ALOK PRASANNA writes from Hyderabad: Indian politicians and activists have mastered the art of The Utterly Meaningless Gesture. Doing things that have no impact on the issue at hand, but designed to promote oneself and one’s own interests, have become their leit motif, with one eye on the TV cameras.
Exempli gratia: relay stirs, one-day fasts, human chains, candle-light vigils, torch-light parades, and rasta/rail (and, who knows, maybe in the near future, airplane) rokos.
All of these don’t spread awareness about an issue, show or muster support for a cause, or even affect their targets. All they do is add to the existing noise and fury. All they do is harass and inconvenience the people on whose behalf they act. And all they do is promote one’s chances of getting a ticket at the next election or pick up a few crumbs thrown their way.
Make no mistake, most of these forms of protest can’t even be dignified with the label of a symbolic gesture.
To that inglorious list, add the threat of a blackout of Tamil channels on cable in Karnataka (and the move to disallow Tamil films to be screened in theatres).
Thankfully, we are not alone. News reports say lawyers in Tamil Nadu have managed to operationalise a similar blackout of Kannada channels in that State. But should we go in for a tit-for-tat response and join in this self-flagellation?
In this day and age of direct to home (DTH) television and set-top boxes, organised cable operators, and not to mention a Constitution which guarantees the fundamental right of speech and ex-pression, those behind the move are harming their own cause by showing not only a complete ignorance of matters technical, but a total lack of imagination in their modes of protest.
Pray, tell us, how is a Tamil or Kannada TV watcher or movie goer responsible for the Hogenakal project?
And pray, tell us, what is a blackout of television supposed to achieve?
If it is supposed to send shivers down the spines of unsuspecting producers of Tamil shows, it has failed miserably as they are congregating today. If it is supposed to irritate and intimidate the Tamil minority in Bangalore, it has been a grand success. But is either of that going to solve our problem?
If it is to send a “message” down the Cauvery, what “message” have we sent when the other side has shown that two can play the game?
By such cheap displays of chauvinism we have only prompted the other side to take a harder stance and make it an all-or-nothing game, where our chances of “losing” increase. Plus, as history has shown, we are total amateurs when it comes to the fanatic overreaction of the Tamil variety (they invented the self-immolation, the suicide bomber, and Rajnikant fans’ clubs!)
By a giving needless linguistic angle to a water dispute, we have done our cause no small amount of harm. No amount of protests or breast-beating will get us a court or tribunal verdict in our favour if we don’t have a strong case (and believe me there is no other way this is ending, not after the high-pitched rhetoric being tossed around).
Our best chance of getting out of this situation would have been negotiations conducted in a spirit of give and take, ensuring that our interests were protected while the matter was resolved as quickly as possible. Adopting hardline positions which are untenable and likely to be thrown out of a court will get us nowhere.
M. Karunanidhi is probably rubbing his hands in glee at seeing the emotional outbursts “for” and “against” the matter. By encouraging the hotheads and the no-heads on this side of the border, Karunanidhi has in one stroke removed whatever maneouvering space we may have had on the issue.
To react to Karunanidhi’s provocations is to fall into the trap set by him. It is in Karunanidhi’s interests to show us up before the rest of the country as a bunch of hooligans and rowdies who are hellbent on holding back drinking water on the basis of language.
By turning this into an emotive language issue, by targetting television, cinema and newspapers, those behind the protests have greatly helped Karunanidhi.
Also read: Is it right to block Sun TV?