Stop Panicking

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A media colleague during a casual exchange pointed out that it is the media who are to be blamed for panic buying. One may differ or wholeheartedly agree with him. His contention was that the intrinsic nature of media to disseminate news, in a way promotes panic among the people. Media are the first to be informed. For that matter, organisation whosoever wants to call a blockade have to inform the media first, either in person or through statements. The media then publish or broadcast it in the interest of public. Now, let’s look at it from a different angle. What would be the picture if the media stops dispersing such kind of proclamation? Irrefutably that would be a breach of duty from the part of media. Besides, the media houses might get booked for curbing the democratic right of the citizens. We hope that a day like that should never come in the history of journalism. It is the solemn duty of the press to facilitate free flow of information and knowledge to the people. However it is appropriate to try to understand the nuances of collective behavior of the people at the time of ‘crisis’ like economic blockade.  People are always on high alert whenever there is news of blockade. The most alert groups are those who run the gas stations. They are not only quick but also united in staging theatrics of scarcity. Academics as well as the business clique spent a good amount of resource and time to study consumer behavior. This study helps in mapping a pattern of behavior of the consumer. Accordingly product designs and marketing strategies are drawn with astute business sense. For those who run gas station in the valley they follow a simple logic of business. First, gathering information for an impending economic blockade. Two, keep in hand of a handwritten billboard which says ‘Petrol Nil’ or ‘Diesel Nil’, to be put up simultaneously. One cannot blame the people of the Manipur valley alone for their panicky behavior. The Wall Street Journal has reported of people standing in long line for gasoline when Hurricane Katrina disabled oil drilling facilities in US gulf coast. In 2011, China Daily reported of worried shoppers stripping stores of salt in Beijing, Shanghai, San Francisco and other cities during the Japan nuclear crisis.  Sociological studies done on panic buying maintains that it is the peoples’ reasonable beliefs about others’ behavior and their reasonable mistrust of the authority. It is the individual interest rather than collective interest and the fear of being ‘left out’. In a nutshell it is a collective disorganisation in response to a crisis. Against the backdrop of an economic blockade people of the valley believe that there will be scarcity of oil; they also believe that anybody who owns a vehicle will try to fill their tanks in earnest. And their most firm belief is that the government will bungle with the issue. It is the routine exercise of the government to give firefighting response in any given crisis. The authority will not take any preemptive measure to avoid the crisis. This behavior of the government is also well understood by the organisation that comes up with demands. Having said all these, any demand that hinges on ‘panicky disorganisation’ benefits only the oil cartels, and the black marketeers: keeping the people high and dry.

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