Do you believe in coincidences? If you do, then you will dismiss this article as one of those conspiracy theories television news so loves to talk about.
If you don’t, you may agree that the “maha yudh” for Uttar Pradesh is already underway, well before the assembly elections in early 2022, with BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath leading the charge and many news channels mounting a strong defence for him.
The launch of his campaign, a good eight months ahead of schedule, seems to have been accelerated by the devastating second wave of the coronavirus, which left in its wake the unforgettable sight of the dead floating in the rivers of Uttar Pradesh or found buried by its river banks. These were heartbreaking reminders of the pandemic’s victims that made news, worldwide. Rightly or wrongly, Yogi was blamed for the tragic health crisis in the state — his reputation tarnished, his government found badly wanting.
That was in mid-May. Cut to mid-July and bleak times now appear to be over for both. While news channels such as Aaj Tak display the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya under construction, there has been a carefully constructed effort to restore Yogi Adityanath’s image to its pre-second wave status, much of it on television news.
Advertorials and interviews interrupted coverage of a succession of developments which, coincidentally or otherwise, recently occurred in the state: a terror module uncovered, a religious-conversion racket busted, a population control policy in the making, and the current deliberation on the Kanwar Yatra.
And now, even as you read this, there is live TV coverage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Varanasi with Adityanath in tow. Is this a signal that “all is well” for the CM? If it isn’t, it won’t be for want of trying.
Adityanath’s advertorial avatars
Switch on any news channel, at any time of day, and you will enjoy the benefit of Yogi’s company with channels running what they call “impact features” on him. These advertorials star the UP chief minister in different roles — the able administrator, the educationist, the development guru, the protector of women, etc. So ubiquitous are these, you can’t avoid them even if you want to.
Then there are the TV interviews. Last week, Aaj Tak and Republic TV interviewed the UP CM, and for the first time, maybe, we saw a relaxed Adityanath — actually smiling on Aaj Tak.
On Republic TV, he was Mr Magnanimity himself — cordially inviting Hyderabad MP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s president Asaduddin Owaisi to do battle in the UP assembly election, claiming politics was not everything for him. So impressed was anchor Arnab Goswami that first, he congratulated him on the party’s ‘victory’ in the recent local elections (marred by violence) and then thanked him, profusely, for the conversation: “Thank you, very, very much…’’
This week, Times Now with Navika Kumar and News18 India interviewed him too, where he was equally comfortable and self–assured.
Yogi’s fantastic stories, and where to find them
On to stories. News channels found themselves in Lucknow on Sunday and Monday to report “moment by moment developments since the morning” on the UP Anti-Terror Squad’s arrest of two suspected ‘terrorists’ allegedly linked to al-Qaeda (Aaj Tak).
“The terror conspiracy in UP” (India TV) was deemed worthy of full-day coverage for two days — they wanted to “kill VIPs,” claimed News18 India; they were “planning to attack before 15 August,” added India Today.
ABP News said there was a handler in Pakistan, pressure cooker bombs had been readied, maps of cities targeted — big religious sites like Kashi, Mathura — and sweeper cells had been “activated not just in UP but throughout India.”
‘Bags..’ were hauled out of a building, reportedly full of explosives as every detail of the ATS investigations found its way into TV news — “attacks planned in Lucknow… loyalty tests conducted…” (Republic TV). It was “a huge catch”, declared News18 India. The channel went so far as to assure us that Adityanath was overseeing every detail of the investigation.
Zee Hindustan said the UP ATS had saved us from a ‘huge attack’ and Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar spoke of a possible ‘deadly attack’ on Hindu worship sites being averted – something to be “celebrated”.
Instead, so-called ‘secular’ politicians like Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati questioned the ATS action and its timing, thereby giving news channel anchors a chance to tut-tut their attitude, on prime time — `DeshFirstNotDroh’, flashed Times Now.
In comparison, Monday and Tuesday morning English newspapers carried the ‘terror attack’ bust as small items on the inside pages.
The other big story on TV news this last fortnight has been the population policy proposed by Yogi Adityanath. This came after a similar policy in Assam last month, which also received extensive TV coverage.
Once again, the issue was framed in a way that suggested it was a sound policy and that opposition to it – from the Opposition, who else – was a) petty politics, and b) an effort to communalise the issue. That Janata Dal (United) president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar didn’t favour it received little or no mention, nor did the worry that such a policy would hit the poorest hardest, as reported by The Times Of India.
India Today had a story on other states such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh also contemplating a similar policy — all BJP-ruled states, by the way. BJP MP Pragya Thakur told News 24 that ‘Rohingyas and Bangladeshis’ were increasing India’s population. Oh no.
Before the terror module and population policies took over news channels, there was the conversion racket, reportedly bust by the UP ATS again – “the biggest possible conversion syndicate that’s ever been exposed in India in recent years…right before the Uttar Pradesh elections,” claimed India Today anchor Shiv Aroor on 23 June. This provoked an outpouring of outrage across channels — from carpet coverage to debates – and statements such as “It’s a kind of terrorism to finish off Hindus…” from BJP’s Ravi Kishen (Aaj Tak).
Seen together, over the last month, the coverage of these issues develop a narrative that would write itself into the Hindu playbook of fear and anxiety: ‘love jihad’ (conversion), the Muslim population outnumbering Hindus (population policy), terror attacks (the Lucknow terror module), religion and ritual (Ayodhya, Kanwar Yatra) — issues that could well influence voters in the forthcoming elections.
“Will it go on like this till 2022?” asked an Aaj Tak reporter about the political bickering over the terror module — it’s a question we can ask of UP politics and media coverage too.
As of now, the BJP has a CM candidate and is projecting Yogi Adityanath as a man who knows how to be in charge. Meanwhile, the ‘divisive’ issues and politics play out on television news.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)