Rahul Gandhi, please come back, all is forgiven. And bring the Congress with you. A Gandhi-mukt Congress and a Congress-mukt Bharat is all very well for speeches, but in reality, as the Lord Kitchener poster said more than a century ago, ‘Your country needs you’.
At least, television news, news anchors and the BJP need you like the country needs rain—desperately.
If there is no Congress, how would we enjoy the privilege of watching the ‘nataka’ in Karnataka that spread to Mumbai, where last seen, Wednesday, Congress leaders were being piled into buses after staging a sit-in outside the delightfully named Renaissance Hotel?
How would Times Now have been able to howl ‘#NetasOnSale’, for the last three days if it wasn’t for the Congress finding ways to rock its own coalition government in Karnataka and allow the BJP to meddle in its affairs?
But for the crisis in Karnataka, TV news would have had to relay live coverage of the World Cup, over the last week, to keep viewers interested. No kidding: Aaj Tak’s Sweta Singh was willing to discuss if Modi could win the World Cup—that’s how desperately news channels need to pull out something to attract viewership.
— आज तक (@aajtak) July 9, 2019
And that’s why the media loves Rahul and the Congress: no other political party affords the nation as much entertainment as the Congress does.
For a month, the two combined to play the cat and mouse will-he-or-won’t-he game over his resignation as party president. Each time he announced that he would no longer be president, a Congress faithful said he and he alone would be president—didn’t you see Sachin Pilot, last Wednesday hours after Rahul’s open letter on Twitter announcing his departure, pledging just that?
And it was enough for the media to simply, and dutifully, relay the soap opera as it played out.
But now that Rahul is gone since last Wednesday, the news channels have been showing withdrawal symptoms. Who can they pick on now?
Well, NDTV India went looking for Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav Tuesday and didn’t find him – he too is missing.
Republic TV meanwhile, found someone at the movies who saw Rahul at the movies, Sunday and played out the video prime time. The anchor was on a high, immediately as she raged against him: how could he watch a film, as though he had not a care in the world, when the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka was about to collapse and state leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora were resigning.
For TV anchors, Rahul Gandhi has been their go-to man, their saviour. He was their high tide when the news flow was at a low ebb—the favourite punching bag across Hindi and English channels like Zee News, ABP, News India 18, Times Now, CNN News18, and Republic TV.
And he could always be relied upon to deliver: deliver a roiling, rollicking debate and deliver viewers who delight in watching the ‘parivar’ being brought down by ‘naamdaar’, insulted by Arnab Goswami (Republic TV) or Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar (Times Now) besides Sudhir Chowdhury (Zee News).
In fact, it often seemed like Rahul and the Congress received more air time than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, barring during the elections and on DD News.
The decision of the Congress to absent itself from TV debates—the Samajwadi Party has done likewise – and Rahul Gandhi’s disappearance – has robbed TV prime time of its USP. The idea has been to pit the Congress against the BJP always tipping the scales against the former, seldom attacking the latter. It is the Congress that has been accountable on TV, not the BJP, which has been in power.
Now that there is no Rahul and no Congress, the debates are beginning to lose their mojo. Suddenly, there is no one to blame for everything.
That’s why anchors and participants are tenaciously holding on to Congress to extract something, anything for a debate. So, in a debate on lynchings transforming India into ‘lynchistan’, Sambit Patra promptly and completely out of context, brought up the 1984 Sikh riots under the Congress.
That’s why the fate of the Congress after Rahul’s resignation became a favourite topic: ABP discussed if the party had lost its bearings, Monday, and so did NDTV 24×7.
And that’s why channels are actually beginning to occasionally ask questions of the BJP: Times Now, Monday, exposed the role of the BJP in Karnataka’s crisis with photographs of BJP leaders meeting the Congress MLAs who had resigned. India Today spoke of BJP ‘purchasing MLAs’.
But this is half-hearted and not as entertaining as flogging the Congress. And it is not something the BJP would like to see continue either. Therefore, it is in the interests of the BJP, TV news and of course the party itself, that the Congress return from the dead.
Ironic, isn’t it?
(The article earlier named Jyotiraditya Scindia as Madhavrao Scindia. The error is regretted.)