Swami Nigamanand: He was just not famous enough

Swami Nigamanand did not die a famous man. As he fasted to save the Ganga from the quarrying mafia, he did not have television cameras following him, newsmen waiting for that precious byte and political groupings rallying behind him. He did not have Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to coax him out of his fast.

Ironically, he shared the same ICU with Baba Ramdev for two days at the Himalayan Hospital where the latter broke his nine-day farcical hunger stir. In the flurry of action around Ramdev, Nigamanand went unnoticed. He had been on a fast for more than two months by then.

A deceitful purity. Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

A month earlier in Mumbai, social activist Medha Patekar staged a nine-day fast against a powerful developer who had rendered thousands of slum-dwellers in the Golibar area homeless. The builder made repeated attempts to bulldoze houses to create space for the slum rehabilitation project and other strong-arm tactics were used.

The state machinery was in cahoots with the developers; the police were let loose on the slum-dwellers. Patkar ended her fast after wresting some concrete promises from the state’s Chief Minister Prthiviraj Chavan. It was a silent, purposeful affair. Most television channels and newspapers did not think it fit to play it big.

Not that it matters to people like Patkar or Nigamanand. They realise the difference between a serious public cause and mass entertainment.

But it's a sorry reflection on our mainstream media and its skewed priorities.

The questions first. Why is the protection of the Ganga such a low priority matter compared to Baba Ramdev's movement against black money? Why is Patkar's fight for slum-dwellers so unimportant compared to Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption?

The entertainment quotient; that is the answer to both. Our 'intrepid' television anchors will never ask why the Sangh Parivar, which vouches by the sacred Ganga, is so indifferent to the pollution of the river and the destruction of the eco system around it. They will never raise questions on the rape of Mumbai by unscrupulous builders and developers. The issues are too local, too serious and just do not have enough action to attract a bigger audience.

Black money and corruption, in contrast, have all the ingredients that make our masala Hindi movies so popular - larger-than-life characters, action, emotions, song and dance, strong dialogue and what not. Add to the mix the lack of purposefulness. Everyone intelligent involved knows street protests and fasts are not the solution to the problems, everyone realises that the whole movement is headed nowhere. But all play along. The country surely loves its problems but not the solutions.

The reason is all stake-holders need to be entertained - the media, the people it caters to and all the participants. They need to take sides in a fight and egg on the parties involved to go at each other. Even 24X7 television and print media has to be about cheap thrills.

Will Nigamanand's death spur a serious debate on the fate of the Ganga? Slim chance. It's not about the issue, silly, it about the person. He was not famous, at least the media did not think he was so.

The Twiteratti also lashed out at the Indian media for not covering the issue earlier

Published Date: Jun 14, 2011 04:57 pm | Updated Date: Jun 15, 2011 10:36 am