Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 3

COMMENTARY

somewhat unstable, lacking the where-


Aam Aadmi: Decoding the withal of “solid” politics.
Whatever lens we adopt, it is hard
Media Logics to dispute that this non-legacy party
has relied on the symbolic resources of
media more than any other contem-
Sahana Udupa porary political outfit. Even more, this
reliance constitutes a deeper process of

T
The spectacular rise of the he victory of the Aam Aadmi Party “mediatisation” in which the cultural,
Aam Aadmi Party and all the (AAP) is hailed as heralding a new social and political spheres become
era of urban politics in India, a increasingly dependent on the organisa-
recent controversies it has
sign of citizens finally waking up to the tional, technological and aesthetic func-
sparked prompt us to examine call of cleansing “dirty politics”. Riding tioning of media (Hjarvard 2008) in ways
the role of media in the making on the sentiment of challenging legacy that they turn into forms or formats suit-
of the “common man”. This parties and their unscrupulous politics able for media representation (Couldry
of stealth and loot, AAP has made an im- 2008). One need not assume a universalist
article traces the logics of print,
pressive foray into electoral combat by media logic and its unquestioned hege-
television, and social media, to combining rhetoric with hard organisa- mony to see the merit in the argument
ask what it means to consider AAP tional work. In the recently concluded that media resources have become more
as a “media party”. Delhi elections, the party meticulously important for all domains of public life in
organised door-to-door campaigning to the current moment of rapid expansion
strike a direct connection with the voters, of media, including most prominently the
kept the fund-raising fully transparent way politics is played and experienced.
with all the details made available on The deeply mediatised nature of AAP
their website, fielded their candidates politics, then, requires some analysis of
only after ensuring they faced no criminal the media logics that are at work. By the
charges, and prepared customised mani- same measure, it is important to ques-
festos for the assembly constituencies tion whether these logics can retain the
with an appeal that reached out to the momentum beyond the euphoria of citizen
middle class as well as the poor. activism, and its current location in
Although these have been the ideals of rapidly shifting megacities such as Delhi.
“clean” electoral politics, the stupendous How do we trace the media’s shoring up
hypocrisy among a large crop of politi- of anti-corruption sensibility and its work
cians and political parties has meant in turning this into a political force?
that they are used not as guidelines to be How is this form distinct from the inves-
followed, but as grounds to discredit the tigative, anti-establishment journalism
opponents. The silent pact of perform- triggered in the post-Emergency years by
ing opposition while remaining wedded newspapers such as The Indian Express?
to the same rules of realpolitik and loot- What institutional changes prompted
ing of natural resources through ugly commercial private media to take up the
channels of liberalisation seem to have cause in all its distinctness, with all its
pushed the “common man” to a brink. trappings? Some of these questions could
be answered if we examine the transfor-
‘Mediatisation’ mation of print news media in the early
AAP represents a sentiment that is im- 1990s, when the first definitive wave
mensely supported and shaped by the of liberalisation deepened the techno-
“mainstream” media, which stands in optimism of the Rajiv Gandhi era and
stark contrast to the deeply hostile media prompted newspapers such as The Times
reception of Maoism and radical left of India to articulate “New India” as the
politics opposing mindless appropriation aspirational symbol.
of liberalisation by the elite and continued
forms of historical injustice. The argu- ‘New India’
ment that AAP is a “media creation” is Well before the “television revolution”,
Sahana Udupa (udupa@mmg.mpg.de) is at the quite well known, which sometimes also these articulations were set in motion to
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious suggests that the party and the anti- legitimise the Indian state’s aggressive
and Ethnic Diversity, Germany.
corruption movement that bore it are drive towards privatisation. Central to
Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 15, 2014 vol xlIX no 7 13
COMMENTARY

