The winner takes it all/The loser’s standing small,’ sang ABBA, once upon a time in the 1980s. But who is the winner in the current raid raj? Is it the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or Opposition parties such as Aam Aadmi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress that face these investigations?
None of the above: If there is a winner, it’s television news.
AAP is receiving fulsome TV news coverage, all right, which raises its public profile compared with other regional parties, but the absence of answers to accusations against it raise questions about its credibility. The BJP is seen to be acting against corruption with alacrity, especially on TV, but what everyone wants to know is why it acts only against opposition parties running state governments? This lends credence to the opposition’s claim of ‘vendetta politics’.
Television news, meanwhile, is thrilled to play BJP v/s The Others for all its worth.
And, as political parties indulge in free-for-all, a critical development that has implications for the entire Indian media, including news channels, has been ignored: the reported hostile takeover of NDTV by the Adani Group, revealed on Tuesday. Also, note that news channels, besides NDTV and India Today, have barely touched upon the remission of the 11 convicted men in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case.
News channels are having a ball
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised he would act, fearlessly, against corruption in his 15 August speech and that promise is being made good even whilst many of us are still sleeping.
On Wednesday morning, even before some had sipped their tea, India TV rang the alarm: ‘Raids since 7 am’, it said. ‘4 RJD leaders being raided’, screamed Republic TV headlines, shaking you awake. ‘CBI spoils Nitish–Tejashwi party’, yelled out Times Now, bringing you quickly to your senses.
As we stared at the screen, RJD MLC Sunil Singh’s wife was gesticulating and shouting so furiously from the balcony of their home, we may have scalded our tongues on the first cuppa of the day—‘Before floor test, a ‘taste’ of CBI ED’, punned Times Now Navbharat. You can say that again.
There was more to swallow: ‘NIA raids in connection with the Kutch drugs bust’, declared Republic TV. ‘Big socialites involved’— now, if that doesn’t get you out of bed, nothing will.
Exactly a week ago, we were watching similar scenes in Delhi: the CBI searched the home of Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister – for 15 hours (is that a record for searches in one day?). Since then, TV news has been running its latest blockbuster starring Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Sisodia by his side, and AAP leaders Sanjay Singh, Saurabh Bhardwaj, Raghav Chadha and Atishi bringing up the rear. Ranged against them are Union minister Anurag Thakur along with BJP members Gaurav Bhatia, Shehzad Poonawalla, Manoj Tiwari, Sudhanshu Trivedi, Kapil Mishra and Manjinder Singh Sirsa.
What’s all the fuss about? Ah, this is where the news channels are having fun. What was a ‘political face off’ (Times Now) over an ‘excise policy’ (India Ahead) investigation into the Delhi government’s liquor policy became ‘Darru-gate’ (India Today) in the AAP government’s ‘Sharab Raj’ (Aaj Tak, quoting Anurag Thakur).
News channels competed on monikers for the alleged scam and prime time held daily discussions on Delhi’s ‘liquor gate’ (CNN News 18) where the gloves were off.
News channels then sat back to enjoy the battle of words and wits between the BJP and AAP leaders, which went to superlative lengths. Both sides used press conferences, debates and public appearances to punch each other — below the solar plexus if necessary.
We don’t have to repeat what they said about each other since you must have heard the outrageous statements: from Kejriwal’s Bharat Ratna call for Sisodia and Sisodia’s claim of being approached by the BJP, to Kejriwal and Sisodia being the ‘most corrupt leaders’ riposte from the BJP; from AAP’s ‘nautanki’ for the raids to ‘scam’ from BJP, from ‘Operation Lotus’ to ‘Operation Lootus’ — the name calling hasn’t stopped.
AAP’s diversionary tactics
To begin with, it was advantage AAP: Sisodia has enjoyed a good, ‘clean’ public image thus far, so the CBI’s arrival at his home appeared ‘political’.
The non-stop TV coverage, throughout Friday, made the raids appear excessive—15 hours? ‘Papers have been recovered’, revealed the Republic TV reporter. Oh, ok.
Also, news channels seem to love Arvind Kejriwal/AAP in a way they don’t like other opposition parties and chief ministers such as Nitish Kumar (JDU), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), M.K. Stalin (DMK), K. Chandrashekar Rao (TRS) and Congressmen Ashok Gehlot or Bhupesh Baghel to name a few. Maybe, Kejriwal’s being in Delhi makes the news channels’ hearts grow fonder? Or is he simply more telegenic?
Whatever the reason, they broadcast all his video pronouncements and follow him wherever he goes—thus, they went with him and Sisodia to Gujarat, Monday—‘AAP takes Delhi Dangal to Modi’s turf’ (NDTV 24×7) — where they covered AAP’s press conference and parts of a town hall meeting.
Although Kejriwal and Sisodia hogged the limelight and kept changing the goalpost — from saying the BJP was trying to divide or bring down the Delhi government to the entire country being angry with the BJP — their diversionary tactics, in the absence of answers to questions raised on the liquor excise policy, wasn’t good television PR. Here, the BJP was on a strong wicket. Where is the famed transparency AAP claims it stands for? Not in sight, at least not on television so far in this controversy.
What harms the BJP’s case is the growing and weary public perception, seen only too often on TV, that in state after state, from West Bengal to Maharashtra, the CBI or Enforcement Directorate target the Opposition—that too so blatantly, that the CBI picks the day of the floor test in Bihar to raid RJD members.
So, this cat-and-mouse game between the BJP and its opponents leaves both sides looking silly. Only television news keeps right on smiling.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)