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Crusade, cricket and TRPs


Guess what had people hooked to TV sets the most in recent weeks? Dhoni's boys and Anna's ploys. Both events had the ingredients of challenge, threat and uncertainty about end results.

Back-to-back events of the last few days which captured popular imagination have been a great revelation of our country's pulse. In one light, there appears little in common between India's World Cup victory and Anna Hazare's fast unto death for the Lokpal Bill. But it doesn't require deep intellectual insight to discover shared traits in these seemingly unconnected but co-terminus events.

Both the World Cup matches and Anna's campaign had a build-up of challenge, threat and uncertainty about the end result. They were about pitching the might of one team against another (Anna's supporters versus the state and other opponents critical of his approach).

The events capitalised on a feeling of nationalism among the average citizens, resulting in a bonding across geographic and cultural divides. The events further culminated in successful endings (at least Anna has broken his fast for the moment and ensured a couple of triumphs against an anxious government), triggering a feeling of goodness and hope in times of gloom and despair on account of varying national issues from inflation to corruption.

There is no denying the element of theatre that became part of the fabric of these movements - built on idolisation and hero worship of individuals - as a clutch of factors came together to raise both Hazare and the cricketers to a higher level of esteem in the public eye. We are no strangers to political theatre, but both the campaigns had something of the typical Gandhian appeal in their mass youth following, and neither can be brushed aside as just another instance of the jadu-ki-jhappi syndrome.

With all these elements in place, little surprise then that the media sensed the opportunity and, in a way, showed how the two unrelated events matched quite equally in their pull over the audiences. Fortunately, we did not see sponsors running advertisements in tune with the Anna coverage - 'Buy Anna brand topis to beat the heat', 'Drink Anna shakes for lung power', 'Wear Anna sandals for more powerful strides'.

But in the din of hype generated by spectators, commentators and action replays of the action heroes, it is critical to place things in perspective. There is an opportunity here for tremendous good. There is an equal chance of seeing all the anti-corruption passion turn into wasted promise and disappointed energy.

It is a heartening signal that our country is much more socially conscious today than it was even in the recent past. Average citizens have a voice and intent to affect change, though they may be lacking in the platforms that make possible such engagements. Our population, driven by the youth brigade, becomes a critical deciding factor and we can utilise their energies to cheer our cricket team as well as influence change in the national polity.

Perhaps we can use the Anna TRPs to talk more about national issues concerning us, use the power of media and corporate endorsements to highlight work of national heroes, and there are many (see Hazares in our midst). And most important, show simplified steps by which spectators and commentators themselves get a chance to become action heroes.

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