If anyone has been “grounded” (India Today), “ejected” (CNN News18) and had its “wings clipped” (Times Now), it is India’s leading news channels. In their own aviation language, they took off with Sachin Pilot on Sunday, were flying all over the place with the story of his departure from the Congress, Monday and Tuesday, only to be brought down to earth Wednesday morning when Pilot was still undecided about his destination — the BJP, in most channels’ opinion.
Besides, the analogy is all wrong: the only glimpse we have enjoyed of Pilot since Sunday was of him driving his sleek, black car apparently out of Jyotiraditya Scindia’s house in New Delhi after a “40-minute meeting” with the BJP leader (India Today), much to the delight of the news channels, which saw Congress losing another bright young leader – and probably a government too.
By then, news channels had informed us that disagreements with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had finally driven the former deputy chief minister out of Jaipur along with a number of equally resentful MLAs — and they have been parked in Delhi or Haryana since then, defying summons to two-party meetings.
And, by the way, the only mode of transport that has played an active role in the ‘Gehlot v/s Pilot’ “Desert Storm” (CNN News18) “cliffhanger”(NDTV 24×7) are buses—ferrying the Rajasthan MLAs to and fro Fairmont Hotel (what a great freebie advertisement for the resort this has been) – or SUVs presumably used by the CM.
The only thing that is airborne these days, is the coronavirus, so, can we please stop the silly headline management games— and tell it like it is?
The problem is nobody really knows what is going on, least of all the news channels. For instance, on Wednesday morning, the channels were all set for Sachin Pilot’s departure from the Congress but then he cancelled his press conference and nothing happened.
So, they set about imagining his options: the former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan may or may not hold the media meet today (Thursday), where he may or may not outline his future course of action, which may or may not include joining the BJP, said channels such as India Today, CNN News18 – this despite Pilot expressly telling as many as four of them in “exclusive” interviews that he was not joining the BJP (India Today, NDTV 24×7, ABP News, CNN News18).
Nothing would please several of India’s news channels more than if Pilot were to join the BJP since that makes for a far juicier story than, say, Pilot form his own party – or, simply do nothing for now.
But you sensed the plot was not going according to this script when Times Now and Republic TV – or Republic TV and Times Now depending on whose viewership claims you believe – Wednesday morning sidelined Pilot as the lead story for Mehraj-ud-Din Malla, a BJP leader in Jammu and Kashmir who was reportedly kidnapped. Hindi news channels, meanwhile, chose to wade through Mumbai’s sodden streets after a monsoon downpour. And CNN News18 was making conciliatory noises on behalf of “sources” in the Congress who said there was still room for Sachin & Co. in the party.
Till Tuesday, the channels seemed to control the narrative: after Pilot was removed from his government and party posts in Rajasthan, the channels were clear on what had occurred: “Sonia Sacks Sachin” (Republic TV), “Gandhis picks tainted Gehlot” (Times Now), “Pilot set to exit” (NDTV 24×7), “Nothing left for Pilot in Congress” (ABP), “Pilot has moved away too far now” (Aak Tak).
They did a quick rewind to March when Jyotiraditya Scindia left the Congress and brought down the Madhya Pradesh government. The news channels framed this as another battle of the “old guard versus the young guard” (India Today) and suggested that Gen Next was winning the battle: “Will Congress lose Rajasthan?” (Mirror Now), “Endgame for Congress?”, “Pilot refuses to bend” (CNN News18), “Pilot gone?” (NDTV India).
They were careful to mention that Gehlot had the required number of MLAs – even though a headcount by Times Now of MLAs in the photograph from Fairmont Hotel saw fewer than Gehlot claimed – but they held out for a Pilot victory thinking Pilot had up to 30 MLAs on his side, as he claimed. They saw the Rajasthan government “on the brink” ( NDTV 24×7) even when Congress spokespersons such as the indefatigable Pawan Khera pointed out that the numbers argued otherwise.
They clearly identified Gehlot as the villain and Pilot as the leader more sinned against than sinning. Monday evening, nearly every single anchor on English and Hindi news channels praised Pilot – from NDTV at one end to Republic at the other. Pilot’s biodata was better than Rahul Gandhi’s, he had worked tirelessly for the party, he won the 2018 Rajasthan assembly election for Congress, he was sidelined in the party —“5 reasons why Congress failed again” (Mirror Now) to “Isn’t this a failure of the high command?’’ (NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain).
Everything was leading up to that one headline they wanted to conjure — “Sachin Pilot dumps the Gandhis, joins BJP”.
That may still happen, today, tomorrow or the day after. Then again, it may not.
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