Millennium Post

Power to people, once more

It could even happen in China. The last weekend saw China’s local government authorities in the southern Chinese city of Heshan cancelling plans to build the country’s largest uranium processing plant, a day after hundreds of people had demonstrated demanding the $6 bn project be scrapped. On 13 July, the Heshan government said in a press conference, and a newspaper reported, that it would cancel the project due to ‘opposition from every level of society’.

There is restlessness all over the world seen through popular protests. China’s succumb to the mass protest on 12 July outside government offices in Jiangmen against the uranium processing plant is one such instance. The protests were strong enough for the authorities to move post haste and cancel the project. Even a single party dictatorship is finding it difficult to ignore the popular voice.
People everywhere are now increasingly coming out in the open to express their resentments against the authorities. Even when the mainstream media side with the governments and try to suppress the protesting voices, the protesters are having their way. One reason for the retreat of the governments and their pet media could be the rising penetration of the social media. Chinese citizens, for instance, are increasingly taking to the streets, a movement made possible by smartphones and social media – as well as their adeptness at skirting censors’ controls said the newspaper.

Social media might be an instrument for spreading the message but even without the benefit of the same Mamata Banerjee’s Singur movement succeeded. People of not only Singur or its neighbourhood but entire West Bengal came out in the open and ousted a well entrenched political party and its 35 year long government. What swayed the public opinion so bitterly against the state government there was the cause. The high handedness of the state and collusion with big money did not go down well with the ordinary people. Media which was overwhelmingly in favour of the Tata’s factory in Singur too had to swallow its pride and queue behind Mamata Banerjee. Grudgingly though. No wonder when the nation’s Apex court asked the Tatas plainly why couldn’t they hand over the land back to the government of West Bengal, media found the news insignificant enough to push it to smallest possible prints.

The mischief of the mainstream media in parroting the concerns of the high and mighty has gone beyond the tolerance level of the ordinary gullible common men. One interesting example is the recent apology posted by a large English language daily in India. The newspaper had cheekily played up an innocuous report from Uttarakhand so as to embarrass the rising political figure of India, the Gujarat Chief minister Narendra Modi. The report, as expected, created a barrage of comments from every conceivable Modi-baiters on earth. Finally, nearly three weeks later, the newspaper retracted, in a convoluted way, their report. Will people trust the newspaper ever again?
Trust deficit leads to people coming in the open and protesting on streets. In West Bengal there were many instances when people returned copies of a leading vernacular daily for what they felt biased report on popular resentment against the then state government. English language newspapers cater to mostly privileged class who do not take to the streets unless their personal interests get affected; the leading English daily thus may get away parroting their biased reportage for some time but can they escape popular protests? By cooking coloured news such media are sowing the seeds of chaos. Shouldn’t the regulators like Press Council take note? The problem with regulators lies with the people occupying such august posts. Most of them reach that level by virtue of their subservient service to the authorities and big money. There are umpteen such examples in India today. Take appointments in crucial constitutional posts – governors of states for instance. When such servile people occupy these posts they end up looking at their benefactors and decide what suit them. Evidently common men lose patience and take to the streets.

What is curious is that in undemocratic China the authorities realise the problem and take corrective steps before the same goes out of control. But in India, ‘arguably’ the largest democracy in the world, those in authority fail to heed the warning signs. They are collectively destroying the institutions, which safeguard democracy. Take another case in point – how India’s parliament is run. Here the practice is to have the monsoon session of the house in the first week of August. But in order to launch a pet programme on the birthday of Rajiv Gandhi, this year the session will be delayed. Clearly the speaker, by deciding to side with the whims of the government, is effectively weakening the institution. When one occupies a constitutional post one must behave impartially.
What even an undemocratic China can understand, curiously India fails to accept. The feudal mindset prevailing even seventy years after independence is busy manipulating the institutions, which are expected to safeguard democracy. If the same continues unchecked, India, already in economic distress, will face irreversible social problem. The signs are already there in the jungles of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The nation must act before it is too late.

The author is a communication professional
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