New Delhi: For want of a better description, you may call them media politicians. The media chooses to build them up for a variety of reasons, although a proven record in governance may not be one of them. Qualities are attributed to them which may not exist. There is such wall-to-wall coverage of their activities accompanied by breathless commentary that it would be hard for anyone not to be impressed. At the elections, they may or may not do well. But strangely, it does not diminish their appeal. But when there is a major upset, and the media politicians are proved ciphers, their backers and investors are left shame-faced, but not for long, because there is a new crop of phoney leaders who have to be propped up. And so it goes spiralling down.

It is not important to name and shame these media politicians, but they are all over the place. They have made the country more ungovernable than it really is. If in power, the media politicians prefer to operate through the bureaucracy. The old ways of making political contacts with the people have been abandoned for a new model of governance that has no corporeality in real life. A relief camp for riot victims becomes worse than a slum but no one will take blame. Corruption, kickbacks and loot reach unbelievable proportions and those that are the kingpins condemn them guiltlessly and the media plays along with the farce. Since there is a possibility that if you repeat a lie often enough, it is perceived to be the truth, the gigantic deception relentlessly powers ahead.

Is the media to blame? Not really. The media is one manifestation of the present, and the present has become more superficial than ever before. One cause of this superficiality is that the personal has become political. Don’t confuse this personalized politics as the strengthening of the individual, which is valuable. The present has more to do with fashionability than thinking. Herd mentality reigns supreme today. People prefer to get their current affairs and history via television than from newspapers (despite their peaking ephemerality) and books. Everything is up for debate, for scoring points, than to go to the meat of the issue. Politics is founded on debate, but on much else too. Understanding deepens politics, and experience and a sense of history count as assets. Politics is more than the present, and the right balance is struck when considerations of past and future adequately weigh in. This is missing in today’s politics, where glamour supersedes substance, the current is manipulated, and success is measured by prime-time television coverage. It is politics of the media, where the media is as manipulable as the politics it seeks to manipulate, and the end outcome is all round wretchedness.

The country’s wretchedness flows from the manipulable politics, where voters are conditioned not to vote for the long term. They are swayed by every passing fancy and passion, and this is partly the cause for the extreme political fragmentation of the state. There have perhaps never been as many regional parties as now, and for the most part, their record in government is a disaster. Elections are meant to rejuvenate democracy, but their outcomes compound the existing mess, and make democracy unworkable. If this were to be part of a learning process, it would be tolerable, but the record is getting murkier by the day. There is lessening emphasis on governance, on delivery, on making the democratic process work, because this is what finally gives legitimacy to democracy. Instead, democracy is presented as a multiplication of choices, where one choice is worse than the other. The concept of leadership has changed, and the fundamental tenet of this new leadership principle is, spread the risk. Disown responsibility. Blame the other, especially when there is a good chance that your bluff will not be called.

This is simply no way to run the country. On the surface, it may look all good when the media politicians are projected from the screens mouthing platitudes. But in the end, nothing gets done. The country is stagnating. Stagflation has seized the country, a condition which is difficult to break free from. More than any time now, you need determined leadership at the Centre, firm policy steps, a strong vision, and importantly, the conviction to carry the country. But who is flagging these issues? Does anybody care? The country is lurching from crisis to crisis. Events grab the headlines in competitive, mindless frenzy, leaving the state thoughtless for the coming time. The nation has no direction, and there are not many who understand the need for this.

India is at peril.