It is both reassuring and disheartening to know that governments may come and go, but television news remains the same, perhaps, forever.
Think, firstly, of TV reporting: at the best of times, it is as thin as the air and as hazy as a polluted sky over Delhi – the headquarters of most news channels – which might explain the haziness of their reporting.
Wednesday afternoon, the headlines announced, ‘Jaitley opts out of Govt’ (NDTV 24×7). NDTV’s anchor said this was because of his ‘deteriorating health’ – now, who said anything about ‘deteriorating health?’ Not Jaitley. In his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi excusing him from the next Union cabinet, Jaitley said doctors had enabled him to ‘emerge’ from most of the challenges he had faced.
An NDTV reporter then analysed Arun Jaitley’s possible replacements at the finance ministry. After naming names (Amit Shah, Piyush Goyal), the reporter added that these “guesses” would continue into Thursday – are we any the wiser after listening to him?
Switch to India Today, where the anchor wondered if any ‘worthy’ replacements existed in the BJP for Jaitley as FM – she even debated this with BJP’s Shaina NC, who said there were many worthies. Right. Meanwhile, Piyush Goyal, erstwhile finance minister in Jaitley’s absence, and whoever is Jaitley’s successor will not be amused.
Alas, nothing has changed elsewhere on TV news, either. It’s still all about Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.
If it was Modinama before, it is Modiyatra after, as television news plays follow the leader wherever he goes – or whatever he does. This is not to suggest that PM Modi’s travels, or actions, are not news – but that TV news ought to go beyond shadowing him.
Instead, it has abdicated any obligation to reporting news in favour of live coverage of the PM’s daily itinerary.
From the cave in Kedarnath to the BJP headquarters in New Delhi Thursday, and the NDA meet in Parliament House Saturday to Ahmedabad on Sunday and Varanasi on Monday, the prime minister has led the media a merry dance from east to west.
Monday, for example, TV news channels followed his cavalcade through the streets of Varanasi to the Kashi temple for the puja (with close ups of the rituals) to his speech – and that of Amit Shah — later in the day.
This total dominance of the airwaves is an art Modi has perfected over the last five years: he creates spectacles out of thin air, photo-ops where none exist, and possesses the knack of making the right moves in public – all the while ensuring the media remains focused on him.
So, we watch him visit his mother, and watch him visit former president Pranab Mukherjee — or bend to touch the feet of Murli Manohar Joshi; then we watch him receive blessings at Kashi and deliver stirring speeches everywhere. All of this constructs the aura of a strong leader who is also a man of faith and humility.
In the other corner is the Congress president. He was last seen and heard on TV news a week ago, when he conceded defeat to the BJP. Since then, there has been the unedifying spectacle of SUVs driving in and out of his Delhi residence as the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ riddle over his resignation allows. But no sight or sound of him – except while paying tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru on his death anniversary at Shantivan Monday.
TV news taunts him with headlines like, ‘Rahul rewarded for Rout: authorised to overhaul party’ (Times Now), ‘Official reward for Rahul: total control of Cong’ (Republic TV).
Or presents a confusing picture: ‘Rahul adamant he will resign’, along with ‘Won’t resign for now’ (NDTV 24×7).
Television news hounds the Congress president, and some in it even bay for his blood, or at the very least, his resignation. On Times Now and Republic TV, anchors like Navika Kumar, Rahul Shivshankar, Arnab Goswami openly insult him: they accuse him of ‘sulking’, throwing a ‘tantrum’, and behaving like a ‘spoilt child’ (Goswami’s contribution).
And, instead of boarding the first flight to Amethi – especially after the murder of a BJP worker – to meet those who had earlier voted for him, and taken the second flight to Wayanad to thank those who have voted for him now, he remains in hiding.
The optics couldn’t be worse for Rahul Gandhi, the contrast with Narendra Modi couldn’t be more stark.
While the PM is already working the public, and the media, to his advantage for the future, the Congress is in total “disarray” (NewsX).
Not that TV news is complaining: it loves a loser like Rahul Gandhi – he makes for good TV. And seeing how channels like Republic TV and Times Now, the two that ridicule him the most, flourish in the viewership ratings, viewers apparently love him – and these channels’ unrelenting attacks on him – too.
Those of us weary of the drama can turn elsewhere for relief. Never has the sight of bat bashing ball, or ball bowling out batsmen been more welcome as the cricket World Cup begins this evening (Star Sports).
Alternatively, there’s a yellow ball floating around the Rolland Garros stadium in Paris (Star Sports): tennis, anyone?