Shame! The monsoon session concludes transacting no purposeful business. But since we look headed for a Parliament-less democracy – it’s an exaggeration alright but won’t it be an interesting experiment? – it’s no use mourning a lost session. What is more pertinent in the politically charged atmosphere is who has the right to claim a victory now, the BJP or the Congress? Actually the bragging rights go to the media. How? That’s for later.
The BJP has reason to gloat after its performance during the month-long session. It launched a spirited attack on the government over the Assam violence and later stalled Parliament over the CAG report on coal block allocations for two weeks. It took a maximalist position, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and dug out murky details of the allocations on a daily basis. Its spokespersons were smart on their feet and voluble as ever. They hogged the media space efficiently and aggressively.
The strategy was simple: launch a perception battle against the Congress-led UPA and cause as much damage to its already battered image as possible. It did not matter that its own states and chief ministers were party to the alleged scandal too. In a perception battle the bigger perception always buries the smaller one. The party appears to have done well on this front by keeping the heat consistently on the UPA. However, its real task starts now. It has to keep the momentum going and reach out to a much larger audience.
The Congress would not be too dissatisfied with its show either. For the first time it managed to draw up a media strategy to take on the BJP and win crucial brownie points in the perception game. Moreover, it had valid arguments to make in its defence unlike in the 2G spectrum allocation case. After party chief Sonia Gandhi gave the go ahead for a counter attack, there was no holding back the leaders. The semblance of unity in an internally fractured party would have encouraged them.
It is another matter that Parliament did not function and as many as 30 bills, some of them crucial, did not come up for discussion. The focus shifted to the unwelcome Congress-BJP battle. But it was engrossing battle, one of equals, one must say. In the process both the parties ended up suffering collateral damage. But right now it appears to be an all-out, no-holds-barred war between the parties and none seems worried about coming down in public esteem.
Now the real winner: the media. As the media held court with leaders running to them with bytes and punches against the rivals, they looked to take over the role of Parliament and the judiciary rolled into one. Not often do you find a battery of senior Congress leaders explaining their position on issues with a lot of patience to reporters. There was clear toning down of their trademark arrogance during television debates and for a change they were careful about their preparation. Apart from the allegations of the opposition they had to combat serious charges the media dug up on a daily basis from god knows where.
The role of the media as a force-multiplier was evident during the anti-corruption crusade of Anna Hazare. Television channels turned the crowds in Delhi into the national crowd without much effort, the primarily urban-centric movement was passed off as an all-India movement. It was the same with the protests of Baba Ramdev. Television debates, aided by shrill anchors, have the ability to a create a sense of urgency to even the most mundane subjects. Non-stop discussion on a single issue can help create and change popular perception. That’s in the nature of the beast.
Politicians have realised that they can no longer evade the reality of the media. The latter can be nasty, irreverent, probing, partial, opinionated and downright obnoxious but there is no escaping them. In a way, the independent media — social, electronic and print— have become more powerful than the political class. The presence of leaders of all shades at the television studios was a tacit acceptance of the power of the medium.
It is possible the 2014 elections will be a true test of the power of the media to influence opinions