SRINAGAR If anything, the latest skirmishes between India and Pakistan have focussed attention on the toxicity of the sections of the television media.
Ever since the Pulwama attack they have worked up a nationalist frenzy and batted for a full scale war with Pakistan. And when India launched strikes on Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, these channels predictably celebrated it and demanded more as if a Bollywood movie was being shot. Pakistan response, a day after, hardly abated this apparent bloodlust. It has continued unchecked and the anchors have gone on with their advocacy of an all-out conflict.
But, thankfully, this time, large sections of people seem to have finally woken up to the menace and its corrosive effect on the public life. Prominent television anchor Raveesh Kumar has called on people to boycott television in the next two months for a free and fair election to take place.
The renowned writer Arundhati Roy has compared the pernicious influence of television news to an “IV drip” that is fed to people “morning, noon and night”. In a piece in the New York Times, the Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto has said the Indian media was hashtagging the country down the path of war.
Similarly, a significant social media discourse has also turned against the rabid war-mongering on TV. And in the weeks and months to come it could be hoped to make some redeeming difference to how the country responds to TV news.
Truth is while the TV warriors, as they are called, might appear to be nationalistic, their outrage is fake and driven by the race for TRPs. But there is no underestimating their potential to vitiate the environment.
The TV in India has created a situation where space for any dialogue with Pakistan to address the issues of mutual concern has been greatly reduced and a pursuit of violence for the sake of it has been encouraged. And all this because it suits the interests of the politicians of a particular ideological persuasion and the television channels which feed off the jingoism. The discourse so generated not only holds the government hostage but also forces it to pander to it. In fact, the government itself is no less to blame for encouraging this state of affairs.
In fact, this is the kind of approach that has now become Indias Pakistan policy, when anti-Pakistan rhetoric is privileged for its lucrative electoral spin-offs and so ruling party politicians outdo one another in shooting off their mouths, encouraging media to follow suit.
But together these noises have created a dangerous environment. The frequent talk of exploring limited military options against Pakistan is self-defeating. One, because it would hardly serve to calm the borders and instead may only lead to further deterioration in Kashmir, risking also a larger conflict as the recent confrontation has demonstrated.
So, if this vicious circle has to be broken, the central government has to rethink its policy towards its neighbour. But the tragedy is that Indias Pakistan policy is now dictated by some jingoistic sections of media and their loud mouth and out of depth retired civil and military commentariat, with government preferring to play to the public opinion shaped by them.