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The day Rahul and Rafale came down on PM Modi, CAG report or not

As soon as the CAG report on Rafale deal was tabled in Parliament, TV channels jostled to get ‘exclusive’ rights.

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The ‘Rafale dogfight’ (India Today) broke out between news channels over ‘exclusive’ rights to the CAG Rafale report Wednesday noon.

Such was the competition that Priyanka Gandhi in Lucknow became a sideshow and coverage of Amit Shah’s Kumbh showcase ‘dip’ lasted as long as his ‘dubki’.

As for CAG”s report, it was `First on Times Now’, but no, said Republic TV, we’re ‘first to access the report’. Ah, but NewsX had ‘CAG accessed’ written all over its smug screenshot of the report. CNN News18 claimed in confused language, ‘Exclusive CAG report on Rafale’ and India Today was underlining passages from it even as NDTV 24×7 announced with some fanfare, ‘NDTV accesses CAG report’.

No prizes for guessing which channel brought up the rear: DD News was at Question Hour in Rajya Sabha.

Hindi news channels know the bite is worse than the bark, and so cut to the details of the report, highlighting in DD’s words: ‘NDA deal cheaper than UPA by 2.86%.’

This, claimed Times Now and India Today, ‘blunts’ the opposition charge.

Not likely.

Also read: BJP strategy to fight Rafale accusations — ‘talk extensively’ about CAG report & SC order

Congress president Rahul Gandhi held another Rafale pressconference Wednesday afternoon and India Today said there was enough in the report, ‘open to political interpretation’.

‘Are you sick of this now?’ asked NewsX, two hours later. Heartily, you wanted to yell back—now, if only TV set had big ears like the Big Bad Wolf.

Since last week’s revelations in The Hindu on the French aircraft, Rafale and Rahul have been almost inseparable: he either summons a press conference to list all the reasons why ‘chowkidar chor hai’ or repeats the same allegations in his public speeches/statements – from the party’s minority cell meeting last week to Monday and Wednesday’s press conferences.

He tore himself away from his favorite topic of conversation, long enough to accompany sister Priyanka Gandhi on her bus yatra through Lucknow– and even then Rafale featured in his comments.

Now that Rahul Gandhi has successfully embedded ‘Chowkidar chor hai’ in the political discourse and the public imagination leading up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, perhaps he needs to find a new, more positive and compelling narrative on what he and the Congress have on offer.

Otherwise, he may undo what he has done.

Also read: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Mamata Banerjee: The two powerful women who held TV news hostage

In sharp relief to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul was seen as gentle and unassuming. However, Rahul Gandhi has begun to sound like Narendra Modi does on ‘parivar‘ when he rants about Rafale – there’s a harshness there now in demeanour and language.

Could Rahul and Rafale come crashing down on him?

Certainly, we are tiring of it.

Meanwhile, the media still can’t seem to get enough of Priyanka Gandhi.  ‘Priyanka Politics’ (Zee News), ‘Congress ki Devi Priyanka (Republic Bharat), ‘Priyanka ki Aandhi’ (ABP) swept through Monday – news channels sent editors, no less, on a hike to Lucknow to report ‘Priyanka on poll bus’ (Sudarshan TV).

Such is the fascination with her on TV that headlines identified her first – the general secretary Uttar Pradesh (East) got higher pegging than the Congress president: ‘Priyanka ke saath Rahul’  (India TV) – ‘Can she save Rahul’s boat?’ (Republic Bharat).

One channel remained unimpressed. DD News ignored the Lucknow trip—but her husband Robert Vadra’s questioning by the Enforcement Directorate found space.

It ignored Mamata Banerjee’s three-day protest in Kolkata, the week before. It chooses to ignore the entire opposition, unless the PM or other BJP leaders have something negative to say about any of them.

For instance, its coverage of the CAG report on Rafale pointed out the ways in which the NDA deal was ‘better’ than UPA’s.

Also read: DD and AIR set to launch news channels, digital platform ahead of Lok Sabha elections

DD News has supposedly one objective: to promote the prime minister. And it never leaves you in any doubt about who that is: listen carefully, and more often than not, you will hear it refer to him as ‘Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi’—Tuesday’s 8 pm half an hour News Night bulletin described him thus throughout. There’s no standalone ‘Pradhan Mantri’ or ‘Modi ji’ but `Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi’.

It’s clever: think ‘Pradhan Mantri’, think Narendra Modi. Think of all the Pradhan Mantri schemes in the last four years, associate them with Narendra Modi.

News bulletins are routinely devoted to Modi. Last Sunday, after the headlines at 8 pm, all the news until 8:25 pm was about Modi – this included ad breaks, which also featured him, i.e., the National ST/SC Hub.

In the bulletin, the Prime Minister was seen at inaugurations of various kinds during his visit to the south. This could be termed as ‘news’ about Modi in his capacity as PM – something ignored by private news channels.

However, there were excerpts from his public rallies where he attacked Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

His political rallies where he speaks against the opposition and for the BJP are also covered—very often live. In fact, wherever Modi goes, DD – and increasingly ANI – follow. Modi-speak, Modi-nama, call it what you will, it’s on DD News, almost all day long.

A reminder: it was BJP, which after the Emergency abuse of AIR and DD, called for autonomy of the public broadcaster —L.K. Advani as information and broadcasting minister initiated what is today’s ‘autonomous’ Prasar Bharati.

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