Analysis

Khat-Fiasco: Biased Coverage

Definitely, Rahul Gandhi has succeeded in perhaps securing more than expected media coverage for his Deoria khat conference. Yet, considering the one-sided, largely negative coverage given to the same, Rahul and old Congress stalwarts would have probably preferred being ignored by the media. Basically, there is nothing surprising about the manner in which the khats were scrambled for, as soon as the conference ended, by the audience. The gathering, according to reports, also displayed no civility in making a dash for snacks and water kept for them.

What do these reports basically indicate? Would it be fair to assume that Rahul failed to make the political impact, he probably desired for, on this gathering at Deoria? Clearly, it is as yet too early to assume this. But the media coverage accorded to this khat conference focussed only on its dismal aftermath, that hardly seems pleasing for the Congress leaders. The khat fiasco has also been presented as a sign of Rahul having failed.

Irrespective of whether the khat conference is assumed to have failed or not, that the media coverage has elaborated upon this, apparently signals prevalence of a major communication gap prevalent in coverage of such political gatherings. Greater importance has been accorded to khats looted away after the event. Undeniably, to a degree, display of such behaviour by the crowd is also suggestive of their being lack of adequate control and discipline. It may not be appropriate to project this also as a sign of insufficient security at the conference site. Had this been the case, the conference would probably not have been held. The fact that the villagers reached out for khats after the conference was over has its own relevance. This probably suggests that an attraction for their attending the conference was not just listening to what Rahul had to stay, but also to collect what they could after it.
In addition, the khat scenes, with people aggressively reaching for it in whole or parts is also a symbolic reflection of the economically weak condition of these villagers. The khats, that is the wooden cots, can hardly be labelled as expensive items, procuring which can lead to some rise in anybody’s financial status. Each cot is hardly worth around seven hundred rupees. At the most, it spells gaining just a cot or parts of it, to be probably used as wood. That is, a cot can hardly be labelled as a sign of great financial relief for those who even clashed to acquire the same at Deoria. This aspect apparently requires reflection on the economic conditions of villagers who chose to indulge in aggressive acquirement of khats used at Rahul’s meeting.

Besides, irrespective of their economic conditions, there is nothing new or surprising about people rushing out for items that they can lay their hands on free of cost.  In addition, the khat-fiasco also throws light on the little attention paid by Congress leaders towards maintaining discipline at the site. Certainly, discipline prevailed till Rahul was present there but not after his rally was over and he had moved away. Now, considering the hard reality that Indian crowd usually doesn’t refrain from reaching out for whatever it can lay its hands on, it chose to indulge in the same practice at Deoria. Who should be blamed for this? Perhaps, after the rally, the local Congress leaders and officials supposed to be in charge of discipline at the area cared little for people’s expected behaviour.

The media coverage of the khat-fiasco tended to focus on it as a sign of political embarrassment for Rahul and his party. Elaboration on this aspect also led to minimal coverage given to the response of the people to whatever Rahul may have said during this political campaign. This also is suggestive of the rally having been covered with apparently a prejudged opinion about its impact, that was probably based on the current poor rating of Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Now, from no angle can this be labelled as an objective coverage of the rally. Rather, the coverage giving greater attention to what happened after the rally only highlights the trend to give greater importance to negative behaviour of people. Had the khat-fiasco not taken place, some other negative factor might have been picked up, maybe on the way they went for available food and water. Virtually no attention has been paid to their observation of whatever Rahul may have said.

Sadly, this trend based on a pre-existing bias prevails in forming opinions about most topical issues. It does not take long for Muslims to be easily labelled as “terrorists” even though they may not be at fault. Similarly, it is not without reason that Kashmiri Muslims, residing in Jammu and Kashmir, are concerned about their voices and wounds being given barely any importance. Extensive importance accorded to khat-fiasco is just a symbolic reflection of the tendency to base news-coverage on pre-existing negative opinions, which may in reality hardly be close to primary news subject.      

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2016 on page no. 11

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