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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Don’t ‘Angry’ the Common Man



I wonder if Arnab Goswami has seen Chennai Express. If he has, he didn’t seem to have taken Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue, “Don’t underestimate the power of an ordinary man”, seriously. Or maybe its the other way around, and he overestimated his own and his channels ability to control and direct viewers minds. That’s possibly why Times Now moved from reporting the narrative to trying to script it. With provocative hashtags scrolling tantalizingly across the screens during prime time news hour urging viewers to tweet and join the feeding frenzy in whatever he considered ‘outrage of the day’. Very often during the live news show itself he would proudly proclaim how their hashtag was ‘trending at the top’ on twitter. While all channels also employ similar methods, none could match this aggression.

But twice in the recent past the events should have, one hopes, caused a rethink amongst these apparent influencers of public opinion. First occasion was when the Indian cricket team lost in the World Cup semi-finals. If the anguish of a cricket crazed nation packing away its firecrackers wasn’t enough, Times Now decided that our team had not merely lost a match, it had done so in a shameful manner. So the hashtag promoted was #ShameInSydney. But the common twitterati begged to differ, and the result was #ShameOnTimesnow became the top trend with over 2 Lakh tweets within a short time instead. The same thing happened when Times Now took on Gen VK Singh over his obviously sarcastic observation on the differential excitement amongst the media between his attendance of the Pakistan National Day vis a vis his personal presence during evacuation of Indian citizens from the war zone in Yemen. Instead of the channel sponsored #VKDisaster, #HatsOffGeneral and #Presstitutes started trending. The graph below and accompanying figures are unambiguous about the resulting direction of the winds of public opinion.

 

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Availability of information from a plethora of sources and ability to express opinions without barriers has empowered the common man like never before. Unfortunately, conventional mindsets across organizations, including political parties and media, continue to ‘underestimate’. In the elections this blunder led the Congress to its biggest ever electoral debacle, and the media to the embarrassment of making predictions that were nowhere near the results. Yet it is amusing to watch them continue living up to Einstein’s definition of insanity. So painting incidents of vandalism and petty crimes against minority institutions as increasing intolerance against minorities is just one of the many lies that media has been telling us since the Modi government took over. The aim, it seems, is to influence public opinion and dent the popularity that the prime minister enjoys.

The modus operandi of spreading such canards has become predictable by now. It consists of making outrageous allegations aimed at painting the present government as dangerous fundamentalist hardliners. It doesn’t matter if the stories are based on vague attributions to unnamed sources, or if liberties are taken with complete disclosure of facts to suit the narrative.

Take the case of the alleged proposal by the Modi government to rename Delhi. Yes, you heard it right. So if you read the article below (HT City 8 Apr 2015), it says, “our capital may get not one but two new names, as per a recent proposal by the Narendra Modi led government”. Lutyen’s Delhi is going to be renamed as ‘Imperial City of Delhi’ and Old Delhi will be known as ‘Imperial City of Shahjahanabad’. Of course, the source of this information, or any details about the origin and status of the alleged proposal is nowhere to be found. Rest of the story is filled with outraged reactions and tweets against this appalling move.

 

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A cursory google search reveals the facts are slightly different. The story is obviously based on a slightly more detailed report along similar lines in the Hindu dated 30th March, but has been suitably modified to generate the desired outrage. A few more links on the same search page bring out the complete facts, which are as follows:-

  • The renaming referred to is for nomenclature of heritage zones as notified in Master Plan of Delhi 2021, not official renaming of the city itself a la Bombay to Mumbai.
  • So the zone now referred to as ‘Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone’ in the plan will be called ‘Imperial City of Delhi’ and the zone covering Old Delhi will be called ‘Imperial City of Shahjahanabad’.
  • The proposal has been forwarded by Delhi government to the DDA a few weeks back, to amend the nomenclature in the master plan.
  • This has been necessitated because the dossier submitted to UNESCO seeking heritage tags for these zones refer to them as such, thus creating a disparity between the dossier and the master plan. This was observed by the UNESCO team which visited in Oct 2014 to finalize the grant of heritage status.
  • The dossier in question was submitted by INTACH, which is a “nonprofit NGO registered under the Societies Registration Act”. It was submitted in 2013, well before the Modi government came to power.

Lenin may have been right when he said “A lie told often enough becomes the truth” , but that was well before the internet and social media gave us the power to discern and discover for ourselves. It’s about time this realization dawned on those still trying to peddle half-truths and sensationalism in the dogged hope of proving him right.

But, like Rowdy Rathore says, ‘Don’t Angry Me”.

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