Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Elections and the media

A country cannot escape its politics. No individual, no organisation is free from the hovering aura of its national politics.


There is no reason why it should not be this way because, after all, it is the individuals, the groups that make up the bickering parties, the easily-(mis)led voters, the corrupt representatives. Yet, we continue to labour under the delusion that were it not for politics and politicians, we could set things right. That politicians (or/and bureaucrats, or/and corporates, or/and dweeby celebs) are 'them' and we are not like them.

But there is nothing like an election to remind one that one is, in effect, them.

Take, for instance, us. The media that loves to expose and criticise and sit in judgment upon the rich, the poor, the corrupt, the powerful, the unauthorised and the unaligned. The educated, not-quite-toothless, smug media that does not have as excuses such as illiteracy, misinformation, lack of opportunity to debate issues, etc.

Our elections ought to be ideal. Because we would be almost equal - both voters and candidates. The candidates would be one of us and, being a relatively small vote-bank, we ought to know what is worth knowing about these candidates. Since we are not unruly parliamentarians with criminal records, we need not fear having chairs thrown at us during meetings. Since we work in newspapers and magazines and television channels, we are painfully aware of what is really going on and what needs to be done.

The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) held their elections, a few weeks ago.

I am a member of this esteemed group. I became a member because I could afford to, because I was offered an opportunity to, and because I was curious to see where this road led.

For the first year of membership, this road led nowhere. A year later, the membership was renewed - without my having to do lift a finger. All I had to do was pay up - somebody else did everything else. At first, I was impressed. Things do not normally run this smoothly.

I should have known. Within a month of the membership renewal, elections came up.

Until now, I had never been to the DUJ office. I didn't know the address. I didn't know its office-bearers' names. I didn't know what they did, what they stood for, what they accomplished and why. Hell, I'd even forgotten that I belonged there, until it was time to renew membership.

But suddenly, I was reminded that elections are round the corner and I must, absolutely must, vote.

Somebody I know was standing for the elections. This undoubtedly good woman, with a great deal of energy and much resolve, took the trouble to give me a list of candidates that formed 'our' panel.

I asked what this 'panel' was. Turned out, it was almost like a political party. A given faction - in fact, most of them would have some political affiliations - would draw up a list of candidates for all the positions being contested and would corner voters like me, hand over the list, and expect me to vote for them, en masse.

This, naturally, made me very uncomfortable. Not only did I not know anybody, except this good energetic woman, on this panel, but I was not given any reason for voting for the panel except that it was 'ours' (am still trying to figure out what I have done or said that might have led these good people to believe I was on their side).

But wait, things got more interesting.

The same evening, I received a phone call from undoubtedly good woman2, from another faction, with similar-but-slightly-different political affiliations, offering me another panel. She is a nice, simple soul and so, I asked her for a list. Good woman2 took the trouble to have it couriered to me immediately.

Again, I was offered no incentive to vote for this panel, barring that it was 'ours'.

I felt gratified that so many people thought I was on their side; at least, they didn't think I was against them. I also felt somewhat relieved - I had two lists of candidates to choose from. The trouble was - I had no basis for choosing.

There was the option of voting with my feet and thereby, abstaining. But I was, like I said, curious. And also, in no mood to have to explain my absence to two good women of opposing factions.

Also, this was the time when I began to receive some rather delicious gossip about the media circus. There were reports of hooliganism at the press club. For those elections, I believe, some of the candidates were not even real journalists, but had somehow managed to acquire a press card. One woman was the victim of a smut-campaign. She was already an office-bearer but being discredited for potential re-election by allegations of tardiness (the lady made out her report; that report, somehow, disappeared, and when the big annual report was circulated, the relevant pages were left blank). There were also whispers of 'but oh, she drinks!'.

The morning of the elections, I got two reminder phone calls. When I finally made my way to the DUJ office, it seemed like a circus out there. The lane outside was a throng of anxious candidates and hanger-abouts, banners and pamphlets fluttered about and gol market's pillars were covered with the less-than-delicious mugs of 'independent' candidates. As soon as they discovered that I was there to vote, they rushed up, thrust pamphlets into my hands and yelled 'vote for me!'.

One oily, greasy man joined his hands in a 'namaste', dipping his head a few times, grinning his 'I am your candidate' grin. I made up my mind NOT to vote for him. Just like that.

One man managed to add another line - 'Vote for me. I'm young. I want to change things. These old fogies won't let us young people bring any change.'

I would have liked to ask him what he wanted to change, and how, but by this time, I was spotted by faction 2, claimed as 'our' voter, and whisked to the registration desk. There, faction 1 awaited me. I was winked at, told 'you know what to do, don't you?' and my back was patted encouragingly.

Briefly, for about two and a half seconds, I was stopped at the grimy staircase, to say hello to the chairman-candidates of both factions. I wanted to stop and chat for a bit - ask them what their differences were and what they wanted to do. At the very least, I wanted to extract a promise that they'd do something about the spitting and filth at the press club.

But there was no time. Next thing I knew, I was in a room with a voting sheet in my hand, sitting in a corner with my face to the wall, staring at name after name. Names that meant nothing. I might as well have played akkadbakkadbambebo. In the general tradition of secret ballots, I won't say whether I did, or didn't.

However, later, I spoke separately to both good women, asked them why this was such a random exercise. Why weren't the candidates introduced to the members beforehand, with definite agendas and goals? Why wasn't there at least a website with such information?

I was told, summarily, that the DUJ is an active body, that it holds protests about relevant subjects, that it is my own fault that I have not found the time to join them at any such protest. However, if I wished, I would be put on the mailing list and sent newsletters etc.

So far, all I've got is a brief note mentioning the names of the winners.

No vision. No agenda. No promises. No outlining of plans. And the press club probably still stinks.

Who was it who said something about people getting the leaders they deserve?


Reena Mathews said...

Apologize for bringing up the old topic but had to say it -
As a reply to someone else’s comment to the previous post U said, “wrong is wrong, isnt it”
Then how do u justify ur pro-reservation views for our ‘screwed up’ education system?

R.E.B.E.L said...

Well, politics is politics wherever it is.. The word has actually grown to imply a negative connotation nowadays!

Rabin said...

A sugar coated pill. Made for good reading. Wonder why people fall over each other to become office bearers so that they can 'serve others'?

reena, sorry to butt in on this but people are entitled to their opinions, aren't they? Whether it is pro something or anti something.

Hiren said...

I would rate this as one of the best writeups that I have read in over a year of blogging. What you have said about leaders in the end is true but the tendency to see selfish interest first before serving has become a national epidemic. Eveybody wants to make a fast buck or get to positions of power without caring a damn about service or agenda. Part of the problem lies in the fact that people take their professions for granted; they think that it is a money making machine. IF only they understood the plight of those unfortunate people who have to live a lifetime of misery in the wrong professions- Make your passion your profession.
Fantastic write up. Keep writing

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