Imagine a scenario where politics is the central discourse of your daily life, the all-consuming addiction, the overwhelming chatter that drowns all else, the ubiquitous presence that invades every nook and corner of living. Think of how it would be if wedding receptions and cultural gatherings reverberated with it, trains and buses and even autorickshaws were abuzz with it, temples, mosques and churches resounded more with it than god’s name, and it was the perennial topic of tea shops and bars and of the lengthy queues at the alcohol outlets. And it reigned supreme in the media, pushing all other news into the margins. And the social media teemed with it.
This extraordinary preoccupation with politics characterises the Malayali among all the peoples of India. It is a lifelong addiction, the dominant narrative of their lives wherever in the world they are. It could be asked if this is special to the Malayali. To a large extent it is. One reason is that in a small, beehive-like community like Kerala where nearly everyone knows everyone else, politics is a familiar brand. Parties have taken such deep roots in the community that they are nearly household names. A history of spirited campus politics created lasting political affiliations at the ground level. The rise of the Left and its aggressive trade unionism led to the creation of an intensely political working class.
A fortunate and exceptional history of universal literacy had bestowed upon the Malayali a simple trust in the word and its formations, and therefore the media. Literacy had also made her information-hungry. As the political process became more complex and tangled, it was inevitable the media would step in as mediator, simplifier and interpreter between politics and the citizen. An informal social contract was born between the literate Malayali and her media that she would trust the media and let it be her window to politics.
One would think it would make the Malayali the most sophisticated political Indian. However, the disturbing truth is that it has undermined the Malayali’s ability to think with an open and impartial mind about the issues that confront her society, to see the truth about the elected government with unclouded eyes and to understand the consequences of what politicians say and do. Because the Malayali is addicted not to the reality of politics as played out relentlessly by the political stakeholders but to a manufactured representation of it that contains little or no truth. She is tragically enslaved to an opportunistic reconstruction of the dangerously power-hungry force that controls every aspect of her present and future.
To be fair, it is not parties and politicians who fabricate this ubiquitous wraith. They create the hardcore process of politics and of course their own phantoms to entice the citizen. Their press conferences, orations, demonstrations and debates go only a short way to entrap the whole populace. Especially so because their messages are imprinted with clearly demarcated ideological colours. The concoction of politics, to which the Malayali surrenders wherever in the world she is and has media access in any format, is a lethal creation of the media concealed behind a mask of neutrality and fairness. It is a vast and borderless conglomeration of entities of word, picture and video that fiercely compete with each other for their slice of the Malayali mind and at the same time are united in the manufacture of the phantom of politics that enslaves the Malayali.
It is not as if there is a single mind at work behind this manufacturing process. It is a colony of minds with differing missions that creates the deadly narrative of politics for the reader, the viewer, the listener. This illusion of politics projected by the media is the product of strategies that cannot be named, pinned down or predicted. These are like the quark, evasive, elusive and visible only when unobserved. The process of hiding truth, misrepresenting it or projecting half-truths is subterranean and fathomless. The guidelines are invisible but omnipresent. It could be trivialisation, exaggeration or smoke-screen building. It could be diversion/distraction through witch-hunting, which also helps to whip up mass hysteria and bring in more followers.
It could be unabashed white-washing of a dreadful enemy of the people. This phantom of politics is at its deadliest competence when it converts burning political issues into inane gossip-features and pitiable comedy shows even as those issues tighten the noose around the Malayali’s neck. Its ingenuity is at its cunning best when with the softest of glosses, it decks up the agendas of dictators and purveyors of communal and caste poison and fraudulent spiritualities. It was the arrival, over two decades ago, of 24x7 satellite television that made the phantom’s omnipresence inexorably total. This heartless chimera, fabricated anew every day by a thousand hands, controls the day-to-day political subconscious of the universal Malayali—across Kerala, India and the world.
The media does sporadically bring forward positive developments, democratic experiments, individual achievements and humanitarian concerns. But they constitute only a minute fraction of the total news. The pride of place, after politics, goes to religion and caste and to cold-blooded news-trials of accused citizens especially if they are women, young and attractive. Even when the media seems to take on the political establishment, it turns out to be a brief manoeuvre, often propelled by market competition.
The Malayali is undergoing a fatal colonisation of her psyche irrespective of where in the world she is located. The genuine social and economic priorities that should concern her as a citizen of Kerala are devoured by a fake, drummed-up likeness of politics. The information and discourse that shall propel her society on a path of civilisational excellence have been banished to make way for an evil new porn—politics as titillation and lies. George Steiner had mourned the destruction of the German language by the lies of the Nazi regime and said, “Words that are saturated with lies or atrocity do not easily resume life.” One wonders if it’s time to worry about the language that gives the Malayali her identity.
Paul Zacharia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Award-winning fiction writer