The Era of Nitol-Tata Democracy

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A FEW months back, to my utter disbelief, I discovered a late-night talk-show titled Nitol-Tata Democracy. It was a terrifying moment! Even the slightest possibility that the Tatas and the Nitols can ever have anything to do with mighty democracy is a frightening concept itself. It could be the perfect equivalent of Fair & Lovely sponsoring women’s self-esteem, the CEO of British Petroleum talking about dolphins, and the drug companies sponsoring doctors’ prescription pads. The power and privilege of the nefarious big business and their hotlines with the politicians and the channel owners, or, more precisely, their briefcase-by-briefcase share in media and politics, should have been the mega point of our public discourse on democracy. But for perfectly understandable reasons, the press, the radio, and the television have absolutely no time for it.
Democracy is the choice, the opinion, the preference, the free expression of people. But then again, is our opinion autonomous? Is the Aam-Admi independent of influence? Do the mass media accurately inform the mass people? Do experts educate the public with the right sort of information? Or is it the telecoms, the textile tycoons, the energy dealers, the demagogues, the self-serving elites, and the sold-out newsrooms which manipulate public minds with twisted info and wholesale lies? Do the public know that they don’t know?
The fact remains that the Nitols and the Tatas are powerful enough to buy a section of the journalists, play with public psyche, and horse-trade politicians. They enjoy special access, sympathetic environment, and a comfortable place in the public mind. The dealers of quick rentals know that the only way to capture the exchequer’s coffer is to showcase it as a matter of ‘public interest’. The agents of Asia Energy know that the best way to go about is to make their position backed up by ‘expert’ opinion. Unfortunately, many of our experts are sellable. (It is a pity how some of the finest experts of our time have been reduced to info-assemblers at best, and agents of corporate interest at worst).
So where does it all lead up to? Unsurprisingly, it leads up to a smart commodification of our deepest values. And we see Monsanto sponsoring World Food Prize, Nitol-Tata pretending to be the flag bearers of democracy, Banglalink funding fishermen’s emancipation, thugs of Sahara tailoring for team Bangladesh, and Radhuni Panch Phoron Powder sponsoring International Women’s Day.
Clearly, the corporate patronage of our society has become a playground for outright manipulation. The content, the vision, the rules, and the vocabularies of the corporate backed media is dangerously urban-elite biased and insanely occupied with the glamour world (The personal life of model Mehzabin gets more airtime than the lives of hundreds of potato farmers). It allows spaces for disagreement and dissent on trivial issues, where commonsense polity is bloated out of context, and leading to over-emotional hyperboles. Meanwhile, real public issues like drinking water, affordable hospitals, jam-packed roads, comfortable public buses, price of potatoes, state mills and gas blocks are dumped down from the screen, and ‘kept out’ of the parliamentary sessions.
Economic debates are shaped within unbelievably narrow frameworks and false dichotomies. It showcases trade unions as troublemakers and big business as the saviour of our poverty-stricken buttocks. It sensationalises crime and murder, but does not like to talk about unglamorous killers like malnutrition or tuberculosis. It conveniently buries the stories of unimaginable struggle of the textile workers against unbelievable odds. The narrative of the limbless women of Rana Plaza is not a matter of public discourse but rather a short-term consumer product (sponsored by Crown cement and BSRM steel).
To create a sense of balance, the corporate media regularly bashes the position of organised labour, rejects the narrative of the oppressed and yet pretends to give a voice to the sentiment of the street (The occasional representation of the voice of the subaltern is meant to be perceived as a grand enough phenomenon).
It tells us, the nation-state should be managed like a company. The only damn thing people need to do is to sit back, shut up and shop, and let markets work their magical wonder. It provokes ‘quick judgementalism, sweeping generalisation, loss of perspectives, loss of nuance, kangaroo courts and non-stop hysteria. One may call it the Maggy noodles syndrome: two-minute justice, two-minute verdict! Never ever in our time we have seen such disconnect between the ground reality and the ‘media discourse’ at the top level. The mission is to keep everyone ‘uneducated’. That’s part of the plan.
Meanwhile, politics is increasingly mean, shallow, media-driven, one-dimensional, image-managed, TV-saturated, and empty of new ideas. Public interest areas are being constantly negotiated between business and politicians. The state has become the executive committee of the businessmen. Politicians become contractors, contractors become politicians, and together they become the elected representatives of the nation. It’s almost unthinkable for a party to survive the political game without massive corporate backing (Even someone like Mamata Banerjee, who tries to be more Marxist than the Marxists, has corporate backers). No wonder, the entire might of the state ultimately ends up advertising for Quick Rentals, and ‘PR jobbing’ for Oil India Ltd! (Off the record, with elections around in every five years, who’d want to upset a major source of funding?) Strangely, the very meaning of our democracy has been reduced to election, selection and mal-election.
To make things worse, an obscenely high degree of conformity exists in public mind, which somehow approves the corporate capture of every nuts and bolts of our democratic institutions (i.e. the media and the ministers). The poverty pay, the persistent coexistence of Prado-riders and poor, the drying up of our public hospitals, the giving away of our gas blocks, the dead workers, the closed mills, the dying public universities seem to be perfectly approved and legitimised in public mind. The public is already convinced that malls are better than rivers. The public is already convinced that the BGMEA needs a pay raise, the workers don’t. The public is already convinced that ‘what the heck are those people of Phulbari doing there, sitting over the top of a billion dollar worth of coal pile?’
One may ask: could it be an ideal condition for democracy if the public already wants what business wants? Is there after all a ‘harmonious commonality of interest’? Or is it just a constructed one? After all, they tell us how to dress, what to buy, what to eat-drink-and-sleep, how to think, what not to think, and how not to question an electricity price hike.
After all, our perception of good, bad, ugly and sleazy is framed by their nonstop jingles and false promises. After all, our genuine grievances are cleverly contained by corporate sponsored hyper patriotism, chauvinistic nationalism, and other patriarchal values in perfect harmony. Needless to say, it deviates the ‘struggle’ from the class line to the ultra-nationalist path. People no longer fight for their constitutional entitlement of free doctors. They fight with each other!
As political scholar Jon Elster once noted, the oppressed classes often will be victims of a kind of myopia that prevent them from seeing the misery and the injustice of their own situation. As political theorist Charles Lindblom once said, ‘It is one of the world’s most extraordinary misery that masses of voters somehow trust their elites.’
Now, of course, the road to more democracy in ‘media’ and ‘politics’ is not well-mapped. It is not an easy task to fight this dangerous liaison, this insidious relationship, this long romance between businessmen and politicians. It is certainly not easy to free journalism from corporate floors, to liberate news from advertisers, to reverse the Aam-Admi’s mass allegiance to the corporate culture, to redefine our politics and to recapture our critical conscience. Let’s be clear, the battle is not to eliminate big business. The battle is to bring an end to this ludicrous corporate culture that uses ‘surplus value’ to purchase newsrooms and politicians. Perhaps, there is no convenient way out but constant struggle. But at the least, for true democracy to take over, it is necessary to educate, to undo the manipulation, and to challenge the round-the-clock indoctrination. Fair &Lovely moisture plus or Radhuni Tejpatta powder have nothing to do with women’s liberty! Asia Energy should shut up when coal policy is on the table. Nitol-TaTa, for heaven’s sake, has no business in democracy.

Article Source: New Age BD