these shifts was the imagination of a Third, a logic internal to the media The idea of “citizen journalists” took
“new reader”, who was believed to be not was also significant in deepening the root precisely in this intra-institutional
just a passive recipient of state favours or discourse of responsibilised citizens stand- context, together with its troubling con-
passive victim of negligence, but one who ing up bravely against the “debauched” sequences of appropriating informal and
demanded redressal through his own political class. With the dramatic expan- precarious immaterial labour for corpo-
agency (mostly male in the journalistic sion of private television and new media, rate gains (Ross 2009), and its equally
imagination) by bringing the state to the problem of interactivity started to troubling neo-liberal politics. In a pro-
account. Three influences were crucial loom large within the print media, now found sense, the city-level campaigns by
in this shift. seen unflatteringly as “traditional” media. the English media became prototypes for
First was the growing salience of the Although new media has still not made the nationwide anti-corruption and Aam
“governance” model in international any significant dent in the print media, Aadmi movements, with the celebration of
forums, which permeated policy circles journalists started to foresee their dark citizen journalism by television channels
with its attendant vocabulary of trans- future, following the dramatic decline ensuring a steady flow of performative
parency, efficiency, accountability and of print media in the west. resources for anyone who claimed stake
participation, as opposed to top-down in “New India”. These forms are distinct
models of control and pedagogy. News- Corruption and Changing Media from a more top-down crusader model
papers such as The Times of India inter- To reverse the monological status of pursued by The Indian Express and other
preted this as a call for greater privatisa- media, print media started to infuse inter- papers in the past, and even more dis-
tion, not only in state services, but also activity in its daily operations by initiat- tant from the media-led popular politics
in a broader sense of urban renewal, ing a range of “reader-connect” activities. of “screen gods” such as N T Rama Rao
when cities like Delhi and Bangalore In cities like Bangalore, The Times of (NTR) and M G Ramachandran (MGR) in
were poised to realise the dream of India organised several campaigns to ac- south India.
global India by successfully becoming tively involve the readers, and rallied While the neo-liberal politics underly-
global cities of the third world with them around demands for better physical ing the emergence of AAP and city-level
impeccable physical infrastructure and infrastructure in the city – flyovers, anti-corruption movements has to be
impressive “service delivery”. Citizens airport, drains and garbage disposal. considered seriously, the activisms should
were celebrated as active agents demand- The English media’s world-class city by no means be brushed aside by this
ing efficient delivery of services. discourse, thus, relied on and entailed very token. It would be simplistic to as-
The discourse of responsibilised citizens a major transformation of newsrooms, sume that anti-corruption is just a ploy
reflected the neo-liberal logic of citizen not only with their shrinking editorial of an ambitious, yet vulnerable media,
agency, where questions of class and autonomy and rise of market-driven or worse still, a handiwork of a totalis-
caste were made to appear regressive. news agendas – a story now well known ing neo-liberal capital logic. For one,
The zeal to cleanse “traditional politics” in popular debates – but also through the energies of the movements and the
came with the troubling underside of ways in which a new idea of newsrooms enthusiasm with which people voted for
neo-liberal flattening, where what as agents of civic activism gained force. the party signal the effects of “corruption”
mattered was just “aspiration”, and any The campaigns and petitions at the city as a symbol in popular imagination,
questions raising forms of cleavages and level were firmly anchored to articulat- which has become even more compel-
inequalities became a dangerous throw- ing a global-modern class culture with ling with massive scandals breaking out
back to old-style politics. its ideological arsenal of corporate ex- back-to-back. Moreover, the media scene
Second, the ideology of “last-mile”, cellence, a decadent state and an aspira- itself is shifting with the expanding social
where the problem was one of delivery – tional middle class. Among other things, media emerging as a new force, and
the last connecting node between the these campaigns involved middle-class potentially, a powerful, if not autono-
state and citizens – had its obvious villain. readers in civic activism, and activated mous, player in the years to come. By
The political class was to be blamed for neighbourhood associations by encour- their own admission, AAP has hugely
all the gaps and slips. The anti-political aging new forms of citizen vigilantism. benefited from social media – from
class rhetoric combined easily with the All the while, the print media assiduously organising the movement to upholding
promise of a new citizen who would tried to circumvent the limitations of a its mission among the youth.
persistently demand accountability and monological medium, by offering news With 80 million active internet users on
transparency. Throughout this discursive not as much as just-in-time information, personal computers (24% penetration),
move, the political class became a meto- but as embodied urban subjectivity with 39 million internet users on mobile
nym for the state, in that the failures of no burden of truth claims. phones (12% penetration) and 57 million
the political class were nothing but the With the expansion of television media, on social media (17% penetration), urban
failure of the state, which should, as the pressure of “digital interactivity” India constitutes a growing community
soon as it can, retreat in infrastructural grew phenomenally. Television channels of online media users. The real limita-
and other areas to ensure better results spared no time in involving the viewers tion of social media lies in the fact that
and better “service delivery”. in their daily cycles of news creation. social media users are also currently the
14 february 15, 2014 vol xlIX no 7 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
COMMENTARY

