Think of paradise on earth and Kashmir comes to mind, although thousands of NRIs were in the seventh heaven in Sydney, Australia when ‘Boss Modi’ appeared before them at the Quodos stadium. They could well be joined there by India’s MPs after they step into the heavenly abode of the new Parliament building.
From the virtual tour we saw on TV, Wednesday, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah as our guide, it resembles a 20-star hotel — if that’s possible. It was made all the more wondrous by Shah’s interaction with the media. Yes, viewers, the Home Minister, held a press briefing and fielded questions from journalists. You had to rub your eyes in wonder: was this for real?
Seriously, when was the last time the home minister did a live, televised Q&A with the media? In our dreams? Sure, he regularly gives soundbites and interviews to individual journalists but can you recall a media briefing like this one?
To their credit, the journalists were not overawed and asked him some awkward political questions regarding the Opposition plan to boycott the inauguration of the new building. He was so diplomatic in his replies, he could be a Foreign Service officer.
Also read: Middle East can be crucial ally for India on Kashmir. Its G20 absence shows challenges ahead
‘Peaceful’ Srinagar on TV
Most TV journalists in Kashmir were equally tactful about the situation in Srinagar during the G20. They prefaced all their reports by saying they were in a ‘Naya Kashmir’ where paradise lost had been regained.
Well, lucky them. The closest we got to heaven was to see Dal Lake, bejeweled with shikara lights, twinkling in the dark during a joy ride for G20 delegates. “It’s looking beautiful, breathtaking!” gasped the India Today correspondent.
Besides that, we saw very little of the ‘Naya Kashmir’ or even the old Srinagar: there was the venue of the G20 meetings, delegates being welcomed with garlands – and one spruced up street, lined with smart shops laden with Kashmiri handicrafts. “It has an English look,” said Zee News.
We saw RRR actor Ram Charan arrive at the airport, his subsequent interview for the G20 delegates, speeches by officials and the Lieutenant Governor of J&K Manoj Sinha.
Ah yes, the Aaj Tak correspondent took us to Lal Chowk, where she spoke to people who went about their daily lives; they said G20 was “great” for the state and the economy.
This was pretty much echoed across channels: reporters admired how “peaceful” Srinagar was (Aaj Tak), and the efforts to make it into a “smart city” (India TV). Indian tourists were delighted and “very impressed” (Republic TV) – everyone agreed that the G20 meet “was a big development”, the first international event in the Valley since Article 370 was abrogated in 2019.
Beyond this, the ‘glittering facelift for Kashmir’ witnessed by news channels such as NDTV 24×7 was missing from the TV coverage – we didn’t get to see it. The only other highlights we saw were the security arrangements: large black jeeps rumbled along with the delegates inside, heavily armed security men paraded the streets, even checking garbage cans. “Very tight security,” revealed NDTV 24×7 reporter, “Security is a challenge,” added Times Now. Well, what do you expect when there’s a “…cave of terror…” found in Poonch (CNN News 18)?
Terror always threatened the edges of the halcyon picture that was on display. And if there is terror, then India’s envious neighbours must be involved — at least that’s how Pakistan and China were portrayed on television news. “World is grateful to India,” announced TV9 Bharatvarsh, but ‘mirchi lagi hai Pakistan aur Chin ko…’ said the voiceover as we stared into Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s sullen face.
Other Hindi channels expressed similar sentiments. According to Republic Bharat, Pakistan and China weren’t alone in their envy: the “ashant tukde gang” in India was also smarting from the G20 event being held in Kashmir. ‘Mufti parrots Pakistan view,’ said Times Now, referring to PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti’s remarks that Kashmir had been turned into the US detention centre — Guantanamo Bay.
That’s as far from heaven as you can get on earth.
Also read: Why Western charm offensive for Modi is proof of PM walking foreign policy middle path
NRIs enjoy the show
Some 11,000 km away from Srinagar in Sydney, there was another ‘glittering’ spectacle: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia. If we have come to it at the end of this column, it’s only because the television news coverage of this ‘sojourn’ (CNN News 18) followed the tried and tested coverage of other Modi state visits abroad. Nothing new about it. There was the ‘exceptional’, ‘grand’ welcome awaiting PM’s ‘historic visit’ (CNN News 18); ‘the entire world echoes with NaMo NaMo’ (Times Now Navbharat), ‘Japan, Papua, Australia mein Modi Modi’ (Aaj Tak), ‘Sydney chants Modi Modi’ (CNN News 180), ‘Modi storm’ in Australia’ (Republic TV).
Then there were the gushy non-resident Indians, some who chartered flights to see him (India Today), others dressed to the nines for ‘Modi ka Jalwa’ (India TV). Each and every one of them was “very, very excited to see him” (Republic TV) and by the time he reached the Qudos Bank Arena, the thousands in the stands erupted with a ‘rockstar welcome’ (Times Now) for Modi who the Australian Prime Minister had described as ‘The Boss’ in his welcoming remarks.
Apart from these joyous scenes, there were the handshakes (how many times did the two PMs shake hands for photo optics?), hugs, official talks, and some scenic sightseeing. In fact, we probably saw more of Sydney during the PM’s three-day visit than we did of Srinagar.
How many times have we enjoyed the same visual treats, heard the same compliments and listened to our TV reporters celebrate the PM’s visits? ‘World is looking at our power,’ said TV 9 Bharatvarsh. ‘So much pride,’ felt WION.
What more is there left to say?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)