Can Mobs And Media Achieve What Democracy Could Not?

During the last decade, several countries particularly in Middle East have witnessed public protests for democracy, but then there are other countries like India, who witnessed them in spite of it. Anger against mis-governance and corruption is getting manifested in protests, which are then latched up by media that can itself become a part of the activism, creating nationwide mobs. But can the mobs achieve what organized democratic institutions could not do?
Can Mobs and Media Achieve What Democracy Could Not?
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFront_populaire_Tunisie.JPG)

The last few years have seen increasing public unrest and activism. Whereas in some countries, it has been directed against the dictatorial political regimes, leading to a call for democracy, in other countries, it has been a call for punishing corrupt politicians. Then there are countries like Britain where people voted for exit from the European Union, and United States, where people voted for a candidate that nobody gave a chance. In between we also huge public mobs, especially in Europe, out on the roads against economic policies, and once even in the Wall Street, calling for its occupation. Most

of these activism and unrest get inflated by media, and increasingly social media is getting more and more involved.

It does seem that mobs and media together constitute a new force that is going to assert itself more and more in public life. The question is can they deliver ?

A recap of the last few years can let us better understand these challenges, beginning of course, with 2011, when the mobs were let lose on the organized governments all over the world.

2011: Year of the Mobs

2011 was a year of the mobs. World over, people seemed to be getting restless, angry and ready to erupt. We saw it happening in the Middle East. What began with protests in Tunisia against President Ben Ali spread in no time to a number of countries, particularly Egypt, where they resulted in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, an outcome few would have thought possible a year ago.  Similar protests erupted later in other countries of the region, including Libya and Syria where they turned into violence. In other countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, there were protests which were controlled with money and power, though nobody knows when they may erupt once again.

In Europe too, there were mobs like not seen or heard in a long time, though of a different variety. London witnessed rioting that few could have even imagined. Normal people were out looting, hurting and stealing, including minors. Greece had the lion’s share with protestors showing their anger against the economic mismanagement by all kind of activities. Similar protests were seen in other states including Belarus. Flag protests were far more common and often happened without any real provocation. In Tajikistan, it was against interruptions in power supply. Flash mobs were seen in US too, against diverse causes some of which were difficult to understand for outsiders. Even China had its share of the trouble in its Western province of Xinjiang, as the Muslim predominant region erupted against the Chinese Han settlers but was quickly controlled by the power of gunpowder. In another rare incident, the Chinese Government was forced to shut down a large chemical plant in Dalian in Liaoning province after large public protests that were organised mainly through micro blogging and social networking sites.

However, the cherry of the cake should be reserved for the largest democracy of the world. India witnessed a very unusual public uprising against corruption, wherein a few civil activists were able to challenge and pressurise the Government into bringing a law for controlling corruption by attracting wide spread support throughout the country. The dynamics of this incident in the largest and the most chaotic mass of people with a size nearly a sixth of all humanity is a great natural experiment to understand our behaviour and institutions.

Anger against Corruption and Recent Events

Anger against corruption has long become an all pervading feature of Indian psyche. It is there everywhere, and yet, few are able to do anything about it, primarily because of the collusion among people in important positions. Generally, there has been a sense of resignation about it, and for decades, people accepted it as an inevitable evil of their society.

A few years back, one of the Ministers in the coalition government was accused of corruption, arrested and remained behind bars for a long time. Another politician who headed the Organizing Committee for Commonwealth Games was also indicted, arrested and put under trial. These two incidents occupied major coverage in media, with opposition charging the current Government as the most corrupt to have been in power. This happened in spite of the fact that India had a Prime Minister at that point of time, whose personal integrity is considered beyond doubt even by his worst detractors.

Proposal for an Ombudsman to Deal with Corruption

Though there are several institutions to prevent and deal with corruption in India, it would be fair to say that they have not delivered. Common man is generally reluctant to complain, even when harassed, and the investigating authorities have not been very effective. Some feel they are equally corrupt and allow the accused to go scot free after taking their share. Moreover, these investing agencies are under control of the Government, and so hardly independent from political influence, making senior politicians and ministers practically immune from them.

