In week of BBC documentary, Parchi Baba and his ‘chamatkar’ was ‘breaking news’ on Indian TV

In week of BBC documentary, Parchi Baba and his ‘chamatkar’ was ‘breaking news’ on Indian TV

Whether Dhirendra Shastri is a 'con man or a god man', he has definitely become an overnight TV and social media sensation through carpet coverage on India's news channels.


A screengrab of Dhirendra Shastri aka Bageshwar Dham aka Parchi Wale Baba | Photo: @ABPNews | Twitter

Baba re, what an earth is going on, here? You gotta be kiddin’, right?

Since when did claims of ‘chamatkar’ by a self-styled guru become news — nay, not just news but rolling news, ‘breaking news’, headline news, ‘exclusive’ news for three days, in the course of which he has been feted as the latest respected seer?

And why is he being hailed as an international star, no less? ‘Talk of Baba in London. Why is Baba on everyone’s lips from UK to MP?’ asked ABP News, Wednesday.

Er, because your channel, like other Hindi news television channels, have been celebrating his ‘exploits’, on air, since Sunday, to the exclusion of almost all other news, including the genuine stand-off between the central government, opposition parties and some student communities over the two-part BBC documentary series ‘India: The Modi Question’?

What’s the point of ABP News asking if controversies surrounding Dhirendra K. Shastri aka Bageshwar Dham aka ‘Parchi Baba’ have increased his TRPs, when news channels are parading him before our eyes to boost their own viewership ratings?

Why must viewers be subjected to relentless video clips of this gentleman in his funny hat and cheeky ways, all because one Shyam Manav has challenged his professed ‘healing’ powers and his ability to read people’s minds?

Shyam Manav who? Dhirendra Shastri who?

Also read: India’s TV news is in love with Asaduddin Owaisi—a Muslim leader for all seasons & reasons

When not ignoring, berating BBC 

At least we don’t need to ask BBC, what’s that? Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami may call the channel ‘Boring Broadcasting Corporation’, but we all know it stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Britain’s public television and radio company.

Now, it’s been making news besides telecasting it, because of the ‘big controversy’ (Republic TV) over its series on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the 2002 Gujarat riots and the reported communal divide under PM Modi. After the first part became available on the internet last week, the Centre banned links to it on social media.

So, how did our dear news channels react? Well, they were, uncharacteristically, coy in their response to both although these related to a) criticism of the PM and b) freedom of the press.

While they were alarmed at the “massive storm over BBC docu series” (Republic TV), they confined themselves to some target-shooting at their favourite prey but that too from the government’s shoulder — ‘(Law Minister) Rijiju hits out at ‘tukde tukde gang’ (Republic TV), ‘Lobby backs BBC ‘lies’’ (Times Now). They also reported on the opposition parties’ outrage but with more than a hint of disapproval: ‘Opp politicises docu series,’ said CNN News 18.

Then came the audacity of some student communities in ‘BBC Modi film showdown’ (India Today) to screen the series despite the ban. ‘Univs on warpath. Stage set for high drama,’ explained CNN News 18. Beyond this, most English news channels avoided debating the pros and cons of either the film or its ban, barring Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today who asked if the censorship by the government was an ‘over reaction’ or if BBC was “guilty…of fake propaganda”.

We’ll leave such debates where they arise — in the TV studios. But what to make of TV news equating Modi with India, and its silence on the ban or outright support of it — note, headlines such as ‘Row over anti-India docu series’ (CNN News 18)? Are we now living in an era where criticism of the PM is criticism of the country too—is Modi India and India Modi? 

Also read: TV reduced Rahul Gandhi’s Gujarat rally to a sound bite, no space for Bharat Jodo Yatra

Reading minds of TV anchors

We are not sure if Dhirendra Shastri is a ‘con man or a god man’ (Times Now) but he has become an overnight TV and social media sensation. We’re not exactly sure why, either. But we do know this: Hindi news channels thought he deserved carpet coverage after his mental prowess was challenged by Shyam Manav. In fact, they considered this far more important ‘news’ than the BBC series which they largely ignored until Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia witnessed student clashes over it — ‘Documentary pe dangal’ (Aaj Tak)

Was this a diversionary tactic from the more controversial news about the BBC series or had Hindi news channels fallen for the ‘Baba’?

There’s video footage of Bageshwar Dham at public rallies where he summons a member of the audience and on a sheet of paper inscribes what ails them without speaking to them at all – hence the moniker ‘Parchi wala Baba’ (India TV). There are shots of hysterical individuals flinging themselves in all directions at his meetings. Huh?

Learned gurus and seers discussed his ‘chamatkar(miracle) on channels like Aaj Tak, Zee News, News 18 India. Indeed, this ‘Baba’ ka saga is to ABP News what the Russia-Ukraine war has been to TV9 Bharatvarsh: a never-ending story.

We’ve seen ‘Baba’ dabble in reconversions too — channel after channel telecast a woman called Sultana being renamed Sudha after ‘Baba’ accepted her in the Hindu fold.

The ‘Baba’ also spoke, often in non-sequiturs with an impudent grin on his lips. “Bharat must become a Hindu Rashtra,” he has declared.Well, if the `Baba’ says so….

He does roadshows in his home district of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, he slides on a swing, gives speeches, pronounces cures and generally behaves like a superior being. Fascinating.

The lengths news channels have gone to explore ‘Aastha aur andhvishwas’ is stupefying: ABP News, News 18 and Times Now Navbharat actually invited ‘mind readers’ Suhani Shah and Manoj to expose the ‘mann ki baat’ of invited guests or TV anchors. While Manoj divined that Goa was on the mind of the chosen one during his ‘test’, Suhani declared that there is no ‘magic’ in mind-reading—it’s an ‘art’. She also, correctly, ‘read’ someone’s mind but refused to reveal the thoughts of the anchors.


The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)