Anna, a John Doe 2011?
The 1941 Frank Capra classic Meet John Doe had hit the celluloid about four years after Anna Hazare was born. Its Bollywood remake Mein Azaad Hoon came amid the Bofors gun campaign against Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s.
The media’s role in the creation of the Anna phenomenon bears striking resemblance with Capra’s and our own Javed Akhtar’s story of an “opportunistic” journalist who seeks to save her job by creating a fictitious “grassroots crusader” threatening suicide on Christmas-eve against the society’s ills.
And when a rival newspaper begins suspecting foul play aimed at boosting readership, the journalist gets a poor, unemployed man to enact the character, ghost writing for him a series of articles to mobilize popular support.
As Doe’s words start shaping a country-wide movement, the newspaper’s owner attempts using it to push his own political ambitions. That’s where Doe who had started believing in what was propagated in his name, realizes that he was being used.
My purpose of recalling Capra’s original plot and Gary Cooper and Amitabh Bachchan’s portrayals of John Doe, isn’t the least to denigrate Anna or the issue of corruption he has so tellingly raised. The objective is to study the impulse behind the saturation coverage his campaign is getting in the print and electronic media.
It cannot merely be competitive journalism or a race for higher TRPs and readership that guides the hype over Anna’s anshan. There is to the unfolding scenario a very clear, very tangible corporate touch.
The minds that have built the ageing Gandhian into an anti-graft icon might have been aided by the government’s intellectual and moral bankruptcy. But they wouldn’t have succeeded without live coverage across TV channels of everything that “Team Anna” does, from daily press conferences to speeches replete with repetitive anti-government rhetoric.
A veritable media rat-race for a byte or an interview has seen Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi studio hopping for days on end. While Anna fasts, they talk, incessantly, without educating really on the virtues and the constitutionality of their Jan Lokpal Bill.
They’re getting away largely because the moral high ground is with them. The government’s speaking from a position of weakness. That doesn’t answer however the moot question: who’s behind this media blitzkrieg and with what purpose? Is it a convergence of corporate interests or political forces or both?
If parliamentary democracy weakens, the loser will be the political class and the gainer the big business. People once again will be short-changed, Lokpal or not.
It’s imperative therefore that the movement led by Anna does not fall prey to any corporate or power game built on pious symbols of our freedom movement.