Last week, the lasting image was of Delhi’s Red Fort besieged by protesters; this week it’s of nails and barbed wire. “No, this is not the Line of Control,” said Aaj Tak’s Shweta Singh. No, indeed it’s not, it’s ‘The Big Delhi Fortress’ (Mirror Now).
“Photos speak louder than words,” declared another Aaj Tak anchor and, can you blame pop star Rihanna or anyone else for being shocked by the scenes we saw on Tuesday and Wednesday?
Roads sealed with barbed wire, cement barricades “rooted in concrete” (Times Now); brick walls ringed in by deeply dug trenches, buses and trucks lined up in rows; thousands of Delhi Police personnel (some wielding steel rods), CRPF jawans — and above all, the nails.
Nails the size of spears hammered into the road, nails to “puncture” the vehicles of protesters and “their conspiracy” (Zee Hindustan) — “big nails especially sharpened so that no one can cross,” explained a CNN News18 reporter, in wonder. “Will the nails seal the agitation?” asked Aaj Tak.
Welcome to the Delhi-Tikri-Ghazipur-Singhu borders — “…you used to see this on the Indo-Pak border, now it’s here,” exclaimed NDTV India’s correspondent, carefully picking his way through the layers of security — six in total. Times Now called these “precautionary measures”, meant “to prevent any repeat of 26 January”, added India TV.
There is “zabardast security”, marvelled the Aaj Tak correspondent peering through the concertina tunnel — “The police have left no stone unturned”.
Mightily impressive as it was, it definitely didn’t look good on TV screens or photographs shared on social media. It looked like a high-security jail or a military zone — and we didn’t need Rihanna to show us that.
It looked even worse when news channels juxtaposed visuals of the barricaded roads with Bharatiya Janata Party leaders like Union Minister for Agriculture, Narendra Singh Tomar, or national spokesperson Sambit Patra making conciliatory overtures to the farmers in TV studios (ABP). The warlike mobilisation at the border — Delhi’s border – spoke much louder than their words.
And it needlessly allowed the opposition to attack the Narendra Modi government and the BJP, with the likes of Supriya Shrinate, Congress, taunting them with accusations — “Is the government at war against its own people?” (Aaj Tak).
It allowed Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, already an overnight farmers’ hero after his tearful lament following an FIR filed against him for the 26 January tractor rally violence in Delhi, to calmly take on anchors like India Today’s Rahul Kanwal and vow to stay at the border till October if necessary.
And it allowed farmer leaders, who had been thrust onto the backfoot by the events on Republic Day, to play the aggrieved party once again and regain some lost ground: “What is happening in this country?” asked farmer leader C.P. Singh (CNN News18). “We will welcome you with nails (in the elections),” warned Pushpendra Singh, Kisan Shakti Sangh (Mirror Now). “Not even the Indo-Pak border is like this,” said one farmer to Shweta Singh (Aaj Tak).
Once more, the farmers were able to complain about ill-usage on NDTV India — they spoke of being denied water, electricity, and, of course, internet connectivity.
It also took us back many decades.
Too easily offended
Once Rihanna had posted her tweet, which included a photograph of the tractor rally at the Delhi border, news channels erupted in fury, led by you-know-who.
Republic TV charged into battle against “Twitter Hypocrisy” and this “meddling” in India’s affairs. #IndiaAgainstPropaganda saw anchor Arnab Goswami go so far as to release a statement against Rihanna on the Republic website.
The channel, along with CNN News18 and NewsX, sounded like they were back in the 1970s when any criticism of the country from abroad led to righteous indignation: “Who is destabilising India?”, “Plot to defame India”, “Is this a conspiracy?” read Wednesday’s headlines on CNN News18. In Wednesday evening’s debate, Times Now spoke ominously about “Modi Sarkar Sees Foreign Hand” – so reminiscent of the 1970s.
NewsX spoke darkly of “an anti-India lobby” which wanted to give “a bad name to India”. Then, the Ministry of External Affairs jumped into the fray with a strongly worded statement against “celebrities’’ on social media. And news channels took up the cudgels on behalf of the government: #BJP v/s GretaRihanna (Times Now), ‘Govt v/s Global celeb’ (India Today). And before we knew it, Bollywood turned up too: “Bollywood stars come out to counter Rihanna,” said India Today, highlighting messages from director Karan Johar and others.
Was this really necessary? Wouldn’t it have been wiser, more statesman-like to simply ignore a pop star and what she said? Instead, the message that went out from the continuous coverage of her tweet and its fallout Wednesday, is that we are as prickly as we ever were and still suffer from an inferiority complex.
So, instead of TV news dwelling on what everyone had acclaimed as a “Vaccine Budget” (Zee News), “Budget Booster” (Times Now), after it was presented on Monday; instead of listening to the BJP boast about its bold steps to revive the economy, we ended up listening to Sambit Patra, who had called a press conference Wednesday afternoon, defend those nails — Delhi Police’s “defensive measures’’ — and attack Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, and Rihanna.
Views are personal.