Media gets it wrong on Republic Day

27 Jan,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


Republic Day is not about freedom from colonial rule, it’s about the Constitution and the way we rule ourselves. How did the media respond? After 63 years, maybe they feel that there’s little left to say, even though we have, in 2011, suffered a number of crises that examine or question our schedule of rights, responsibilities, freedoms and systems.


Even the advertisers got it wrong. Bank of America, for instance, talked about some medieval version of the Panchatantra that they had helped restore. Wonderful news though that is, it has nothing whatsoever to do with India becoming a Republic. The Google doodle was some very cute cavorting elephants – but cute does not quite cover what Republic Day means.


Anna Hazare used the opportunity to declare that “gram sabhas” are more important than the Lok Sabha. Luckily Mumbai is newspaper-free on January 27 or Hazare’s urban supporters would have been really confused. He was not, you see, talking about a sprouted moong salad or any other health food. What he means is that village assemblies are more important and should be more powerful than the elected representatives chosen by systems laid down in our very carefully constructed Constitution. As The Times of India’s Hyderabad edition put it, “Struggling to stay relevant amid signs of growing public indifference, Anna Hazare…” The Deccan Chronicle’s Hyderabad edition, it must be pointed out, did not bother to front-page Hazare archaic notions.


But what the DC does have is an interesting story about how Nitin Gadkari, BJP party president, has changed his tune a bit about Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for prime minister. Now he says Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are in the race too. Perhaps the BJP, which is so enamoured of the US presidential system, now wants to internally implement the US political party system for choosing presidential candidates. It will be great fun if they do it – Modi, Swaraj and Jaitley locked in public fights with each other for the privilege of running for prime minister. Can you imagine the amount of fodder for our TV anchors?


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Talking of TV (as I ran through the channels on Republic Day), the terrible story of a battered baby at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences dominated the headlines, together with the Indian cricket teams continuing travails in Australia. Virat Kohli’s century in Adelaide got some accolades but it was mainly doom and gloom. The battered baby got front page lead in the Delhi edition of the Hindustan Times, so can I forecast a more “people-friendly” 2012 in the media?


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For the first time in several years, the Republic Day awards did not cause media hysteria. If Sachin Tendulkar had got his 100th 100th, the fact that he did not get a Bharat Ratna may have been a matter of huge melodrama. As it happens, no one got a Bharat Ratna.


My only observation here is possibly a very visible parochialism where newspapers were happiest about awards given to local people. Now not only do you have to be jingoistic about India as a media person, you also have to fall prey to all the foibles of regional identity politics. I hope that’s not a prediction!


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