Manufacturing Consent

BY Naseer A Ganai| IN Media Practice | 02/05/2009
If the participation of the people in the J&K assembly elections was a vote for India why is the non-participation this time being attributed to broken promises as reported by Greater Kashmir, poll fatigue as reported by the Himalayan Mail, lack of z

A large number of people participated in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections in the closing months of 2008. In the first phase, when despite the Mumbai carnage large queues were seen outside the polling booths in Bandipora and Sumbal Sonawari irrespective of the boycott call by the pro-freedom groups, the media described it as defiance of separatists. It was one of the big events of the year. It was reported widely and debated for over a month.  The target of the debate was pro-freedom groups that had given the boycott call.


On one TV programme Barkha Dutt of NDTV asked a separatist leader whether the time had come for them to read the writing on the wall. Some New Delhi based news channels described the voting as a "vote for India." Prannoy Roy of NDTV in a TV discussion on the Kashmir voting sought a reaction from the Pakistani senator Mushahid Hussain from Islamabad. Prannoy argued that now Kashmiris have come out to vote it is clear message to all on what they are for. Secular India!


Mushahid retorted "if you are so confident about it, let us have plebiscite in Kashmir tomorrow." The comment annoyed Roy and he responded while saying you are harping about the same thing. Mushahid just laughed.


Other news channels adopted the same line that participation of people in elections was the writing on the wall for the pro-freedom groups.  However the correspondents based in Kashmir for various news channels described the voting in Kashmir as a vote for development and local issues. But the line was not accepted by the New Delhi-based media and they continued propagate the theory that people defied the separatists. Fine. Everyone has right to have his viewpoint even if the ground realities contradict it.


In the Parliamentary elections that are currently on the situation was not different. The South Kashmir Islamabad constituency was first to go for polls. In the Assembly election there was a large participation of people from the South.  As in in the  Assembly elections the incorrigible pro-freedom groups and the High Court Bar Association (HCBA) had given a boycott call. But they were not given any level playing field. They were not.  If in a democracy one has right to campaign and ask people to vote and elect him another has equal right to ask people not to participate. But Kashmir is always different. Those who call for voting enjoy the full protection of the State and those who call for non-participation are under house arrest or in jails. It happened under Governor¿s rule and it happening now as well.  


Now back to the polls. Surprisingly, there was less participation of people in the poll process. The Tral constituency remained in news in the Assembly election due to 48.78 percent polling. This time the Election Commission says there was 2.8 percent polling in Tral. In other constituencies the long queues were not seen anywhere except in Noorabad.


In Pampore this time it was three percent poling in contrast to 43.42 percent in the Assembly elections. But the media whether local or New Delhi based didn¿t describe less voting this time as a result of the boycott call. Instead it argued why people didn¿t come to vote and cited several reasons except the boycott call. Greater Kashmir carried a front page three column story by Javid Malik (May 1, 2009) with the headline "Not Boycott Call, Broken Promises Keep Voters Away." The Himalayan Mail (May 1, 2009) had lead news story "Poll Fatigue Keeps Voters Away." The Times of India carried story about the elections in Kashmir on page I, on May 1, 2009 with headline "Voters Lacked Zeal in Anantnag." The Daily Excelsior carried the lead on May 1, 2009, ¿Voters Lukewarm Response to Elections." The Delhi-based media adopted the same line and said the response to the elections was lukewarm. 


Now here are some questions. If the participation of the people in the Assembly elections was vote for India why is the non-participation this time being attributed to broken promises as reported by Greater Kashmir, poll fatigue as reported by the Himalayan Mail, lack of zeal as the Times of India wants  us to believe. Why? Why it is not other way round? There is no doubt that there was large number of participation in the Assembly elections and the response to the huge participation was projected in manner first by the media and later by the State as "peoples¿ final verdict about the Kashmir dispute." The State and the political parties were not quick to react to the participation of people in the elections and didn¿t come up with inferences within hours after the polling started in the Assembly elections in the State.


But the media was ecstatic, particularly Delhi-based news channels. They were first to describe the elections as "vote for India." And then the State reacted welcoming the participation of the people in the poll process and the Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi while inaugurating the first international flight from Sheikh-ul-Alam Airport (Srinagar Airport was to be renamed as Sheik-ul Alam Airport, but it was not) said that neighbors (Pakistan) should learn a lesson from participation of people in the elections. In fact the Congress in its manifesto describes the participation of people in the Assembly elections in the State of Jammu and Kashmir as one of its major achievements. But the State and the politicians should be given credit fort not going overboard soon after the 66 percent participation of the people in rural belts during the Assembly elections. The Srinagar city, towns including Islamabad, Varmul, Sopur saw far less participation in the Assembly election.


If objectivity and fairness is the criterion in reporting events then it seems we media persons are selectively objective and selectively fair in reporting. If the poll participation was news during the Assembly elections and the media was quick describe it as the failure of the boycott call of the pr-freedom groups, why the non-participation this time failed to make any news and if it made why it was it attributed to the luke warm response and the broken promises. Why?  Are there different standards of objectivity?


If during the Assembly elections the media presumed that it was the vote against the pro-freedom groups and in favour of secular democratic India, why has the media stopped presuming anything this time? Instead it has started looking for hardcore facts that could be responsible for the low percentage of the voting. Why were these facts were not sought during the Assembly elections? The participation or non-participation in the Parliamentary elections should make bigger news and should be debated because the here the vote means a vote for Indian parliament, that means a vote for India. And the general perception is that the Assembly is all about the local issues and development. Moreover, the Assembly elections were debate over a month on New Delhi-based TV channels despite the Mumbai carnage and a war like situation between India and Pakistan. Why are the parliamentary elections not being debated? Is media manufacturing consent by giving two different reasons for the same process? The answer is big yes.




( The author is senior correspondent with Greater Kashmir)






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