Devils in God’s own country

BY Firos| IN Regional Media | 23/02/2004
Kerala’s media is guilty of giving undue coverage to the farce continually enacted by Karunakaran, Muraleedharan and Antony.

                         (Reprinted  from Meantime)


B F Firos

 Call it monkey business or cat and mouse games. For the last several months, Kerala’s prime TV time and front-page newspaper columns have been occupied by the mumbo-jumbo politics being played by some leaders in the Congress party. The main actors in the political (?) show are: senior Congress leader K Karunakaran, his son Muraleedharan and Chief Minister A K Antony.  

The papers and channels in the State want us to believe that what has been going on in Kerala is a tug of war between the father-son duo and Antony. The political yarn unravels like this: Karunakaran raises the bnner of "revolt" (one of the many clichés being used by our newspapers to mention such political fights) and demands the removal of the Chief Minister. Karunakaran’s main complaint is that his ‘I’ faction (‘I’ stands for Indira Gandhi to whom Karunakaran re-affirms his loyalty day and night) is being sidelined and that his MLAs weren’t given enough representation in the Antony-led UDF Ministry. Each utterance of Karunakaran is hair-split in the media by analysts, ‘special correspondents’ and the like.       

The media fondly christens Karunakaran as "leader". Wherever possible, this pronoun is used unreservedly as if this is the most suitable way of referring to Karunakaran. In their haste to paint Karunakaran as an immaculate leader, these writers and columnists are committing the serious sin of whitewashing the past atrocities of this man. Infamous for serious human rights violations during the Emergency period, Karunakaran is someone who climbed the political ladder by manipulation and intrigue, and it helped that public memory is always woefully short.

 The father-son duo of Karunakaran and Muraleedharan have faced several charges of corruption and nepotism. But nowhere in these recent reports, these facts have found any kind of mention. Instead, the newspapers and channels outdo each other to accord an aura of acceptance and respect to their brand of politics. The media outfits go overboard in covering anything the father and son would have to say, which is a sad reflection of how Malayali politics and journalism have degenerated to the crass level of personality worship, and that too of the dirty kind.

It is not that these journalists are unaware of the frivolousness of all these father-son stage shows. Even the politically naïve knows that the likes of Karunakaran are fighting not for any great ideology or cause, but purely for their own gains. But the way the media projects their stories, it is as if they are the most important stories to be told, as if these are the stories the readers are dying to hear about. But then, it is the same media that dictates and fuels reader interest. The importance of stories is not decided by the stories themselves but by the interests of the powers-that-be in the editorial rooms.  

Every other day, the papers and channels would come out with main news on the Karunakaran-Antony spat. ‘Special correspondents’ cover the latest in the saga and ‘exclusive’ analyses on the likely fallout of the fight has become a daily and nauseating dish. One day it would be about the "unhappiness" of the "veteran leader" over Antony’s rule, and on another, it would be about a date that the "leader" has set for a formal split and a new party. This goes on… Such statements and more statements by the main actors would be followed by assumptions and deductions by reporters about the likely ending of the ruckus. Here, the eagerness of these journalists in playing to Karunakaran’s ego is astounding. In this mad race to capture whatever Karunakaran and Murali has to say, and what stance the Congress "High Command" would take on the issue, matters of national and international importance are often discarded.  

The high point of the drama came when Karunkaran--as the papers said in ‘banner’ headlines--announced the formation of a new party. But Muraleedharan stayed away, expressing unflinching loyalty to Sonia Gandhi. So we thought the whole drama had come to some sort of an end. But that was wishful thinking. The same media on the following days, acted as if no such new party was formed by Karunakaran. The last, surely, has not been heard about the issue. 

Here it would be amiss not to talk about the Congress "High Command"--the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the whole Congress party. But alas, going by the happenings in the Karunakaran-Antony tiff, it becomes clear that the "High Command" is such a weak-kneed set-up that stands baffled and powerless before the pranks of three egoistic leaders. The Malayalam media covers this "High Command" (read Sonia Gandhi) with special reports from New Delhi describing the High Command "monitoring" the "developments" in Kerala. In some cases, readers and viewers are ‘informed’ that the High Command shudders before Karunakaran and his son. One paper went to the extent of calling Karunakaran the "I Command" (referring to the "leader’s" group).  

What has been going on in the State of Kerala is a classic case of how petty politics can eat into the main issues. Reams of papers and prime-time TV have been wasted over the ego and greed of some politicians. By doing so, the media is setting a bad precedent; a precedent whereby ego-driven personality politics is given undue importance while major issues are pushed aside. It is time for a break.



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