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Manish Sisodia gets TV channels’ sympathy but AAP’s defence of excise policy yet to be heard

AAP and Manish Sisodia received plenty of mileage across TV new channels. And that's where the problem began.

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Gee, let’s hope the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi isn’t rocked by the ‘Sarkar Quake’ in the capital or permeated by the strong stench of liquor emanating from its government.

It would be remarkable if wasn’t, seeing how ‘madhushala’ (ABP News) is in the air since Sunday when Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia was arrested in ‘Liquorgate’ (Times Now) on allegations of corruption in the AAP government’s liquor excise policy, which has since been discarded.

Along with CNN-News 18, we don’t know if this case is ‘Valid or Vendetta?’, a “political or criminal conspiracy” as anchor Navika Kumar described it on Times Now. But it’s definitely making the ruling AAP look liverish.

Indian news channels saw Sisodia’s arrest and the Supreme Court’s subsequent refusal to hear his plea challenging it as a ‘big setback’ for him and the party—so much so that by Tuesday evening, an anchor like Rajdeep Sardesai was asking, “Is this the end of the road for AAP?” (India Today).

Even as Sisodia and Delhi cabinet minister Satyendar Jain decided to resign, news channels were on the liquor trail, hunting for more damning evidence against them: “Murky deal & mystery meets revealed,” said Times Now, Tuesday evening. It declared ‘5% to 12 % for (liquor) barons’ in banner headlines, adding in tiny and barely visible fine print: ‘As per CBI.’

On Wednesday, a cloudy morning in Delhi turned even murkier for chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s team. ‘Five exclusive angles no other channel has—Excise policy finalised at Sisodia home…’ was the India Today midday story. It claimed that the policy had Kejriwal’s go-ahead too and that his phones had been destroyed.

This is just the beginning: expect many more leaked snippets from the CBI in sensational ‘Breaking News’ in the days to come.

Also read: BJP is turning Indians indifferent and sceptical toward corruption

AAP in the witness box

If the picture is looking bleak for AAP, it is largely of its own making. Why?

In the public domain, on television or social media, the party has been screaming political vendetta and playing the victim. To some extent, this strategy has worked.

On Sunday, for example, photographs of Sisodia with his mother, and his subsequent open-air yatra to the CBI office for questioning went down well on television news. His prophetic words about being arrested gained him sympathy, especially by evening when it really did happen.

The channels were full of ‘halla bol’ as ‘AAP prepares for showdown’ across the country (Republic TV) by Monday. They spent a generous amount of time on ‘AAP ka hungama’ (Times Now Navbharat)—in Jammu, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Bhopal, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. The party was allowed plenty of sound bytes in which they criticised the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, dwelling on ‘Adani, Adani, Adani’ and his alleged crony capitalism with the PM.

This `high-octane drama’ (India Today) played out most of Monday until Sisodia was remanded to CBI’s custody for five days.

Thus, AAP and Sisodia received considerable mileage and even a sympathetic hearing on news channels. The party can’t have any complaints on that score; they were also present and voluble in all prime-time debates where they were given ample opportunity to argue their case.

Ah, that’s where the problems began.

Also read: Found on TV news: Modi’s insult. Not found: Morbi report—the trivial pursuits of channels

Self-imposed gag rules

Kejriwal & Co. appear to have no case, at least none that they have presented to the public. We hear them moan and groan about victimhood, but while the CBI and the BJP present a detailed list of allegations against them on the liquor policy, AAP simply denies any wrongdoing and then goes back to harping on its Adani tune. It’s beginning to sound like the Congress’ B team on this issue.

At no stage have we heard any AAP spokesperson tackle the questions posed on the 12 per cent profit margin for liquor traders, the missing draft of the excise policy, and the allegation that it was shared with the liquor dealers (some of whom are now accused in the case) besides Sisodia’s use of seven mobile phones during the framing of the policy – and much more.

All these claims were repeated on Monday and Tuesday by news channels and by BJP spokespersons so the viewer had a clear idea of the charges against Sisodia. However, AAP’s defence of its excise policy is still to be heard – it certainly hasn’t been articulated on TV news this week.

Silence can be golden but not in this instance. Here, the absence of AAP’s counter to the allegations has allowed the BJP to dictate the narrative and news channels to feed off the CBI’s claims — without being challenged.

Thus, we see headlines like ‘Kattar imaandaar ya kattar bhrastachar?’, ‘Kattar imaandaar at jail’s door?’ (Zee News), ‘Daaru Kaand’ (Times Now Navbharat), ‘Dal mein kuchh kala hai?’ (India TV), ‘Dy CM andar, agla kiska number? (India TV, Zee News) and questions like, ‘Can AAP deflect charges?’ (CNN-News 18).

Most of us would like to hear AAP’s version on its new excise policy, the pricing, etc. Many want to believe the party is as clean as the day it was born, but AAP has not obliged us.

If it is innocent, then it deserves better. Right now, from what we have seen, its self-imposed gag on the subject and its diversionary tactics allow the suspicion to grow that it has something to hide.

The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)

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