Har-har Mahadev! Har-har Modi!’ reverberated through different parts of Varanasi and echoed in the studios of TV news channels far away in Noida.
The salutation, by itself, said everything: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has achieved virtual canonisation – on television news – in his own lifetime, a feat perhaps unparalleled for the political leader of a democracy.
It happened before our very eyes, earlier this week, and oddly enough, coincided with the PM’s comments hailing the contribution of saints to India’s freedom struggle. “Whenever adversities emerged, saints rose to change their course…,” he stated at the 98th anniversary celebrations of Sadguru Sadafaldeo Maharaj, Tuesday.
As you watched and listened to news channels at Varanasi live these past few days, you couldn’t help but think that he had also described himself: in the non-stop coverage, Modi emerged as a saint, saviour and supreme leader all in one.
This was conveyed in different ways: in the manner the TV feed, mostly from DD News and used by all news channels, framed him, by the headlines and by the comments of anchors or reporters. Together, they created the image of a visionary leader, deeply spiritual but secular in his deeds, who walked alone – and ahead of others – who did what none other could, and who had won the ‘faith’ of the people.
The Kashi coverage
Modi was in his Lok Sabha constituency to inaugurate the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project, which connects the temple to the Ganga – he had laid its foundation stone in March 2019 – to visit the Kaal Bhairav Temple, cruise up and down the Ganga onboard the Alaknanda ferry greeting people before witnessing the Ganga aarti in the evening. On Tuesday, Modi held a meeting with BJP chief ministers and went to the Swarved Mahamandir in Varanasi for Sadafaldeo’s anniversary.
All of Monday and most of Tuesday, news channels obligingly followed in his wake, and marvelled at the marvels he had wrought in the ‘dazzling temple city’ (CNN News 18).
“What Modi did is nothing short of dazzling (chamatkar),” proclaimed the anchor on Times Now Navbharat. “Glorious Kashi is back,” added CNN News 18. “Spectacular achievement,” admitted an impressed NDTV 24×7 anchor. “Rebirth and renewal in Kashi,” extolled India Today. “Modi fulfils dream project,” chorused all the channels.
Modi was characterised as someone who had kept the faith. “Ma Ganga called and Modi fulfilled his vow,” said Aaj Tak piously. “Karmyogi in Kashi,” added India Today, a little more prosaically, as visuals showed Modi walk down the red carpet, alone, bathed in a golden glow – ABP News called it Modi’s “bhakti ka rang.”
“I last went to Varanasi 10 years ago, now it is unrecognisable – Modi ne namumkin ko mumkin kiya,” exulted an awestruck India TV anchor. “I am from Varanasi and was brought up There,” confided the News X reporter. “Modi has left no stone unturned to improve it…”
NewsNation led many news channels in asking the inhabitants of Varanasi how they felt about the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project and the transformation of their city. “I am a local, and this is a dream come true,” remarked one man.
“There is a feeling inside,” revealed another, clutching the region near his heart where he, presumably, believed resided his soul.
Another man took a long, political view: “An issue that is centuries old, which no PM in 70 years did, Modi has done,” he said in wonder. “What Modi has done, we couldn’t even dream of,” declared a young man on ABP News, Tuesday.
Accompanying such fulsome praise – and there was no end to it – was live coverage of Modi in different camera shots: Modi taking a ‘dupki (dip)’ in the Ganga, Modi doing pooja at the Kaal Bhairav temple, Modi in prayer, Modi inspecting the Corridor, Modi waving from the ferry to those who waited to catch a glimpse of him along the banks of the river – “Shiv bhakts in a state of ecstasy” is how India Today described them at one stage – Modi on an unscheduled stroll through the streets of Varanasi, greeting astonished passersby and going so far as to pinch a child’s cheek, Modi at the railway station during a surprise after midnight visit – long shots of Modi, close ups of Modi, `Modi, Modi, Modi’ went up the chant from people everywhere (DD News).
“Previously, Hindus were reluctant to proclaim their faith,” claimed Ramdev in an interview to News 18 India. “Now Hindus say it with garv (pride) – and that is all because of Modi.”
“Modi has not just come to visit here,” explained Times Now Navbharat as the Prime Minister sailed along the river and gazed thoughtfully at the horizon, “he is here to show the world why they should come here.”
And so it went on, hour after hour, from morning to evening and then into the night. In the background, you could hear chants, bhajans, the sound of the faithful. “Modi has highlighted Hindu identity,” observed the anchor on NDTV 24×7.
By evening, there were debates on the politics of religion, Hindu and Hindutva and who ought to get ‘credit’ for the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project after the Samajwadi Party claimed it started the revamp.
But all of that was mundane, a worldly fight between ‘petty’ politicians. Modi had been elevated above such matters by news channels and their overblown coverage of his visit, just months ahead of the 2020 assembly election in Uttar Pradesh.
Will such TV coverage guarantee the BJP a ‘dazzling’ victory at the polls? According to the latest ABP News opinion survey (12 December), BJP is set to win between 212-224 seats but in its snap poll on 14 December, 53 per cent of respondents said the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project would go a long way towards helping the party in the election.
That may or may not be the case but one thing’s for sure: TV news has imbued Modi with a mythical status and spiritual aura no one can challenge.
As for real news, well, that can take care of itself…
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)