, where public debates of issues are programmed to serve the interests of corporates and diversionary politics, you must watch our small-screen talk shows.
With honorable exceptions that only prove the rule, the leading TV channels only serve as laboratories of such a guided democracy. They do so when they treat viewers to endless discussions with the same set of 'experts' and spokespersons on matters ranging from the breaking news of the moment to bigger and more basic questions seen as confronting an 'emerging superpower' besieged by enemies, both external and internal.
The shows do have a space reserved for dissenters. But it is suggested in a not-so-subtle a manner that they represent only a minority, that their comments are aired only for their curiosity value. The occasional notes of discord they strike are meant to highlight the otherwise harmonious outlook the shows offer.
The prominent, and mostly predictable, participants come in many categories. The most familiar of these faces, perhaps, belong to the official spokespersons of the main forces of India's own bipartisan politics. You must expect to encounter in every program of TV polemics at least one from each of the two squads entrusted with media management - Manish Tewari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Jayanthi Natarajan of the Congress on one side and redoubtable Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Tarun Vijay, Nirmala Sitharaman and Shahnawaz Hussain of the main opposition party on the other. The six-strong BJP brigade has an obvious edge over the Congress trio. The ultra-nationalism practiced by the channels in many cases and on many occasions adds to the merely numerical advantage.
After some practice, you know what they are going to say. The Congress spokespersons can handle most questions by taking the line of 'let the law take its course' and declaiming on 'coalition dharma (code)' if asked about the actions of the party's allies in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Their BJP counterparts have a tougher balancing act to perform.
They have to keep mourning the demolition of Babri Masjid, for example, but reiterating the demand for building a temple on its ruins. They have to disapprove of Varun Gandhi's viciously communal speech at an election rally and also defend him from criticism by 'pseudo-secular' opponents. They have to slam the UPA government as a stooge of the US and also protect the 'strategic partnership' initiated by a BJP-headed regime during the George Bush era.
The famous six provide only formal representation for the BJP in the televised tirades. Add to them the editor of a national daily, who is part of the BJP group in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of India's parliament). Add to them, too, at least two other journalists of no official affiliation to the party, but of undoubtedly close association with it. One of them started as a crusader from Kolkata against Bangladeshi 'infiltrators' and now a pretender to political liberalism that can coexist with communalism for the cause of 'cultural nationalism'. The other is a Tamil editor from Chennai who is the trusted voice of the south for the TV barons and bosses.
Add to them all some of the shrillest anchors. Their vocal chords add considerably to the weight of the far right in the forensics, even when they feign the role of moderators conducting themselves without fear or favor. The high-decibel head of a channel associated with a major newspaper has acquired a particularly notable reputation in this regard, all the more for his anxiety to outdo competitors in crudely aggressive nationalism.
Finally, add to the far-right talk-show phalanx the studio audiences as well. The debate-watchers from the section of the population, more concerned with 'double-digit growth' than with divisive politics, can be counted upon to applaud the right participants at the right places. They can be expected to clap and cheer, for instance, when an eloquent plea is made for hanging anti-national elements with no undue regard for human rights, or unleashing the might of the state on all those miserable rebels against socio-economic injustice.
To sum up, the essential qualification for aspiring participants in these shows is an enduring faith in the following axioms:
my country, right or wrong, especially if wrong;
no noose is terrible news;
we need bigger and better bombs;
the "Hindu' terror is less heinous than the Islamic version, if not downright holy;
no banana republic, only a brutal regime;
Arundhati Roy and others of her ilk must be incarcerated for life;
what's good for the Confederation of Indian Industry is good for the country; .and (last but not the least)
what's bad for the tribal poor and other twerps is even better for the country.
J. Sri Raman is a freelance journalist and a peace activist, based in Chennai, India. He writes regularly for US web journal Truthout. He also contributes to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Chicago, US and the Japanese newspaper Chugoku Shimbun, Hiroshima.
He likes to think of himself as an India-Pakistan journalist. He contributes a fortnightly column to the Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan. He also writes for the Tribune, Chandigarh, The Hindu, Chennai and The Hindustan Times, Delhi, India. He is also author of the book Flashpoint published by Common Courage Press, USA.
He is the convener of the Journalists Against Nuclear Weapons and the Movement Against Nuclear Weapons, Chennai. He is a member of the National Coordination Committee of India’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.