By this time, three things ought to have happened: one, Major General G.D. Bakshi should have declared war; two, TV news anchors should have demanded a ‘surgical strike’; three, India Today’s Gaurav Sawant would have turned out in his army fatigues.
As it was, we have had to make do with tepid headlines like ‘Army firm, won’t step back’ (Times Now), and panoramic shots of the Pangong Lake — which remind you of the film 3 Idiots and CGI war games – the closest TV news has come to facing down the enemy. (NewsNation).
Where is all the fire in the belly we saw blazing during Balakot? Where are the TV news anchors thundering like exploding mangoes, sorry, missiles? Where are the retired army officers, the strategic experts red in the face with battle cries?
Well, they’re missing in action, probably because, in this instance, the opponent in not Imran Khan’s Pakistan, but the People’s Republic of China.
Why you missed what you missed
If you are a casual watcher of TV news, it might have completely escaped your notice that a border confrontation between India and China is currently on, after reported incursions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in several parts of Ladakh this month — and even some skirmishes between the two sides.
The only war clouds you may have seen were the one described thus by News 18 India: ‘Tiddi ka hamla….five states under attack’ as locust swarms invaded the western states and, last heard, were heading for the national capital.
Otherwise, what you see is the ongoing battle against the coronavirus and the ‘Maha mess’ (Republic TV) in the stand-off between the Maharashtra government and the Centre on trains for migrants.
But China, where’s that on your TV screen? Mostly confined to papers. News channel after news channel has magnified the map of the India-China border and darted about with arrows to indicate the exact location of the incursions and the relative position of the respective armed forces —although Wednesday, ABP News did show us a bridge and a road India was building, which, it claimed, had “robbed China of its sleep”.
Sporadic, apologetic coverage
Coverage of this stand-off has been sporadic and mostly confined to news updates. It’s been muted — we haven’t seen or heard a prime time debate firing all cylinders, taking the battle to the enemy with all the lung power at its command.
In fact, it’s been almost apologetic. On Wednesday, an India Today headline simply read, ‘Tackling China’s incursions’. It then asked, politely, “What should India do?” Would it ever have asked such a question if the opponent had been Pakistan?
ABP News described the ‘The dragon’s dirty game’ like it was announcing today’s weather report, before it added bravely, but in hushed tones, “India gave a befitting reply” or “mooh-tod jawab”.
It had played out a computer war game Tuesday and then claimed that China was still smarting from the 2017 Doklam stand-off. Even now, India was pressing forward, it added.
On ABP News, Maj Gen G.D. Bakshi did indeed attack China — he said it was helping Pakistan, but it was also running “scared” since the coronavirus outbreak, but not once did he raise his voice.
When Aaj Tak asked, ‘Does China want war?’ Tuesday evening, its tone was about as aggressive as a lamb’s. No war graphics, no horrendous dragons breathing fire… it’s all quiet on the eastern front.
NDTV 24×7 and Times Now both had most civilised conversations – note we said conversations, not debates – on the situation in Ladakh. On Times Now, Wednesday, Rigzin Spalsar, former chairman Ladakh Council, said China had repeatedly made incursions into Indian territory — and it was “very serious”.
A calm anchor asked strategic affairs expert Sushant Sareen about the incursions. He was equally composed: no need to get “hysterical”, he said; there was a stand-off, but both India and China were keeping quiet. And, so was the media, it seems.
On NDTV 24×7, Tuesday, Gen S.L. Narasimhan, member, National Security Council, said with utmost reasonableness that there were talks on the ground, at the government and diplomatic levels too, and it may be a good idea to not analyse everything.
How it ought to be
And that leads us to Zee News and Sudhir Chaudhary on Tuesday evening. He was man enough to take on China, saying Beijing was simply trying to push New Delhi around. This was part of China’s larger plan to divert attention from its failings in the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that ‘everyone was against China’. Hence, its recent clashes with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, and the US — and now India, according to Zee News.
No fire and brimstone here, no grandstanding or grandiose claims that India will destroy the enemy. All of that is preserved and reserved for Pakistan — when faced with a neighbour who is stronger and bigger, our news channels aren’t half as courageous.
Clearly, they are also following the approach take by the Centre, which is to tone down the rhetoric. That would explain their unusual self-control in the face of great provocation.
Which is a good thing and just as it ought to be: we don’t want the TV studios to turn into a war room with combatants battling across the table. The situation is serious enough without TV debates getting into the fight.
We just wish this sensible, down-to-earth approach was applied to coverage of India-Pakistan confrontations too.
But then, if wishes were horses…
Views are personal.