Was it a gigantic ant from the film Antz? Was it Batman himself? Was it Black Panther zooming in at supersonic speed?
Actually, it was a Mirage 2000, traveling at the speed of 350 km, and a sleek Jaguar and then a Sukhoi – but in the milky film of pollution that engulfed the Purvanchal Expressway, these Indian Air Force jets looked like extra-terrestrial creatures heading straight for us.
There was equally poor visibility for Delhi, in the throes of an ‘air emergency’ (Times Now) – “You can clearly see a blanket of smog,” declared the CNN News 18 reporter, at NH 24 – and for at least one very human creature: Arvind Kejriwal.
Delhi’s Chief Minister has been only second to Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adityanath in his appearances on television news channels during every commercial break. That is until this week.
Even as the Supreme Court, Monday, warned the Delhi government that it could conduct an ‘audit of the revenues’ earned and spent on ‘popularity slogans’ that appear in its frequent advertisements, Kejriwal had vanished from our screens – we have not seen him, this week, even as the capital’s environmental crisis made headlines across the media. Was he lost in a haze of ‘toxic air’ (NDTV 24×7)?
As for his ministers who braved the pollution levels and faced some hard questions from news anchors, they were equally lost: asked if trucks were being allowed to enter Delhi, AAP MLA Atishi replied defensively, ‘Few trucks enter Delhi…’ Really? Tell that to those who drive down its roads and see what they think (CNN News 18).
Media follows Modi everywhere
While the National Capital Region and Delhi may present a hazy picture behind a fog of pollutants, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is enjoying quality air time with high visibility ratings.
In the last few days, we have seen him inaugurate the Purvanchal Expressway, the new Rani Kamlapati railway station in Bhopal, unveil a statue of late tribal leader Birsa Munda and speak at the annual Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) meeting as well as the yearly meeting of AIPOC— what’s that? You may well ask.
Before Diwali, we watched him at the Climate Change and G20 meetings and don’t forget the Pope & the PM jab Pope Francis met Modi at the Vatican; on Diwali we saw him with the troops in Rajouri, Jammu and Kashmir. Last week, he was seen felicitated and garlanded at the BJP national executive meeting and then greeting BJP leader L.K. Advani on his birthday….
And so it goes on. The PM is always striding forward to inaugurate something and whenever he does, the television cameras are on hand to deliver his speech to the nation. That he uses official events to score political points over his rivals is par for the course – at the CAG meeting he made veiled references to the UPA government; at the inauguration of the Purvanchal Expressway, the Samajwadi Party was his target.
For the news channels, following Modi is a win-win strategy: they earn the goodwill of the PM and the BJP at a very low cost to themselves – the live broadcasts are often Doordarshan feeds supplemented by their own reporter at the site.
However, even by normal standards, the coverage of the Purvanchal Expressway show bordered on the absurd. That it lasted almost the entire day, Tuesday, is its first absurdity. English and Hindi news channels, alike, didn’t bother with much else till early evening. And at prime time, several of them debated how the Expressway could be ‘BJP’s road to victory’ (CNN News 18) in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly election.
With the latest opinion poll on Times Now, Tuesday, giving the BJP a comfortable win in the state (239-245 seats), you wonder why they need bother with such things as a mere 341 km highway.
The super landing coverage
The news channels were on hand for what India Today called `Modi’s big landing’ on the Expressway – and my oh my, were they impressed or what. “The ride is so smooth, you wouldn’t believe you were in a state like Uttar Pradesh,” commented a TV 9 Bharatvarsh reporter, riding open air down the highway.
ABP News decided to give the Purvanchal Expressway the glass full treatment. A glass of water was placed on the dashboard of its reporter’s SUV. “At 120 km speed, no water has spilled, and the glass hasn’t fallen,” he informed us as they raced along. “Now we are travelling at 160 km (per hour) but even now no water has spilled from the glass!” he exulted as if he was solely responsible for this singular achievement.
We went on to spend the afternoon looking at the Hercules jet that landed on the Expressway with the PM onboard, and at the IAF air show that followed, besides UP CM Adityanath’s speech and the PM’s – there were many shots of Modi and Adityanath seated next to each other without exchanging a word.
There were even more of the aeroplane as it waited to transport the PM back to Delhi. Bemused news channels stayed with the DD live feed but some like CNN News 18 were at a loss for words and decided to remain silent.
Not so India Today’s Shiv Aroor. On this occasion, he kept up an unceasing flow of words which went something like this – you are seeing live images of the Hercules…. Obviously, India Today has the best angles and images…. the SPG is combing the aircraft again… the plane is fully prepared in all respects… the engine is on, the propellers are on… you can see (officials) carrying emergency equipment, and other equipment….
This is the kind of coverage you get when you overstay your welcome – news channels ought to have taken off from the Expressway once the air show was over but they felt duty bound to see off the PM.
As the dates for elections in five states draw nearer and nearer, we will see more and more of the PM and Yogi Adityanath – although how much more coverage of the latter could there possibly be.
But, will we see a glass of water travelling at 160 km, again?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)