Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule, dressed in a saffron red saree, told NDTV 24×7 Wednesday morning in her inimitable cheery way, “This is a happy day”.
Understatement, Ms Sule. Wednesday was a Maha big day, and we fervently hope the ‘Mahabharat in Maharashtra’ (NDTV 24×7) is finally over now that Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray will be sworn in as the chief minister Thursday evening.
What a Maha big relief it would be from the Maha madness that has gripped Indian politics and media for over a month.
One week on, we have returned to where we had left the story last Friday night, when the Maha Ugadhi (alliance) of Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena thought it would wake up the following morning to form the government in Maharashtra. It hadn’t anticipated the BJP’s early morning “masterstroke” (as hailed by anchors and reporters on Times Now, Republic TV and India Today), which saw Devendra Fadnavis and NCP’s Ajit Pawar take oath as the chief minister and the deputy chief minister, respectively, before breakfast.
The fat was in the fire and TV news jumped into the flames both feet first.
The next four days witnessed the relentless pursuit of power, and the Pawars that be by the news channels – forgive the pun but this column is being written under the influence of television — with each day ending in a cliffhanger.
The television coverage heightened what was already a blockbuster drama – and here are some of its highlights:
Everyone’s favorite word: That would be “Maha”.
The “Maha political thriller” (Mirror Now) had “Maha suspense” (Times Now) written all over it when the BJP sprung a “Maha surprise” (NDTV 24×7) to the tale that saw the “Maha Gathbandhan lose Maha GoT” (News X) following Saturday’s “Maha masterstroke” (CNN News 18, Republic TV), which led to a “Maha Sunday hearing” in the Supreme Court and a “Maha Fight Club” (NewsX) – until the “Maha twist” became a “massive twist” (Mirror Now), “biggest twist” (India Today, CNN News18), most “sensational twist” and the “Maharashtra ka maha natak” (Republic TV) ended after the Supreme Court ordered a “Maha floor test” (Times Now) following which Ajit Pawar and Fadnavis resigned and the Maha Ugadi Sarkar was ready to set sail.
Confused channels: Understandably, news channels were bewildered: seldom during the month-long “mahasangram” (ABP News) did you feel they really knew what was going on – and maybe nobody did. Saturday morning’s BJP torpedo that literally caught them napping only reiterated their predicament.
That, however, never stopped the breaking news headlines, the “super scoops” (Times Now), the “inside scoops” (NewsX). Nor the self-praise.
When self–praise is no praise at all: 12 reporters, “biggest team, biggest story”, boasted CNN News18 each time it took a commercial break.
TV news channels are in the habit of showering themselves with superlatives, perhaps because nobody else ever does. This occasion was no different.
India Today’s Gaurav Sawant claimed, “We have been tracking all the drama (with) the biggest team in Mumbai, Parliament in Delhi.” News Nation said, “sabse badi coverage”; India News, “sabse pehle sabse tez”; Times Now had details of “minute by minute developments in all parties” – partially true but it was also the only channel to announce with great fanfare, one hour before Fadnavis resigned, that the Congress was “splitting down the middle — BJP in touch with Cong MLAs…” Huh?
Occasionally, news channels and anchors frankly admitted their ignorance: “Just what exactly is going on?” said one on NDTV 24×7; “Who stands where?” asked News X; “Ab kya hoga?” sought to know ABP News; “Who is with Ajit?” “Kis Pawar ka chalega?” asked Aaj Tak; “Ajit Pawar ke mann mein kya hai?” was News18 India’s cry for help.
“Public confused, journalists confused,” concluded India TV.
Endgame: TV news attacks BJP and Maha Ugadhi
When it was all over Tuesday afternoon, after Ajit Pawar’s “ghar wapsi” (Aaj Tak) and Fadnavis’ resignation, the knives were out in television studios. But they cut both ways: channels like Times Now and Republic TV almost immediately went for the coalition partners: “PawarSoniaSena – Sena dumps Savarkar Saffron, Congress surrenders secularism”, declared Times Now. “Fadnavis Strong Attack on Sena”, added Republic TV.
ABP News, however, said the BJP had been in “too much of a hurry”. India News declared Pawar man of the match: what Mamata Banerjee and others could not do, Pawar had done, it said. Zee News announced “Fadnavis surrender” and “Uddhav Sikander”.
Rahul Kanwal felt it was a “huge embarrassment” for the BJP – with its “bluster and bravado”, it had been “bested” (India Today). Ravish Kumar dug into the “masterstroke” media that had been blindsided by their allegiance to the BJP (NDTV India).
At Times Now, Navika Kumar sneered at the new formation in Maharashtra: first she called the “WE r 162” MLAs’ parade at the Hyatt Hotel “repulsive”; then she said the new ruling triumvirate was “disastrous for the state and for the state of morality…(which) brazenly mocks the mandate…”
The funniest argument came from BJP’s G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, who defended what India Today’s Rahul Kanwal had called “dead of the night” moves of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, saying there was “nothing exceptional about it” — the country knew the PM woke up early to start work, unlike past PMs who would wake up at 11 am — who ever did he mean? (India Today).
As Wednesday swung into late afternoon, ‘news’ came that Ajit Pawar could be either deputy chief minister or a senior cabinet minister.
India TV’s mind whirred into action: was the ‘news’ since Saturday morning, in fact, a feature film “directed” by Sharad Pawar, “starring” Ajit Pawar – “Pawar and Pawar present: The Great Maharashtra Show”?
Had the two planned to dupe and expose the BJP from the beginning and succeeded in the end? That’s enough to send a surreal, scary shiver down the spine. Can we believe what we hear or see, ever again?