What does the letter ‘A’ stand for? In this week’s political alphabet, ‘A’ is for AAP, ‘A’ is for ‘arrest’, ‘A’ is for ‘Accused No.1’ in what news channels call Delhi’s ‘Liquor Gate’. ‘A’ is also for AAP’s ‘argument’ which several TV anchors said the BJP government had ‘amplified’ with the CBI interrogation of Manish Sisodia.
It wasn’t just the BJP and the Centre, though, that had ‘amplified’ AAP’s message. Television news channels extended a helping hand too by their wall-to-wall coverage of Sisodia’s cavalcade to CBI headquarters in Delhi, Monday morning. This provided the party with a chance to stage a ‘spectacle’ (India Today) — one that the Republic TV reporter said could be watched “all over the country”.
Indeed, AAP’s ability to “convert a crisis into opportunity” (India Today), to “project” itself as the victim of a “political vendetta” (Zee Hindustan)—and liken Sisodia to Mahatma Gandhi or Bhagat Singh—has been the hallmark of the entire sequence of events since Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena ordered a probe into allegations of corruption in Delhi’s now-withdrawn liquor excise policy this July.
And maybe, just maybe, the AAP would like to say a big thank you to the media, but in particular to TV news channels for being its advertising, “event management” consultant (Zee News)?
Do note that channels devoted themselves for over two hours to Sisodia’s progression from his home to Rajghat and then onto the CBI’s office. The Congress presidential elections being held after 22 years was almost ignored barring for the Gandhis’ voting.
Sisodia’s ‘arrest’, a message
Like the BJP, AAP knows that the media is its best ally. Consider the Sisodia-CBI episode. On Sunday, Delhi’s deputy chief minister let the word out that he had been summoned by the investigative agency. Immediately, AAP leaders took to social media to denounce the move. More importantly, they liberally gave quotable quotes which built on the “narrative” (NDTV India) that Sisodia would soon be “arrested”.
Again and again, all the leaders from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal downwards, spread the word of an imminent arrest. That Sisodia has not been arrested so far doesn’t bother AAP in the least — what matters is that they have planted the idea in the public’s mind. ‘Abki baar, Manish Sisodia giraftaar?’ asked ABP News. “The perception is that this is political,” declared News 24 anchor.
Come Monday morning and the drama commenced: “Accused No. 1 to be grilled,” announced Republic TV. First up, we saw visuals on all channels of Sisodia wearing Bhagat Singh’s colours, at home, receiving aashirvaad from his family; next, he was standing tall in his car with hands folded, as it headed towards Rajghat—M.K. Gandhi’s memorial. A bike rally and “hundreds and hundreds” (Times Now) of AAP workers sprinted along: “I am with the car,” gasped India Today’s reporter. “This is a mega show of strength… this was pre-planned…”
Well, since AAP has been anticipating Sisodia’s interrogation since July, it had loads of time to ‘plan’ and convert this into a media event. “Grand felicitation for Accused No. 1” was Republic TV’s description. “This looks like an election campaign,” said NDTV India. “(Sisodia’s) body language is very confident,” said Zee Hindustan.
Sisodia obliged his supporters — and the media — with a speech in which he said he was not scared, that this was the second fight for freedom and threw in names of Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, for good measure. He insisted the interrogation had been planned because the BJP was running scared in Gujarat, before the polls — and where AAP Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is leading a poll campaign.
Sound bytes along the way with AAP supporters reinforced the “perception that this is political,” said News 24 and repeated the key points of Sisodia’s speech. This reinforces the idea, again and again that Sisodia and AAP are being victimised.
Next bit of media management came with Sisodia shown paying his respects at Rajghat — “Keep watching Republic TV,” advised its reporter as she followed the cavalcade in great excitement. You’d think Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Britain’s King Charles II were on their way to pay homage.
“(This) is being done so the right message is given out. (AAP) is not scared of the vindictive politics of the BJP,” observed CNN News 19. “Obviously trying to make as much political capital as possible,” said the Republic TV anchor, sublimely unaware that all this sympathetic TV coverage was helping to drive AAP’s message home.
TV news, a helping hand
It’s not only the commentary but the visuals that played an important role in elevating what was an investigation of possible corruption, into a victory lap for Sisodia, who stood aloft in his care, waving and smiling. While the India Today anchor told us about the corruption allegations against him, the visuals showed Sisodia at Rajghat. Why, AAP couldn’t have visualised the scene better: Sisodia was being bathed in Gandhian hues while the alleged charges were read out…
All the while, AAP leaders like Atishi, Saurabh Bharadwaj, were giving short TV interviews, repeating and amplifying Sisodia’s comments on victimhood, and comparing him to Gandhi or Bhagat Singh.
And then, once Sisodia’s questioning began, AAP supporters on dharna outside the CBI HQ started to be dragged away by the Delhi police: “They are revolting, they are protesting – it’s their right…these are the visuals of people being dragged away…” said the Republic TV reporter, making the AAP members sound heroic.
The focus of TV news for the next 15 minutes was the protesters and the police’s efforts to disperse them, especially AAP leader Sanjay Singh: “Finally, they (the police) have Sanjay Singh,” said Times Now reporter, “Sanjay Singh is still on the ground,” added CNN News 18 as though this was a mighty feat. “We are bringing you visuals…all over the country…”
Cut to interviews with articulate AAP members such as Atishi and Saurabh Bharadwaj: “Why can’t people stand outside CBI while Manish Sisodia is inside?” she asked, rhetorically.
And so it went on, till the early afternoon. Sisodia, “the most important person of the day” as India Today called him and whatever AAP said about him and the CBI’s investigations, the comparisons with India’s freedom struggle and M.K. Gandhi were all over TV.
On the other hand, the BJP reacted at 11 am with a press conference by Sambit Patra – almost immediately, AAP held a counter presser.
AAP won the perception war: it managed to divert viewers’ attention away from serious corruption allegations and grab the headlines with its grandiose claims and counter-arguments.
The BJP found itself in the uncomfortable position of reacting to these assertions — a role it is unaccustomed to.
The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)