The political is populist: talk shows, political debates, and the middle-class public sphere in India
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Emerging literature on the rapid rise of 24-hour commercial news television in India in the last decade, as well as popular and editorial commentary on the above phenomenon, suggests that these channels are playing the role of mediators for the middle classes. While the news content is widely believed to be sensationalised for the sake of attaining higher ratings in an overcrowded and competitive market, political talk shows have turned into the analytical and narrative extension of news segments. By including the ordinary - mostly through its mediation by middle-class experts and journalists - these talk shows have turned into the popular culture equivalent of a public sphere for middle-class discussions of pertinent political issues. This article traces the genealogy of a long-standing political talk show on one of India's longest-running commercial networks, NDTV 24x7's We the People, to demonstrate its attempts to mirror an inclusive Indian public sphere. Further, in light of the recent middle class-led anti-corruption movement in India, and subsequent conclusions about the weakening of the state, an episode of the talk show titled 'Anna and the Great Indian Middle Class' is subject to a detailed textual analysis. The purpose of this analysis is to demonstrate the show's construction of (a) corruption as a pan-Indian, and not just a middle-class, issue; (b) the middle class itself as a homogeneous group; and (c) the televisual public sphere (and not a community consultation involving representatives of the state) as a place for establishing populist consensus. Literature on new political television and theories of the public sphere are used as theoretical springboards throughout the article.