mainstream media’s “monetisable” audi- oscillated between ethno-religious na- an exemplary case is a recent television
ence and, hence, the overlaps in political tionalism, and socio-economic issues of discussion when a well-known news an-
orientations are not a mere coincidence. corruption and economic growth through- chor anxiously grilled a victorious AAP
Yet, social media reflects the growing out its career in postcolonial India. On candidate as to whether they would take
enthusiasm among the youth to parti- social media, both these discourses are Delhi back to the licence raj and cast a
cipate in high politics, with an enter- brought together, erasing any possible spell of doom over all efforts at privati-
prise spirit that draws inspiration partly contradiction. The enterprise model, built sation. The AAP leader had to reassure
from new media-led movements of the into the new media architecture, is crucial that they are indeed not anti-business.
Arab Spring. The sense of enterprise in pushing these internet Hindus and The recent debates on AAP’s anarchist
emerges from a variety of market-led an avowedly non-ideological brigade of tendencies and a sudden eruption of
features inherent in the new media archi- online users fighting the cause of secular negative reports on AAP in the main-
tecture, including net busyness where corruption. Internet Hindus imagine them- stream English media are indicative of
compulsive clicking becomes a ritual selves as heroic warriors fighting the media’s alarm against activism going
(Udupa 2014). The experiential sense of ideological battle on their own terms, out of hand. For the media taken as a
anonymity on online media and the and upon their own will. whole, this might also signal Nick Coul-
gamification of network architecture are It is this articulated conjunction be- dry’s sobering caution that the possibili-
crucial in shoring up these new entre- tween corruption, neo-liberal subjecti- ties for “transformative political action
preneurial ways of political partici- vity and enterprise politics that gives rea- are weighted towards short-term disrup-
pation. Several social media users I met son for caution. No doubt, AAP captured tive interventions and away from long-
in Mumbai and Bangalore declared the sentiments well and beyond the term positive projections” (2012: 125).
enthusiastically that they are here to cherished upwardly mobile middle class, This sobering note remains valid despite
bring a change, which is now possible reflecting the frustrations of the poorer the media’s euphoric imagination of
with new media because it provides a class groups, who are equally strongly New India.
public-like forum, which can circum- affected by and angry about governmen- Just as our analysis cannot rely on the
vent the established structures of politi- tal corruption. In many ways, AAP repre- left utopias, one might also recognise
cal authority as well as the symbolic sents an instance where the disjunction that it is not possible to rely on a politics
dominance of mainstream media. It is between what I have argued as mediated that promises the utopia of clean gov-
this sense of enterprise spirit that has “desire” – to clean up cities and politics ernance, which is, in its mediatised
brought AAP activists and Modi activists with a new middle-class agency – and form, a pro-business argument. It is then
perilously close, at times constituting a structured visibilities, i e, the politics of even more important to bring to con-
significant overlap. publicity charged by proliferating media stant public scrutiny the “hidden injuries
for multiple publics (Udupa 2012), re- of media” (Couldry 2008) with all its
Internet Hindus mains not just as a tension between shifts and variations, while recognising
“Internet Hindus” or “Cyber Hindus”, the disconnected mediations, but becomes the genuine promise of participation it
self-styled right-wing Hindu activists, deeply co-constitutive. Even social media has sparked along the way.
are a highly visible group of social media consensus over corruption appears to
users in India and in diasporic locations. have come under strain with growing References
The allure of anonymity in new media bickering between AAP “camps” and the Couldry, Nick (2008): “Digital Storytelling, Media
and the promise of trumping organised Hindutva army on Twitter and Face- Research and Democracy: Conceptual Choices
and Alternative Futures” in Knut Lundby (ed.),
media’s symbolic power have encour- book. New media is also expanding Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories: Self-
aged a large number of technologically beyond the middle classes with smart representations in New Media (New York: Peter
Lang Publishing), 41-60.
alert Hindutva sympathisers to present phones penetrating many different cor- – (2012): Media, Society, World: Social Theory
themselves as ideological entrepreneurs, ners of the country. and Digital Media Practice (Cambridge, MA:
Polity).
taking up right-wing ideology in their Hjarvard, Stig (2008): “The Mediatization of Society:
own hands. One finds here a deepening Conclusions A Theory of the Media as Agents of Social
and Cultural Change”, Nordicom Review, 29(2):
of the articulation of Hindutva with the All these appear to be encouraging 105-34.
liberalisation discourse of the early signs, but the excessive reliance of AAP Ross, Andrew (2009): Nice Work If You Can Get It:
Life and Labor in Precarious Times (New York:
1990s and pitching of Hindutva against on media could mean that the AAP lead- New York University Press).
secular corruption, after two decades of ers should constantly confront the chal- Udupa, Sahana (2012): “Desire and Democratic
liberalisation and two continuous re- lenge of being important for corporate Visibility: News Media’s Twin Avatar in Urban
India”, Media, Culture and Society, 34(7):
gimes of the Indian National Congress media, which finds new ways to reaffirm 880-97.
Party. This is, in fact, not entirely new or the corruption discourse in its original – (2014): “Internet Hindus: Right-wingers as
Mumbai’s Ideological Warriors” in Peter van
distinct from the strategies of organised conception of pro-privatisation politics. der Veer (ed.), Religion in Asian Cities (Berke-
Hindutva in India. As van der Veer One can cite a number of television in- ley: University of California Press).
van der Veer, Peter (1994): Religious Nationalism:
(1994) and other scholars astutely ob- terviews or newspaper columns to sup- Hindus and Muslims in South Asia (Berkeley:
serve, Hindu nationalist politics has port this scepticism, but what strikes as University of California Press).

Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 15, 2014 vol xlIX no 7 15