Pulwama attack- Balanced Public Opinion in Time of Crisis

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A protestor shouts slogans against Thursday’s attack on a paramilitary convoy in Pulwama. — AP

by Manoj Kumar 24 February 2019

The nationalist and patriotic fervor in India after Pulwama attack is quiet understandable. The overreach of electronic media has made it possible to bring the images of that horrific incident to the drawing room of every citizen of country and across the globe. And even more live was social media where the images, videos and comments were even more explicit and speculative than any form of news tool. All these tools were streaming with emotions calling for ultimate revenge which at that moment were quite understandable but the effective action to avoid such kind of action requires cool headed analysis and planning rather making jingoistic punitive plans.

In his classic work “Public Opinion” in 1922 Walter Lippmann has described how ‘public opinion’ is influenced by media and state machinery for national and political objectives, and how every event is presented before public with narrative that can influence the public thinking in a particular direction. Political scientists and some historians have tended to emphasize the role of public opinion in government and politics, paying particular attention to its influence on the development of government policy. Indeed, some political scientists have regarded public opinion as equivalent to the national will. In such a limited sense, however, there can be only one public opinion on an issue at any given time.    

The English jurist and historian James Bryce, writing in the late 19th and the early 20th century, maintained that a government based on popular consent would give a nation great stability and strength but did not believe that public opinion could or should determine the details of policy, since in his view most people do not have the leisure or inclination to arrive at a position on every question. Rather, the masses would set the general tone for policy, their sentiments leading them to take a stand on the side of justice, honour, and peace. Nearly all thinkers of public opinion, irrespective of the way they may define it, agree that, in order for a phenomenon to count as public opinion, at least four conditions must be satisfied: (1) there must be an issue, (2) there must be a significant number of individuals who express opinions on the issue, (3) there must be some kind of a consensus among at least some of these opinions, and (4) this consensus must directly or indirectly exert influence. The present scenario qualifies all the prerequisites mentioned above.

In the present scenario of heightened scenario where it seems the media especially the electronic media has become more judgmental than analytical, the penal discussions were it seems to be meant for giving vent to feelings of anger and hyper-nationalism. Though the print media has taken much more balanced approach and quality of editorials in national dailies were much pragmatic in suggesting future course of action. The jingoistic consensus may take institutions to cul-de-sac and point of no return, and even sometimes decisions were taken by government not cool minded appreciation but under public pressure. The example of IC 814 where the pressure of relatives of personnel who were travelling in that particular flight was so much that the government of the day has to release the terrorist who caused significant damage to national security after release. The release was considered to satisfy the anxiety of relatives of travelers of IC 814 and event was taken as achievement of ‘objective’. The responsibility of electronic and print media is increased many more times in the recent years and it must understand the damage that hyper public opinion can cause in national interest and achievement of diplomatic and strategic objectives. Any kind of military action is dictated and precluded by clear cut strategic, diplomatic and political objectives. The military plan is rarely devoid of political bargaining capacity of Statesmans after conclusion of military operations.

The important objective at such hour of heightened emotions is to strengthened notion of nation, where any political or administrative step must lead to ensure establishment of strong nation state. The self styled vigilantism based upon the information received via social media can do more harm in formulation of mature public opinion.