By Patricia Mukhim
After Bernard Marak his fellow rebel Bachu Marak, the President of the BJP’s North Garo Hills District has also shot to national fame after resigning from the BJP. So you have to grant it to this national party which preaches a superior political righteousness, for catapulting personalities formerly known for pulling the trigger on unsuspecting civilians, on the superfluous plank of Garo sub-nationalism. Bachu Marak is little known even in Garo Hills. If he stood for elections it is doubtful as to how many votes he would garner but for now he has become the male prima donna who dared to challenge the BJP’s beef ban politics.
But speaking about catapulting complete non-entities into celebrity statuses, one must admire the hyper- ventilated national media for this. Can anyone from some obscure part of Garo Hills who is virtually unknown even within the region be called a “state” leader? Well, the brash and cacophonous television media all looking to survive in a critically reduced air space and competing to break news 24×7, has turned journalism on its head. Journalism is about explaining to people in distant spaces about some of the basic facts behind a story. But those facts just don’t come out.
Now what are the facts the reader/audience wants when she/he hears about Bachu Marak? First of all we want to know his political background, his area of influence, his past accomplishments which make him a force for the Congress Party to contend with; the issues plaguing Meghalaya that he has raised and which have made it to the local media. But there’s absolutely NOTHING one knows about the guy until he decides to make a beef and bicchi (a locally brewed liquor)party, to protest the beef ban. And it was not even his original idea. He was only following in the footsteps of Bernard Marak, the self-styled leader of the breakaway faction of the ANVC, an insurgent outfit. That’s all there is to Bachu Marak! So is he a fit character to be named a ‘state’ leader in the ‘national’ news media?
So then how do the national media pick up news from this obscure part of the country? Well, they have their regional correspondents based at Guwahati. If a certain Bachu Marak makes news from this region then the regional correspondent who operates from several hundred kilometers away and who in turn relies on feeds from someone closer to the ground, is also a newsmaker. In a world where journalism is itself at an all time low and people with the ‘journalist’ tag have a different agenda than to do ‘journalism,’ you have a potent cocktail of misinformation or selective information here. And how do all of us from this periphery even try and counter such misinformation? We don’t have the wherewithal do we? And would the news channel stand corrected thereafter? No way! For them correcting a story is a huge loss of face. So the whole nation, nay the whole world is fed a lie! How do you like that aspect of journalism?
And speaking of the BJP which seems to have acquired a curious competence of shooting itself on the foot, one has to say that politics is a lousy game of thrones. The BJP did not have a toe-hold in Meghalaya except for the fact that its President Shibun Lyngdoh secured a sizeable number of votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There are as yet very few credible faces that have emerged to carry the BJP flag without diffidence and with the confidence of one who believes in the Party ideology. Many who I met have defended their being in the BJP despite being “Christians” and said that it is important that members of that faith engage with the Party to bring in some sanity in the way that the BJP honchos and the RSS ideologues think about the tribes of the region. Fair enough! But should this party which waxes eloquent on “nationalism” even induct former militants who have not even had adequate time to cool their ‘bloody’ hands?
At the moment the BJP is like a party that is scrounging and rummaging in the Congress’s waste paper basket trying to salvage something for itself. Is this what the BJP represents? The dregs of the Congress who never made it to the limelight? And then the Party promises change and is all geared up to take on the Congress! To challenge the Congress which has ruled Meghalaya for all of 38 years, the BJP has to tread a different, more difficult path, but its leaders don’t wish to step out of their comfort zones in Shillong.
Politics sure is a treacherous game and as we wait and watch for the 2018 Assembly elections to unfold we wonder how many such stories from journalists embedded in the warm places of militant camps we will have to be fed.
The writer is a recipient of the Padma Shri Award as well as Editor of The Shillong Times