May 16, 2004
The 2004 Elections were a stunner, no doubt about it. Most commentators were caught out, having been completely bowled over by the NDA’s spin, and the careful papering over of the deep maladies afflicting the country’s people. Few were aware about the worsening situation of farmers and the many injustices, small and large, of the last 5 years. Those living in the urban centres, cut off from their countrymates, or those abroad in media saturated countries like the US and Canada, have gotten used to the political punditry and media almost dictating the course of democracy, as opposed to the people from the ground up. Indeed this has been most true in the US, where the corporate media has worked hand in hand with the Bush administration to shape public opinion, turning blatant lies and distortions into truths and causing people to vote for elite policies at the expense of their own interests.
As such the elections results powerfully demonstrated that the disconnect between the mass commercial media, the urban elite, and rural India has never been greater. This is best reflected in how lazy exit poll takers got it so wrong with their exit polls, probably as they only went to easy to reach urban poll booths for their surveys. Moreover, most of the papers, particularly the English language ones owned by big corporate houses, were so blinded by the sentiment of the urban elite, that they were caught oblivious to the rising tide of discontent.
As a pioneer of the use of the Internet and part-time techy, it might seem deeply ironic to take to task this virtual reality thinking so vehemently. However, I was always skeptical, realizing early on that much of the IT bubble economy was contributing NOTHING to the real economy or real culture, especially not enough to justify the bloated IT salaries the came along with sitting in front of a computer all day. Likewise, the tunnel vision afforded by a singular focus on the all-encompassing CRT or LCD screen, neat and tidy in its arrangement of pixels, had the tendency to blind us and distract us from the real world situation with its deepening poverty, violence, disparity, and degraded environment.
The disconnect between this economy and the real economy of workers and farmers who make real things and grow real food formed the crux of this election. As the results showed, especially in Andhra, the rural masses of Bharat spoke loud and clear, rejecting the “India Shining” glitzy marketing campaign of the NDA. Hopefully, the new government will take notice of this vote, and work for the common man, or else they will suffer the same fate.