Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not the only political leader we see – or hear –in these tragic times. He is, suddenly, what he was always meant to be — a first among equals.
As the coronavirus sweeps through India, chief ministers of various states have been seen and heard too, as TV news has fanned out across the country and suddenly discovered Kerala, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and other states.
Usually, when we see politicians, they are either party spokespersons, or Rahul Gandhi being hammered for the contents of his latest tweet and Sonia Gandhi for being Italian (by birth) — please refer to Republic TV.
Now, things have changed.
Union ministers, by and large, remain in the shadows, occupants of socially-distanced chairs at empowered groups meetings monitoring the pandemic, or buried in headlines like ‘Union Cabinet to meet Wednesday’. Even Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, who is at the forefront of the coronavirus fight, is a rare sight on the news.
Indeed, politicians have been sidelined by a most unlikely cast of characters as the stars of the coronavirus fight back. Officials and administrators, scientists and doctors, health care workers, the police and economists are now the people TV anchors and reporters turn to for news and views.
And, the daily 4 pm televised press briefing – which for some reason was cancelled on Wednesday — is the show we most look forward to on TV. Led by the joint secretary in the health ministry, the bespectacled Luv Agarwal, and ICMR’s avuncular Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, the team of officials at that briefing has become as familiar to us as family members.
This is happening in the US and other countries fighting the same battle: while President Donald Trump dominates the daily White House briefing, the man he literally dwarfs – Dr Anthony Fauci – is an unusual hero in the US, while state governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo have stolen some of the thunder from Trump by holding their own daily televised briefings—you can catch Cuomo, live, every evening for at least hour on CNN International.
Chief ministers finally get spotlight
Back home, chief ministers are being interviewed regularly, and their pronouncements have become the stuff of headlines—if they’re really, really fortunate, they might win some applause by TV anchors. Kerala’s CPI-M government under CM Pinarayi Vijayan, were praised by Arnab Goswami in terms he usually reserves for Modi (Republic TV).
UP’s Yogi Adityanath receives the most coverage—every time he holds a meeting, we attend it. Joking, but you get the drift: he’s a BJP CM and the most popular chief minister on TV. Just Tuesday, Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar hailed his commitment to tackling the coronavirus at a time when his father was very sick and subsequently died in Delhi’s AIIMS hospital.
But other chief ministers have received coverage as well. Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal is the most frequent chief minister on TV by virtue of being the capital’s captain—he even makes it to DD News.
However, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel, Punjab’s Captain Amarinder Singh – all from the Congress— have also been interviewed by most news channels and mostly projected in a positive light.
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray has been in the limelight since the formation of the Maha-Agadhi government in November 2019, but his two recent broadcasts on the Bandra migrant workers’ gathering and the Palghar lynching incident, were telecast live across many channels.
In both instances, he was accused of either negligence or misgovernance on news channels (ABP, Zee News, India TV, Times Now, etc.), but to the average viewer he has come across as a sensible man.
So have the other chief ministers. It’s been a revelation to see that along with PM, the country is in other good hands.
Out of Delhi
We have also listened to municipal commissioners and police chiefs from across India in cities such as Jodhpur, Agra, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Indore, and many more as they explain how they are fighting the coronavirus.
This indicates the other big change in the news: it’s gone federal. Reporters are chasing the virus across a nation in lockdown and in distress. Wednesday ABP was in Mumbai where coastal work has begun; Aaj Tak was at the Delhi-Noida border to observe the effect of the lockdown on traffic, NDTV24x7 caught up with young migrants walking home in Lucknow, Times Now went to Bhopal and Hyderabad, Republic TV was in Patna…. They’re going places they’ve never been (except during election coverage) as TV news has become less and less Delhi-centric.
Other experts/bureaucrats also make the cut: the CEO of MyGov, the director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, for instance, were on NewsX. Niti Aayog chief Rajiv Kumar was on NDTV 24×7, business leaders such as Rajiv Bajaj, managing director, Bajaj Autos, were on India Today.
And by the time India Today is done with its e-Conclaves, it will have spoken to every respected virologist, epidemiologist in the world.
Finally, the medicine women and men, dutifully, appear each evening on the screen to dispense advice and information in equal doses— they are far more riveting to watch than anything you have seen on medical TV series like Sanjivani or Grey’s Anatomy.
Views are personal.