As a corrective measure, a powerful ombudsman, called ‘Lok Pal’ or ‘Protector of People’ has been proposed, and a number of times in the past, such a bill for creating this ombudsman has been placed before the Parliament, which never accepted it, with political parties often rejecting it on one pretext or the other. This time, some civil activists lead by a septuagenarian, Anna Hazare, decided to organise peaceful public protest seeking creation of such an ombudsman.  Government responded positively, and a joint drafting committee with members of civil society and the government began their task. However, soon there were some differences between the Government and civil society, with civil society seeking that the Prime Minister as well as the Supreme Court Judges should be within the ambit of the Ombudsman’s powers, whereas the Government wanted to exclude these


two authorities.

How Anna Hazare became a Symbol of People’s anger with Media backup

Anna Hazare, who was a driver in the Army for twelve years, has just a high school education, is a bachelor, has no property nor has ever been a member of any political party, and whose only claim to fame were his social contribution in developing his village, and his anti-corruption tirades against some ministers demanded that the Indian Parliament should take up the bill drafted by his team and enact it as law. He was not ready to accept the bill that the Government was planning to introduce. He went on a fast in the centre of Delhi, and the whole country erupted in his favour, backed of course, by the numerous Television channels which competed with each other in broadcasting his protests round the clock in a sensational manner that has become a typical feature of Indian Television. In the media backed frenzy, where opposition parties were also using the opportunity to humiliate the ruling government, there was so much support for Anna that anyone trying to have a different view was derided and humiliated by his supporters.  People did strange things to show their support for Anna’s crusade, including shaving their heads, wearing Anna caps and carrying out candle protests, all of it being immediately grabbed by the hungry media waiting to telecast it around the world.

Democracy vs. Mobocracy

During that unprecedented event, India remained in the midst of an unprecedented public frenzy, with large crowds getting organized in different parts of the country, and thanks to the wide media coverage, being projected as a nation-wide mob. The way the support swelled, most Indians believed that the Government will have to give in. It seemed as if India was going to have an omnipotent Lok Pal to curb corruption. Something that the so called well functioning democracy could not achieve in six decades seemed to become a reality by the actions of a civil activist with the support of nationwide mobs. It is this prospect that has caused concern as well as debate in many quarters.

Most people supported Anna’s crusade because they believed it to be against corruption. Governments were seen as predators and unreliable, whereas Anna Hazare, with a record of social service during last four decades, was seen as a representative of the common man. His humble background and lack of any achievement in market or governance became his greatest credentials. His lack of intellectual sophistication appeared to have become his greatest strength. His simple talk was seen as honest, while all the rest was looked down upon as manipulative. Clearly, the mob had its own rules of the game.

The Government kept repeating that law making is the prerogative of the legislature and should not be interfered with, but there were voices from all quarters that supported public activism and the right of the citizens to demand a particular action from their representatives. The people of India are not satisfied anymore just by the power to elect their representatives. They want to participate directly in governance. It may be their disgust with the men in power that is the reason for this, but the message is clear. They do not trust their own representatives now, are not ready to leave matters in their hands.

Mob Decision Making & Role of Media: For the Better or Worse?

While most Indians are against corruption, not everybody is convinced that the creation of an ombudsman will bring a halt to the culture of corruption. Many also feel that the Indian constitution does not allow such an authority. There are other voices too, which no one seems to be willing to hear. Any one speaking against Anna during those days attracted strong reactions from his supporters. In the middle of all this, it was difficult to say whether these developments, which practically challenged the authority of the Government, were good or bad.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, there are no dictators in India that can be thrown out of power. Still, people are not happy with Government and this anger is bound to manifest itself in some way or the other.  Politicians are no more respected in the country, neither are bureaucrats. Indians find nothing strange in the fact that the members of the largest democracy of the world have very little empathy for the people whom they themselves have elected to carry it on.

The greatest factor in this incident is the role and power of media. With a high frenzied round-the-clock telecasting, that borders on brain washing, media successfully converted the movement of a few activists into a nationwide event. In search of greater TRPs, the media actually became an active participant and the strongest proponent of the protest. This was not the first time it has happened and neither would it be the last. What is dangerous is the fact that their stand is usually dictated not by any wisdom or idealism, but is ruled purely by their commercial quest for attracting more audience.

When media begins to create events to attract audience, it begins to seem a little dangerous. Isn’t it?



Article Written By V Kumar

I am a freelance writer. I write for the passion of writing. Life has blessed me an opportunity to be a witness to many interesting aspects of life and people around the world. Indeed, these are very interesting times and we who live in this era are privileged to experience it. You can find my articles at http://vkumar.expertscolumn.com/

Last updated on 15-09-2017 125 0

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