BREAK­ING BAD

Mid Day - - COMMENT -

Lind­say Pereira

Ihave mixed feel­ings about What­sApp, like I’m told a few mil­lion users do. On the one hand, it al­lows me to keep abreast of what’s hap­pen­ing in the lives of fam­ily and friends across the planet; on the other, it ex­poses me to ev­ery­thing that is wrong and aw­ful and neg­a­tive about life in our rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing coun­try on a daily ba­sis. To unin­stall it is not a so­lu­tion ei­ther, given that a new so­cial me­dia plat­form is al­ways wait­ing in the wings to take the place of what we col­lec­tively em­brace or re­ject.

One of the rea­sons for this is our in­creas­ing ob­ses­sion with what on­line mar­keters re­fer to as ‘vi­ral­ity’. This is help­fully de­scribed on­line as ‘the ten­dency of an im­age, video, or piece of in­for­ma­tion to be cir­cu­lated rapidly and widely from one In­ter­net user to an­other.’ It is now sought-af­ter the way im­ported choco­lates once were. When some­thing, some­where, starts to go hor­ri­bly wrong, there are now a few hun­dred eager peo­ple, smart­phones held high above their heads, des­per­ate to cap­ture it all not for pos­ter­ity, but for the rapid con­sump­tion of other peo­ple on­line.

This week alone brought me three videos that would prob­a­bly have shocked me a half decade ago, but only left me with a few min­utes of sad­ness this time. One in­volved a min­is­ter scream­ing at a Gover­nor in pub­lic, be­cause his mi­cro­phone had been in­ter­rupted dur­ing a speech. The sec­ond in­volved an MLA try­ing to in­tim­i­date an IAS of­fi­cer be­cause some files pre­sum­ably re­lated to his busi­ness had not been cleared. And there was also one in­volv­ing an MP ad­dress­ing a crowd of dis­abled peo­ple and threat­en­ing to break the leg of a man who did some­thing that dis­pleased him while he was speak­ing.

These videos had all ob­tained vi­ral­ity, which means they had all been watched by mil­lions across In­dia, shared and dis­cussed by all kinds of peo­ple. This vi­ral­ity made me think of chil­dren, and the def­i­nite pos­si­bil­ity of thou­sands of them be­ing ex­posed to this be­hav­iour. In case you haven’t no­ticed, our news chan­nels stopped fo­cus­ing on is­sues that mat­ter a long time ago, and now rou­tinely rely on vi­ral videos to whip up emo­tions or stir up feel­ings in the hope of en­cour­ag­ing the creation of more such videos.

Ci­vil­ity in pub­lic dis­course is now a thing of the past. Politi­cians who once treated each other with re­spect, recog­nised the im­por­tance of their po­si­tions and didn’t al­low power to go to their heads have long been re­placed by men and women who think noth­ing of at­tack­ing an op­po­nent’s fam­ily in pub­lic, laugh­ing about cut­ting off the heads of en­emy soldiers, or re­fer­ring to mi­grants as ter­mites. These aren’t speeches made in pri­vate ei­ther. They are shouted from rooftops, in front of news cam­eras.

I won­der about what goes through the minds of these politi­cians when they say the things they do. Do they think about reper­cus­sions be­yond po­lit­i­cal mileage? Do they con­sider how young In­di­ans look at them? Does it ever mat­ter to them that their words have an im­pact on how chil­dren start to look at pol­i­tics and what it means?

I un­der­stand and ac­knowl­edge that ex­pect­ing role mod­els is naive in a democ­racy now pow­ered ex­clu­sively by mys­te­ri­ous sources of fund­ing that are never re­vealed, and can­di­dates who look upon crim­i­nal cases as badges of hon­our. I still find it strange that so many of them con­tinue to be­have the way they do know­ing that their own chil­dren are watch­ing.

The ar­gu­ment that politi­cians be­have badly the world over shouldn’t mat­ter, be­cause those lead­ers and their ac­tions don’t have the power to in­flu­ence the young the way lead­ers here do. We are now con­demned to en­dure il­le­gal hoard­ings, scream­ing matches, al­le­ga­tions and counter-al­le­ga­tions, in­sults and in­vec­tive on an hourly ba­sis, sim­ply be­cause we all lost our way some­where. What ought to have been nipped in the bud was some­how ac­cepted, be­cause ac­cep­tance comes so eas­ily to us as a na­tion.

I won­der about how chil­dren look at politi­cians be­cause they are the ones who will one day re­place the cur­rent lot. Our doc­tors, en­gi­neers and sports­peo­ple may en­cour­age chil­dren to save lives, start com­pa­nies or win glory for In­dia, but we no longer care about what the politi­cians of to­mor­row will be like, when we should.

None of us will be around to watch, of course, but it should worry us all that the fu­ture of pol­i­tics in In­dia only looks dark and ugly.

Politi­cians who once treated each other with re­spect, recog­nised the im­por­tance of their po­si­tions and didn’t al­low power to go to their heads have long been re­placed by men and women who think noth­ing of at­tack­ing an op­po­nent’s fam­ily in pub­lic

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