This is the tale of two cities, divided by a river.
It’s the story of Delhi that said “Welcome to Mr and Mrs Trump” (India Today) and the story of northeast Delhi where communal riots saw ‘#IndiaDefamed’ (News X) – and at least 24 killed, at last count.
This is also the story of two “narratives”, a favourite word of TV news channel anchors. There was the daytime narrative of young TV reporters going to those parts of Delhi that were worst hit by communal clashes.
And there was the evening narrative that heard (some) news anchors try to pin the blame for the violence on their favourite targets – you know, those ‘libtards’ in Lutyens’ Delhi — the same Delhi that welcomed US President Donald Trump and joined him to feast upon tandoori salmon tikkas, even as some 15 km away, homes, shops and vehicles were burnt to cinders.
And then there was the biggest, the brightest, the greatest show on earth at the ‘#Modi-TrumpSummit’ (Aaj Tak). This was all about the ‘super chemistry’ between the Indian Prime Minister and the US President, the ‘swag and swagath’ (India Today) at Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium “decked up like a bride” (Aaj Tak) where, in the words of Doordarshan News, “the season of spring (is) adding a dash of colour” — and the romantic “date with history” that the First Couple enjoyed at the Taj Mahal (CNN News18).
These stories and narratives collided, intersected and interrupted each other when the violent clashes put “Delhi on Edge” (India Today).
TV news was finally TV news
When the violence began to turn really violent Monday, only NDTV 24×7 was there to record it, till Times Now, CNN News18, India Today and Republic TV joined in late afternoon — they had been too dazzled by “the stardust” from Trump’s state visit (CNN News18).
Perhaps for the first time in his life Tuesday, Donald Trump played second fiddle on news channels as they switched to Jaffrabad, Maujpur, Yamuna Vihar and other localities of Delhi where their reporters spoke of horrific lawless scenes.
Suddenly, after a very long time, TV news was TV news: strong visuals of violent clashes, desecration of property with reporters’ eyewitness accounts.
The stories they recounted were identical: “two sides” locked in mortal combat (nobody said Muslims and Hindus), and a police force that was ‘inept’ and ‘inadequate’. Reporters held Delhi Police responsible but few were willing to go up the chain of command to the home ministry.
When India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai asked BJP’s Amit Malviya if Home Minister Amit Shah should not be held responsible, Malviya yelled and tried to shout, nay, shoot him down.
Times Now drew up a list of “Who failed Delhi?” Wednesday — Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik, Lt Governor Anil Baijal, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla. No mention of Amit Shah.
Back to the reporting: NDTV had footage of the violence Monday from 9 am onwards; Times Now reported on stone pelting by “both sides” —pro- and anti-CAA groups. It spoke of “lawlessness” and the police as a “mute spectator”.
India TV, Aaj Tak, ABP News described “dono taraf se hinsa” with Aaj Tak calling out BJP’s Kapil Mishra for his Sunday ultimatum to the Jaffrabad protesters.
But India TV also kept asking viewers, “timing samajhiye”, a reference to Trump’s visit.
Tuesday saw more of the same: Aaj Tak had a timeline of the violence; Times Now spoke of a “battlefield” in the same breath as a “plot to sully India’s image…”. It said the police personnel were “not very comfortable patrolling the area…”.
Channels lash out at mob, police
Cut to First Lady Melania Trump’s happiness class at a Delhi government school.
Return to CNN News18 that asked why Delhi Police was mute and showed videos of policemen watching violent clashes. Zee News was far iffier: it showed visuals of men, clearly Muslims, on a rooftop throwing stones. Times Now had the same visuals but it showed the “other side” also throwing stones.
On News 24, the anchor ticked off BJP spokesperson Narendra Taneja for blaming the “other side” — “We should not blame anyone just now, we don’t know the facts…” she reproved him.
Cut to Trump-Modi press statement — “Deal & Dosti”, said India Today.
Cut back to CNN News18 reporting on journalists being attacked, “heckled” and public property being destroyed. Mobs, said reporter Runjhun Sharma, seized journalists’ mobiles and deleted visuals of the violence.
NDTV reporters described how they were attacked and questioned about their identity by the mob.
News X said all this happened with “cops in the background”. On Republic TV, reporter Shawan Sen said the “inaction” of Delhi Police was “glaring”.
“Centre fails to restore order”, declared Times Now; “Police completely out of it — it seems their hands are tied”, added Aaj Tak; “Police deployment not enough”, suggested CNN News18; ABP News asked, “Where is the Police Commissioner? Why was he sleeping?”
Fine reporting cut short
On and on it went, report after report, on channel after channel — a narrative of seeming wilful neglect by Delhi Police, allowing mobs to vandalise at will.
This fine TV reporting was often undercut by headlines and anchors who asked questions, like Rahul Shivshankar did Monday: Was this a deliberate, calibrated attempt to “malign the image of India” during Trump’s visit? Navika Kumar questioned the “conspiracy” behind the violence.
And since no one believed the Modi government would undermine its own Trump show, the implication was clear: “This is orchestrated violence”, said Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami on ‘#India v/s Mob’ — who’s responsible for the deaths? Where are the supporters of Shaheen Bagh? Where is Lutyens, he asked.
Zee News anchor Sudhir Chaudhary, who tweeted a photograph of himself with President Trump and PM Modi at the President’s Banquet, was equally clear: he said that this was a “tactic” to defame India in front of the entire world and blamed the tukde tukde gang, Lutyens media and the opposition for it.