Armchair nationalism on prime time news

Armchair nationalism on prime time news

Nationalism as a concept has a contested terrain of theorisation throughout history in the western academia and in the post-colonial societies. In Indian democracy, nationalism is a high resolution concept which garners pitchy debates both in the academic circles and the media.

The ‘armchair’ nationalism of some of the news anchors has redefined journalism and dawned a new era in the electronic media. The ‘armchair’ prefixed to nationalism in the world of electronic media definitely provides a critical gaze in new-age journalism. All theatrics are staged in the ‘armchair’ comfort of technologically sophisticated newsrooms.

On a personal plank, the television debates generate a kind of nationalism that spins out of this ‘idea of India’ with an “I” bold and capital. It being the reason whenever there are ceasefire violations by the terror mongers, attack on the Indian Army or incidents of Maoist menace, high voltage opinionated ripples emanates from prime time anchors.

Traditionally, arm chair research in social sciences and humanities devoid of phenomenological experience has been criticised for the lack of originality. Once again the ‘armchair’ concept recurs in the mind after watching the heated debates on TV news channels but with a difference. Though naive viewers of these television debates may not be concerned about these larger problems, they definitely get frantic bouts of nationalism after watching these exciting shows that escalate the adrenaline rush.

A close diagnosis is necessary because this time, deeper concerns are involved—-politicised public sphere of a 70-year-old Indian democracy; intricate mosaic of cultures which naturally ooze dialogues and conflicts; a still huge consumerist middle class apathetic to constructive opinion formation; and, unfriendly attitude of some neighbouring countries. In these broad themes, discerning the role of media in general and the contribution of these news room theatrics becomes important.

In this context, the self- proclaimed nationalists and domain experts of media, academia and politicians get into fierce argumentative mode in the solace of armchairs and air-conditioned rooms. This time, I am not overlooking either a public intellectual’s efforts of years spent in research, the experience of seasoned politicians who take part in these debates or the investigative journalists. However, the larger utility of these discursive news room debates is questionable.

One is reminded of sociologist Jurgen Habermas’s idea of the communicative role of media in the public sphere in a deliberative democracy to arrive at a consensus. So, do these kinds of debates somewhere imply that we are maturing as a democracy? Given the vast penetration of the electronic media, these debates have the potential to be representative of the multitude voices -the dialogic ‘public’ sphere of people and communities it supposedly represents. However, this transformation is still faraway and these theatrics are mere mimicry of public sphere.

The Socratic tradition was dialogic. Our own Gandhian tradition of dialogue has mass appeal and had displayed its utility during conflicts arising at crucial junctures of the nationalist movement. In fact, India has a long tradition of dialogue in the public sphere since time immemorial.

Akbar’s Ibadatkhana was a repository of multi-religious discussions which had great impact on policy decisions. The Bhakti saints and Sufi sages ushered in the dialogic tradition in public sphere like never before in the history of India, thereby promoting a syncretic tradition, without displaying the national paraphernalia.

Diatribe on TV

Then, why cannot the ‘new age anchors and journalists’ become a modern day Kabir, forging a sense of unity, without displaying grudges to the viewers? The instantly noticeable feature of contemporary news shows the pandemonic atmosphere wherein the anchor and the participants alike get involved in a diatribe.

It is even more disturbing when these debates are observed in a binary—where dialogue is ostensibly absent. So, even if the nation wants to know, it gets lost in the very often esoteric talks and thereby consensus gets distant and impact on policy decisions remote. The appeal becomes restricted only to elite journalists, think tanks and a few public intellectuals.

The idea of newsroom debates is to invoke a sense of everyday nationalism in the citizenry, not simply to provoke the speakers to diarrhoea(tic) paradiastole. The debates are contentious and endless with each passing day, with no effort on consensus building or influencing policy decision.

Recently, a popular news anchor confidently spoke of arousing the animal instinct in the participant speaker. But, is not such a vision myopic, defying the role of media as the fourth pillar of democracy? These debates can have far penetrative effects in the society and are already pipelines of myriad scattered opinions, only in need of popular imagination and policy formulation, as the back end and front end respectively.

In our quest for what constitutes ‘nationalism’, the idea of debate and dialogue is a must, even if it within the four walls of the newsroom, but without arousing the animal instinct. Arm chair nationalism is welcome, but with a difference!

(The writer, trained as a social scientist at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, is Deputy SP in Assam Police; Views are personal)
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