The art of politics is being increasingly conducted across the media, turning ‘sovereign’ people into mere spectators. That is understandable since politicians and the media complement each other. However, a problem has arisen with the growing tendency to debate politics in the mode of televised talk shows.
The merciless nightly dissection of political subjects has led to two major consequences: political players resorting to point scoring, and some – mercifully not all – TV anchorpersons assuming the role of prosecutors and judges on governance issues. Some others blatantly try to be political fixers.
The result is a cacophony that rules our TV screens every evening with endless commercial messages as the participants prepare fresh salvos. My plea to both – talk-show hosts and participants – is to stop treating their audience as a bunch of dunces.
Though not as brutal as the talk shows, another trend in the media is to create news at all sorts of events like convocations, inaugurations, weddings, funerals, receptions, seminars and symposiums. This practice may be justifiable on account of the media’s right to report all that is fit to be news. Yet, there are occasions when a public representative or official speaks his/her mind and ends up creating breaking news or even an embarrassment for his/her organisation or the government.
In this backdrop of wide-ranging possibilities of all that can happen at an event, the Jinnah Institute’s ‘Ideas Conclave’ recently held in Islamabad led to faces going red in the corridors of power when a sitting minister called upon friendly countries to desist from funding seminaries that breed extremists or terrorists.
I am not aware of what the organisers felt about the minister’s frankness at their forum which was ostensibly held to conduct some serious discussion on themes including extremism and terrorism, the energy crisis, and foreign policy with a special emphasis on the regional situation with regard to relations with India and Afghanistan.
Leaving aside the cracker tossed by the minister, there was enough food for thought at the meeting to seriously and earnestly address the most pressing issues in the country. There was a disclosure during the discussion on the ongoing energy crisis that gave an indication of how clueless (knowingly?) our planners and rulers are about bringing an end to electricity loadshedding.
It looked elementary for Sherlock but obviously Watson wouldn’t like to acknowledge that the Achilles’ heel is not power production capacity – which exists – but transmission, distribution and theft of electricity.
It looks odd, if not stupid, that the two elected governments blame each other and jointly blame Musharraf for not increasing the capacity of power production. The audience was told that loadshedding can be minimised by upgrading and streamlining the transmission system. Imagine a happy scenario where 80 percent of the country is not plunged into darkness after a terror attack on a power line in some remote place.
The pressing need would thus not be that of installing more capacity but modernising the distribution network. Yet the rulers neither address it nor talk about it because it is far less ‘sexy’ – as one speaker put it – than inaugurating power plants. Why not address the other non-sexy aspects like putting ceilings on power consumption by the sacred cows that the employees of electricity companies have become. Power theft with the collusion of linesmen and their bosses is well-known enough to be overstated.
There were other handy takeaways from the Ideas Conclave. A guru of Indian journalism shared sobering thoughts about the behaviour of the Modi government towards Pakistan. He made a profound statement by asserting that the BJP’s stance on Pakistan is still rooted in what it was when they were the opposition party.
According to him, there is not much hope for early resumption of dialogue between the two countries but once the Modi team finds its feet, it may finally engage with Pakistan although it is not clear if the dialogue would lead to something. I consider that to be the sixty thousand dollar question.
If the Indian establishment believes that it is best served by keeping a hostile posture towards Pakistan while doing their bit to destabilise and weaken it, then indeed the Pakistani wish of resumed dialogue would become a mere pipedream.
Alternatively, Indian policy planners may like to consider non-zero-sum options. They can start by paying heed to the wording of the Obama administration’s proposal to Congress for more than $1 billion in military and economic assistance to Pakistan in the coming fiscal year.
It describes Pakistan as a “strategically important nation” and says that the US assistance will help Pakistan’s military fight against extremism, will increase safety of nuclear installations and accelerate economic development.
The administration also informed Congress that continued US engagement will help bring stability to Afghanistan and will promote better relations between Islamabad and New Delhi. That is as plain as can be. We shall see how the mindset prevalent in Delhi reconciles to the US call.