The following is an actual line from Aaj Tak’s coverage of the Bharat Bandh yesterday:
“भारत बंद का पंजाब से हरियाणा तक असर देखने को मिल रहा है” (Effect of Bharat Bandh is visible from Punjab to Haryana).
I do not wish to be too hard on the poor intern who wrote these words, probably not realizing the irony. In fact, I feel bad for the big media channels yesterday. For days, they had been put on notice by liberal conscience keepers of our great nation.
“Farmers” are protesting, the conscience keepers had said. They had taunted the TV channels endlessly for their supposed obsession with the dark underbelly of Bollywood. They wanted to see coverage of “real issues.” Most of all, on Sep 25, when farmers all over India were supposed to rise up in a day of rage against the new farming bills passed by the government.
In doing so, the liberal conscience keepers set up the media to cover the biggest non-event of the year. All through the day, the media was reduced to putting out images of dozen or so people here and there in Punjab. A handful of people protesting in areas of Haryana bordering Punjab. And that’s about it. Perhaps not wishing to embarrass the “activists,” media took photos of the protesters from up close, so that the sparse crowd would not be so obvious. They probably did the same with Tejaswi Yadav’s “tractor rally” in Patna.
Until a day before, India’s one true journalist Ravish Kumar had been wagging a finger at the media, expressing fears that “crores of farmers” would lose out to one Deepika in TV coverage. Last evening, after the bandh had flopped, he bleated out something roughly like this: People are calling it a Punjab-Haryana bandh, but there was a protest 3 days ago somewhere in Odisha…
Don’t cry, Ravish ji. I hate tears.
As a kid, my greatest fear was that nobody would show up at my birthday party. That I would be waiting, dressed up, with cake, balloons and all, but nobody would show up. Thanks to my friends, that never happened. But after watching Ravish Kumar’s show yesterday, I know what that nightmare would have been like.
They said farmers were very angry. They said farmers had been sold out. Remember that 50% of India works in agriculture. If farmers were really angry, they wouldn’t need to schedule a day of protest. They would spill out into the streets and instantly bring the country to a halt. Instead, the opposition took like a week to prepare the “protests” and delivered a damp squib bigger than Deepika’s last movie.
Ironically, the one thing that saved the liberals the blushes yesterday was the same Bollywood coverage they had been mocking. Had there been no Bollywood scandal taking up air time, liberals would have been even more embarrassed by the complete absence of protests.
There is an important lesson here for those of us in India’s cities. It’s true that we know almost nothing about farmers’ issues. So we tend to fall for the image of the Indian farmer as helpless and forever in distress. And we tend to get caught up in feelings of doubt and guilt. We tend to worry about whether we are paying enough attention to our farmers.
Those are legitimate concerns. But we also need to understand that a class of snake oil salesmen is trying to cash in on this guilt. We don’t know about farmer issues, but trust me: the five star comrades know even less. Some sweet talking fake psephologist from Lutyens, for instance, is no farmer leader. He is much more disconnected from real issues of India than almost anyone else.
Yesterday, the farmers of India did send a message after all. By giving a cold shoulder to yesterday’s “Lutyens bandh,” they told the rest of us that five-star comrades don’t represent farmers. Let us pick up this message from our kisan brothers and sisters and stop paying attention to five-star activists.
Oh and here is some free advice for liberals. Next time you call a bandh in which nobody wants to participate, try playing Arnab’s show in public places. You might gather some crowds. Then, you can pass them off as “protesters” who have gathered to support your cause.