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War's fashion, talking peace is passé

ht view Updated: Oct 12, 2014 20:56 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times

The media is on an overdrive on either side of the border, looking for voices seeking retaliation, revenge and return of fire.

Bashing a real or perceived enemy makes for high-adrenaline television even in peace time. Markets for aggressive nationalism bordering on the militarist boom amid artillery fire across our punishing frontiers.

That’s what is happening. Television studio in India and Pakistan have become little theatres of war with guests from the rival side consistently interrupted, ridiculed and shown as nincompoops. Barring honorable exceptions, anchors are players themselves, not umpires. They take sides, pushing partisan narratives, leaving reasonable minds exasperated and asking: does it not take two to tango?

The peacenik is the first casualty in such hysteria. He’s the “fifth columnist” running away from war; a 'deserter' either eliminated from the discourse or court marshaled for cowardice on live television.

I had one such experience the other day with a well-regarded Pakistani TV channel on being invited for a show moderated (is that the word?) by a journalist I rate pretty high. But the promised phone call from never came. They had replaced me--- an incorrigible peacenik that I am--- with a burly old Indian general who they thought was better equipped to add ammunition to a fiery debate. And to add insult to injury, they didn't even care to inform.

The war games played in livings rooms on either side of the border have no use for white pigeons. Attrition, not reason is their stock in trade. Their purpose is to show the other side as the aggressor. They make people wanting to see blood.

The consequences of such maniacal discourse are hard to miss. It makes war an option in popular perception, painting governments is a corner. It leaves them hard pressed to keep sanity.

The result of such outlandish media-led campaigns could be a Kandahar type swap or reactive war cries governments have difficulties living down. That's the scenario in which people start ruling and rulers start following. The risks thereof are huge, the resultant precedents too costly to keep or repeat.

As they relentlessly chase eyeballs, a lesson lost on media practitioners --- so ably assisted by the fringe on the prowl on social sites--- is about the imperative of institutional democracy. They forget that certain decisions or choices are best made by people holding office--- not those holding forth in mock fights in air-conditioned studios far removed from damaged homes and wasted or dislocated innocent lives along our borders.

One isn't advocating pusillanimity here. The purpose is to not let us denigrate into a gladiator society. War does bequeath prizefighters. But the price of it prosperity and peace; not to mention the ever vulnerable peacenik.

He's even denied a decent funeral. For he dares to wage amity between people up in arms.