Who wants to place a bet that, come Saturday, Shaheen Bagh will remain in Shaheen Bagh, and not spread across Delhi or the entire country, the way it has since the middle of December 2019?
Delhi votes in its assembly elections this weekend, and all political campaigns — plus TV news channels — have ended up in Shaheen Bagh, even when the likes of the Aam Aadmi Party have been most reluctant to go there. “Will the road to power be through Shaheen Bagh?’’ asked Zee News, last Sunday.
“Epicentre of polls”, CNN News18 called it — and certainly the political tremors have been emanating from there after shootouts in that neighbourhood, and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) top leadership naming Shaheen Bagh in every second sentence of their poll speeches, well, almost.
That would be Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, et cetera. Alongside, TV news channels had taken up permanent residence in the colony since the protests began there over 50 days ago — why, if NPR took place tomorrow in the capital — despite the Centre’s avowals to the contrary. Shaheen Bagh is where it would find most reporters.
‘Biggest poll issue’
Between them, the politicians and TV news journalists have ensured that the Delhi election is limited to one (non) issue: Shaheen Bagh. From Aaj Tak, Zee News and ABP to Times Now, India Today, CNN News18, Republic TV and NDTV 24×7, the last week of the campaigning has seen TV chanting that name — ‘Shaheen Bagh biggest poll issue’ (Zee News), ‘#ShaheenBaghWorry’ (Republic TV), ‘Shaheen Bagh… khali karo’ (Aaj Tak), ‘#Shaheen StandOff’ (Times Now), ‘Shaheen Bagh “shadow” falls on elections’ (India Today).
“I have never seen anything like it,’’ observed political analyst Ashutosh, and nor had such viewers of TV news. TV coverage of an assembly election had never been restricted to one geographical space, and certainly never to one protest.
And the reason for this is quite simple: as Arvind Kejriwal repeated on every interview — and there have been quite a few this week on News18 India, News 24 India, NDTV India, News X, Aaj Tak — how is it that the home minister who is so “powerful” could not clear a road? Who benefits from Shaheen Bagh the most? Since this was a rhetorical question, he answered it himself: BJP.
Now, what BJP wants is what BJP gets and so, alas, do TV news viewers. Hence, the non-stop coverage of Shaheen Bagh during the day and during debates at prime time. The anchors have been careful to not attack the protesters directly. In the words of Rahul Shivshankar, the women are being “misled” by anti-CAA political parties and politicians (Times Now).
Shaheen Bagh has been used to attack Arvind Kejriwal, not because he has openly supported the protesters, but precisely because he hasn’t. Thus, the Shaheen Bagh question in all the TV interviews. BJP and TV news have tried to establish an umbilical link between the two.
And on Tuesday, they thought they had found it in ‘#AAPShaheenBaghGunman’ (Times Now), ‘AAP link to Shaheen shooter?’ (India Today), ‘Game changing twist: shooter is AAP member’ (CNN News18). The curious case of the gunman Kapil Bainsla: photographs of him with AAP leaders Sanjay Singh and Atishi were procured by the channels and used to prove the “direct link” between him and the party. India Today’s Rahul Shrivastava said this gave the BJP a “hook” to attack AAP, but it wasn’t clear why the AAP, if it supported the Shaheen Bagh protest as the BJP alleged, would send in a shooter. This was the “dirtiest elections in Delhi ever,’’ he concluded.
Republic went to town over it: Arnab Goswami described Bainsla as “a hardcore, card-carrying, permanent member of AAP.”
No one knows who will really benefit from Shaheen Bagh in the polls, but Times Now- IPSOS Monday night poll suggested AAP “may not be out of the woods yet” and then telecast its prediction: AAP – 54-60, BJP – 10-14, Congress – 2. Compare this with earlier polls at the beginning of the campaign and you will see an increase of at least 10 seats in favour of the BJP.
Is this a result of Shaheen Bagh’s biryani?