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Sidhu quit, Modi returned – and TV anchors behaved as if these were personal victories

Navjot Sidhu's resignation letter to Sonia Gandhi had Rahul Kanwal of India Today grinning from ear to ear. And everywhere Modi went upon returning from US, cameras reached before.

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Punjab, Prime Minister and ‘pareshan log’: what do they have in common? Nothing but they were the newsmakers of the week.

In the first instance, we don’t know whether to laugh, cry or tear out our hair at the Sidhu Comedy Hour; in the second, we are left speechless at PM Narendra Modi’s superhuman energy as well as coverage of his visit to the US and Central Vista in New Delhi.

As for the ‘pareshan log’, they received considerable coverage and touching sympathy from news channel anchors and reporters Monday for being stuck in long traffic jams between Gurugram and the capital, while farmers who had struck out on a Bharat Bandh in support of their demand for a repeal of last year’s farm laws, were dismissed as troublemakers, and the cause of ‘a huge amount of public inconvenience’ (Times Now) with their ‘blockade’ (News X).

Almost identical visuals of vehicles piled up behind each other in cramped rows appeared on news channels with roughly the same message – ‘Aam aadmi hit by Bharat Bandh (CNN News 18), ‘Aam aadmi bears the brunt’ (Times Now), ‘Log pareshan’ (India News), ‘30 km jam because of Bharat Bandh’ (Zee Hindustan).

Also read: ‘Maut, mahant aur mystery’ — Hindi news channels had a headline competition this week

Anchors overjoyed at Sidhu’s resignation

Aren’t you sick and tired of the ‘Cong implosion in Punjab’ (India Today)? Why can’t Archana Puran Singh do the nation an enormous favour by vacating her position on The Kapil Sharma Show (Sony) and allow Navjot Singh Sidhu to regain his rightful place in life – as a human laughing machine? Honestly, we will nominate her for a Bharat Ratna — just get Sidhu out of politics and off the news channels.

He has made a laughing stock of himself, the ‘Vadra Congress’ as Republic TV refers to it, mockingly, and ‘Gandhi siblings’ (CNN News 18) in the last few months, much to the amusement of TV news anchors who haven’t even bothered to hide their scorn: Navika Kumar’s tongue betrayed her as she uttered an expletive – for which she said ‘sorry’ – as she mocked the Gandhis: ‘Rahul and Sonia were returning from their vacation… when something completely unexpected happened,’ (Times Now).

Well, Navjot Singh Sidhu ‘happened’, that’s what. On Tuesday, he sent a letter to Sonia Gandhi resigning as Punjab Congress president. “He has ruined their holiday,” remarked Rahul Kanwal, grinning from ear to ear on India Today.

Similar barbs and jokes were heard on other channels as they derided the Congress and the Gandhis for the royal mess in Punjab: sometimes, they used Sidhu’s cricketing career to describe the current state of the Congress there. Zee Hindustan claimed that ‘match fixed thhi’ by the captain — Amarinder Singh — adding that this looked like a ‘Test match’. CNN News 18 India spoke of Sidhu’s ‘googly’, never mind that he barely bowled more than an over in international cricket. India Today crowed over the ‘googly’ and ‘Rahul’s hit wicket’.

At other timesit was Sidhu’s stint as the king of comedy on TV that came in use: ’Cong Comedy’ or ‘Comedy of Errors’, offered CNN New 18 India; ‘Comedy with Sidhu,’ announced Republic TV,  ‘the Captain has the last laugh’ it said after Amarinder Singh made his ‘I-told-you-so’ remark on Sidhu’s resignation. ‘Congress Laughter Show, and ‘Great Laughter Series,’ was the sneering reference on Times Now.

With the stalemate in the Congress’ Punjab unit and the juicy prospect of Amarinder Singh meeting the BJP leadership, if he hasn’t already, chances are this theatre of the absurd will continue on TV — but who will be laughing all the way to the vote bank remains to be seen.

Also read: ‘Abba jaan’ politics delights Indian news channels, dying kids in UP an afterthought

Channels cheer Modi

A curious thing happened Monday morning. Even as Bharat Bandh brought life to a stop in some states, news channels suddenly switched to a very important news flash: Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the Central Vista construction site on Sunday night. Nearly every channel ran the same news with the same visuals of the PM inspecting various aspects of the future Parliament premises.

The information across channels was also identical: no one knew he was going there (except of course the video team), it was an unannounced visit, it came at 8.45 pm Sunday, hours after his return from the gruelling visit to the United States. Anchors applauded it as a testament to his stamina, and how he was always at work – ‘Karmyogi Modi’, was how India TV described him.

The same evening, ABP News complimented him for his work ethic: he had spent 31 hours on a plane, he had held 20 meetings in the US, upon his return he attended a felicitation meeting by the BJP – and he had visited Central Vista. It spoke volumes of his unflagging energy, et cetera — similar stories of the PM’s ability to manage his body clock during long distance journeys had appeared in The Times of India and Hindustan Times, Monday morning.

These were obvious PR exercises, perhaps necessitated by the pretty ordinary coverage his visit to the US had received – ordinary, that is, by his own previous standards. Then, there were high-profile meetings, and public meetings for NRIs like ‘Howdy Modi’ where he led then-President Donald Trump around the stadium by the hand – and remember his address at New York’s Central Park to the Global Citizen Festival in 2014?

Those were spectacles where his talents as a crowd-puller and orator shone through. On this occasion, there were high-level meetings with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other world leaders but behind closed doors, barring the salutations. Not TV friendly.

This left TV reporters who had flown out for the Biden-Modi show with little to report. Aaj Tak’s Anjana Om Kashyap gamely went looking for stories. Some of the clips from her efforts were showcased on social media: she met a drummer, drumming up a welcome for Modi upon his arrival in Washington only to be told by him that he had been paid to do it. She also tried to interview an Indian diplomat Sneha Dubey, only to be silently shown the door. Oops.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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