Punjabi antenna
More heat than light
Randeep Wadehra

What is worse than ignorance? Misinformation, especially when it comes from people who should know better. On September 2, DD Punjabi, in its Charcha talk show, held a discussion on small-scale enterprise as a solution to Punjab’s unemployment problem. The invited panellists comprised a former minister, an industrialist and a village sarpanch. The learned ex-minister, holding mismanagement by successive governments in the state as well as the centre as a major cause, asserted that in 1947 India’s population was 30 crore, but the unemployed were only one crore or 3 per cent of the population (the source of these figures is a mystery); today, while the population is 121 crore, the unemployed comprise 17 per cent of the population. This assertion went unchallenged despite the presence of an anchor who looked reasonably educated. Worse, the audience, mainly comprising college-going youth, too, did not contest this falsehood.

The announcement of the withdrawal of the government’s 2003 notification on Sehajdhari Sikhs resulted in a furore among various political parties
The announcement of the withdrawal of the government’s 2003 notification on Sehajdhari Sikhs resulted in a furore among various political parties Tribune Photo: Himanshu Mahajan

According to the Planning Commission, the projected percentage of the unemployed was not expected to exceed 1 per cent by the end of the 10th Five Year Plan. Even if we include hidden unemployment, the figure should not exceed 2 per cent of the population. Independent and foreign sources, the CIA Factbook, for instance, peg the absolute numbers of unemployed in India at 40 million, slightly more than 3 per cent! Where did the learned ex-minister get his facts from?

As if this exercise in retailing untruth was not enough, the other panellist – an industrialist – could not think of any solution to the unemployment problem; therefore, he repeated the already discredited focal-point scheme. He advised the youth to go to Hyderabad and Bangalore to learn IT skills and return to Punjab to set up IT industry. Then he began mouthing the familiar litany of Punjab entrepreneurs’ woes. The village sarpanch appeared to be confused about the proceedings and his role therein; and, thus, contributed nothing to the debate. DD Punjabi, despite having lost its monopoly, still reaches out to a significant section of the Punjabi population. Every care should be taken that its content is authentic and the panellists on its talk shows have something credible to convey.

`A0Media can be a powerful propaganda tool – something that is not lost on Punjab’s politicians as well as the Punjabi media honchos. Now, while PTC News, in its Straight Talk, was projecting Sukhbir Badal as an enlightened reformer and great Punjabi hope, the Day and Night News in its bulletins (e.g., Khabran, September 1 evening) painted him as a great betrayer of the Sikh cause merely because he sidestepped a loaded question on Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s fate when a journalist premised it on the Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution on Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. In fact the DNN correspondent’s words and tone were so sarcastic that one wondered whether he was reporting or launching a political tirade against Sukhbir Badal. Subsequently, SS Barnala went ballistic against the Badals on DNN.

The first week of September began on a rather bizarre note with the news coming in of withdrawal of the Central Government’s 2003 notification on Sehajdhari Sikhs. Even as various political-religious groupings began airing their ire on different channels, Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s clarification – that no such withdrawal was even being contemplated – was aired repeatedly. This must have come as an anti-climax for the marginalised extremists who have been dreaming of wreaking havoc in the region again. Interestingly, when news regarding the notification’s withdrawal was telecast on September 1, epithets like "joke on Sikh community," "conspiracy," "hamla" etc were hurled at the Central Government. The next day, when the news of the denial came in, the same epithets were once again used with "fraud" being a colourful addition.

Similar was the language when the Centre rejected the enactment of a separate Sikh Marriage Act. Predictably, the media debates on these developments generated more heat than light.