The TV anchor is seated, languidly, in a shikara as though about to audition for the lead in a remake of Kashmir Ki Kali; the houseboat sways on the gently undulating waves of the Dal Lake in a picture-perfect Srinagar scene. In this pose, the anchor welcomes the success of BJP’s “Mission Kashmir” and looks forward to further conquests: “Ab PoK ke baari” reads the headline (News18 India). “Plan ready hai,” promised India TV.
— Manisha Pande (@MnshaP) August 5, 2019
Not that the anchor had far to look: Arnab Goswami told us Sunday that 35,000 additional troops were in Kashmir, not to “play at the Dal Lake” but to “secure the Valley from the enemy” (Sunday Debate, Republic TV).
Elsewhere, NewsX presented a “special broadcast”, which celebrated the Jammu & Kashmir way of life— something all Indians can now enjoy once they settle down there in freshly acquired properties. They can savour “J&K cuisine”, for instance – in particular rajma, a Jammu favourite, also served at weddings – the channel informed us. To integrate with the local population, they can adorn their homes with a copper kettle, “every house has one in Kashmir”. They can visit the “floating post office” too, maybe even join the News18 anchor on a little ride down Dal Lake…
On many channels – Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, for example – people were shown dancing in the streets of Jammu, Ladakh and Delhi to the beat of firecrackers, while others distributed sweets to commemorate the state’s “integration” with India.
In Srinagar, TV footage showed no jubilation or dismay, just deserted streets with barbed wire fencing, shuttered shops and marketspatrolled by fully armed troops. Curfew. TV news crews filmed these empty scenes and said the authorities claimed the situation was ‘calm’.
“All entry and exits sealed, nobody knows what will happen next,” said the Mirror Now reporter. Since communication lines had been suspended, everyone still didn’t know about the “game-changing” moves by the Centre, he added.
CNN News18 reporter Anand Narasimhan found one civilian on the road and eagerly collared him for a soundbite – he said what we could all see: shutdown, crackdown.
#KashmirDiaries Two eventful days. Anxiety, Angst, Apprehension go hand in hand with Joy, Jubilation & a sense of Justice. Got a sense of all sides of J&K prism. It’s the time to work together on Inclusion & Integration while preserving Identity of J&K under the Union Of India. pic.twitter.com/Ah1yQZgGVY
— Anand Narasimhan (@AnchorAnandN) August 7, 2019
The only other local person we heard from was National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah. On NDTV 24×7, he was in tears, expressing his sense of betrayal at the Centre’s decision on Article 370. On Times Now, he claimed to be under house arrest—something the channel pooh-pooed immediately: “Farooq’s incredible lies… listen to Farooq’s absurdities..”, it said, pointing out that he had travelled to a hotel four kilometres from his home to speak to the media—this after Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament no one was detained in Kashmir.
These examples tell you exactly where news channels stand on the “historic” Mission Kashmir, as they all called it – solidly behind the government and against the opposition.
The TV channels had positioned themselves, rather like troops, in defence of the government well in advance. From Sunday into Monday morning before Home Minister Amit Shah’s 11 am Rajya Sabha announcement, anchors and reporters, like excited schoolchildren, were breathless with promises of “something”. They didn’t know what, but it was “big”.
Well, even we could deduce that.
“Big decision awaited,” said News 24 learnedly. “Something big,” agreed Aaj Tak. “Something,” confirmed Arnab Goswami, “is going to happen…”. The “Kashmir clampdown”, is “fraught with implications that suggest something big is on the cards,” proclaimed Rahul Shivshankar, rather grandiosely.
“Situation is calm in the Valley,” claimed Zee News, “the only panic is amongst politicians (opposition leaders).”
Then began the countdown: “45 minutes to a new dawn,” said Zee News sunnily, “40 minutes and the picture will be clear,” added India TV, “00.00.24” ticked Republic Bharat’s clock.
Minutes after 11 am came the expressions of satisfaction: “Modi’s new Kashmir, (India Today), “Historic, game-changing” move, “Modi integrates Kashmir” (Time Now), “Modi corrects 1947 error” (NewsX), “India celebrates” (CNN News18). “Congratulations to all of us,” said Goswami on behalf of all of us.
“The only people opposing,” observed India Today’s Shiv Aroor, “are opposing for the sake of opposing.”
A few anchors raised questions, particularly about the manner in which the decision was taken: “Was this the right way to do it?” asked Faye D’Souza on Mirror Now. “Why was it done like this (with a Valley clampdown) if it is good for the people?”
Such questions were brave and rare.
Fingers at Congress, again
Part II of this drama was equally familiar, as it played out politically and in the media. After different voices in the Congress said different things on the government’s decisions, and Rahul Gandhi criticised the move, news channels went for the party—again: “Congress in disarray” (India Today), “Congress toeing Pak line (Times Now)”, “Congress split wide open” (NDTV 24×7), “#RahulBacksPakistan” (Republic TV).
This is the anti-national virus that afflicts opposition parties each time the government announces a decision—then they received daily doses of media criticism and the affliction dies down, until the next attack.
Clearly, in this case, anyone who criticised the Kashmir move will be condemned as an anti-national naysayer and discredited. Hence, the virulent Times Now attack on Farooq Abdullah. Hence, Arnab Goswami’s diatribe against JD(U)’s Pawan Verma for his party walking away from the vote on the new dispensation: “You surprise me, you surprise me….” Goswami railed, saying the party was holding on “for dear life’’ to the coalition with the BJP, in a “parasitic manner…” (Republic TV).
Lastly, have you watched “Naya Bharat ka Naya Uttar Pradesh’’? Each evening before the Arnab Goswami show on Republic TV, this promotional film celebrates happy days in the state under the BJP government. And what about Unnao and Sonbhadra?
“Hakuna Matata”, as they sing in The Lion King, “it means no worries…” – Yogi is there.