India: Calling on the Gods, but is the media there?
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India: Calling on the Gods, but is the media there?

For millions of majority Hindus in India, this is the season of homecoming. The Goddess comes home and so do Hindus – they flock together after shutting shop early or winding up from office before time.

This nine-day long festival follows a fortnight long period of remembrance but the mythology differs from one region to another, one community to another. For the spiritually inclined this is the time of quiet introspection. But for the majority it is time of fun and joy. Like all festivals are!

Nowhere is the element of celebrations during this period as pronounced as in Bengal though other regions in eastern India are also touched by this spirit of joy. Durga Puja for most Bengalis is a time of cultural, culinary and sartorial celebration – the spiritual dimension is an add-on and almost incidental.

On Tuesday almost every newspaper and TV channel carried pictures and accompanying reports on Pranab Mukherjee taking time off his busy schedule to visit his ancestral home in Birbhum to perform the Puja at his home. The stories brought out the human dimension of his persona.

Such a wide coverage in the print and electronic media could not have happened without planned orchestration. On earlier occasions when Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi were chief ministers of Bihar, pictures and reports of the duo performing Chhath Puja appeared every year.

Several public leaders and personalities visit important pilgrimage centres and quietly ensure the presence of media. The fact that these stories get carried on TV and the print media shows there is a ‘market’ for such stories. Of course, there are other leaders who choose not to invite the media for what is essentially a personal sojourn.

A few days ago this blog had gone into the issue of whether the private space of public figures should be off limits for the media or not. Given the instances that have been cited above, it is clear that the ball is set rolling by public figures and their publicists – media comes in later when invited to the private show.

The media is used as a tool to remain in the public eye. There is nothing wrong with this – probably the desire to seek publicity is a basic human trait. But then, there is a price that public figures must be willing to pay for this.

You cannot go half way up the tree. Or better still, you cannot have the cake and eat it too. If you don’t like this, then don’t call the press the next time you bow your head to the Gods. Because, the media knows no gods.