It was our Top Gun moment.
The fighter aircraft boomed above Delhi’s Rajpath, gained height and cruised along a cloudless blue sky. The camera closed in on the fighter pilot in his helmet and for a moment it was Tom Cruise all over again. “What a splendid display it is!” exclaimed the DD News commentator.
These incredible images from the flypast on the 73rd Republic Day parade, including visuals from inside the cockpit, saw an unprecedented 75 planes zoom into and out of view, Wednesday, in breathtaking formations. ‘The world is watching India’s might,’ boasted News18 India.
If some of the footage from above the clouds, across land, was pre-recorded, who cares? As the DD commentator said, it was “beautiful”.
The rest of the 90-odd minute function paled in comparison—the march past, the tableaux floats, President Ram Nath Kovind with his salute, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his fetching Brahma Kamal cap that reminded us of Subhas Chandra Bose’s military topi, and the band playing some of our favourite tunes from way back when…
The news channels heralded the moment with nostalgia: ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ (ABP News), ‘Remembering our heroes’ (CNN News18), ‘Our forces lead the way’ (Times Now), ‘Proud to be Indian,’ saluted Republic TV. TV9 Bharatvarsh noted that this was our first look at ‘New Rajpath’ but, honestly, one couldn’t see much of it because of the parade.
After R-Day, Congress took over
Let’s move on from the ‘military might and diversity’ of 26 January’s parade, to the mundane politics of assembly poll campaigns.
If Congress lost another ‘loyalist’ (India Today), in ‘Padrauna ke king’ (India TV), Pakistan entered the fray in Uttar Pradesh.
In their now usual ‘I-told-you-so’ manner, news channels claimed foreknowledge of RPN Singh’s departure from Congress and arrival at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, Tuesday. And, did we detect an element of gloating in their approach to the defection?
‘Another jolt to Congress’ (Times Now), ‘Another embarrassing quit from Cong’ (India Today), ‘Revolt against the Vadras’ (Republic TV), ‘Padrauna ka raja Cong ko bye bye’ (India TV). Sure sounded like they were pleased.
‘Yet another embarrassment,’ declared NDTV 24×7 — the channel’s coverage was keenly watched by all of us who knew that RPN Singh is married to NDTV’s leading editor Sonia Singh who presents the weekday 8 pm news show. The coverage, however, turned out to be similar to other channels — long discussions on the importance of RPN Singh and Rahul Gandhi losing trusted lieutenants, one by one — ‘RPN ka haath BJP ke saath’ (News18 India).
Pakistan is back on TV news
Where Jinnah goes can Pakistan be far behind?
And so it came to pass.
A week after we saw headlines such as ‘Ganna v/s Jinnah in Western UP?’ (Times Now), our westerly neighbour made a dramatic appearance in campaign UP. Much to the delight of BJP and pounced upon immediately by Hindi news channels, Akhilesh Yadav, president of Samajwadi Party, decided to share his views on India’s foreign policy: “Our real enemy is China. Pakistan is our political enemy,” he told a newspaper.
He added: “But BJP only targets Pakistan because of their vote politics” — something news channels largely ignored. They were interested in his disavowal of Pakistan as India’s ‘real enemy’ and seized upon it to generate debates on his, er, patriotism: “Does Akhilesh put votes before sacrifices of our braves,” asked Times Now at 9 pm on Monday. ‘Pakistan No. l dushman nahin?’ asked News18 India.
From Aaj Tak and ABP News to TV 9 and Zee News, news channels went after Akhilesh Yadav using BJP’s Sambit Patra’s pithy phrase, ‘Jinnah se jo kare pyar, Pakistan se kaise kare Inkar’ at a press conference.
They accused Yadav of playing the communal card, which suited them very well. As much as any political party, news channels thrive on ‘us v/s them’, Hindu-Muslim narrative. And the Yadav comment couldn’t have come at a better time: the day before, BJP ally Apna Dal named Haider Ali as its candidate from Rampur — “1st time after 2014, NDA fields a Muslim,” reported Times Now.
This was treated as a remarkable phenomenon for the BJP by the news channels and came in for considerable comment.
Then, soon after Akhilesh’s Pakistan remark, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh blamed India’s neighbour for the Sidhu albatross around his neck. Monday afternoon, at the announcement of seat-sharing with the BJP in Punjab, he said he had been lobbied from across the border, to reinstate Sidhu who was an ‘old friend’ of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Between them, Akhilesh and Amarinder had given news channels the opportunity to feature ‘Pakistan’ in their headlines and debates all of Monday. Perfect to boost viewership?
Pakistan and Muslims are potent ingredients of TV news in poll times. Especially in a state like UP where they constitute 14 per cent of the population. Any Muslim or Pakistan angle presents the channels with a chance to exploit either.
For instance, on Tuesday, India TV looked at Samajwadi Party’s candidates for the 2022 UP assembly election. And it found what it was obviously looking for: ‘Younis, Azam, Rafiq, Ansari — will they give Akhilesh victory?’ was the evening debate. As for News18 India, it asked, ‘Jat v/s Muslims?’
Views are personal.