Sunday, May 25, 2014

NUPUR BASU - Tell-tale signs

As early as mid-day on May 16, it became clear that India neither had an Opposition worth talking about, nor did it have an independent media. NUPUR BASU on how TV anchors behaved as results came in

On May 16 as the 2014 Lok Sabha election results started coming in from 8 am, one thing became very clear as early as by mid day. India neither had an Opposition worth talking about with the Congress reduced to 43 seats, nor did it have an independent media. The Modi tsunami (people will continue to call it that although the BJP has got only 31 per cent of the vote share) had, in fact, swept away both the Opposition and the media.

If in the run up to the 2014 elections, the TV reporters and anchors had literally chanted along with Modi supporters “har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi” (they were words that rhymed and worked well on TV), on the day of the results, top anchors and journalists behaved like US journalists who had been embedded with Afghanistan. In this case the Indian journalists appeared embedded to the incoming resident of 7, Race Course Road. No one had asked them to bend. But they had chosen to crawl. 

Karan Thapar was thundering: “The son of a chaiwalla is set to become the Prime Minister of India!” Rahul Kanwal added: “He comes from as humble a background as can get - and he has made yearning and ambition a possibility for Indian youth”. Vir Sanghvi carried on in the same vein: “If this is an Indian dream – he is where he is not because he had godfathers or dynasty” “He was an outsider- he came, saw and conquered!”

By noon Karan Thapar and Rahul Kanwal were already referring to Narendra Modi as “Prime Minister Modi” even as the results were still coming in. Both Thapar and Kanwal co-anchoring a programme kept saying that “Prime Minister Modi is now meeting children in the family”, ”Prime Minister is visiting his mother”, “Prime Minister Modi is now going to Gandhinagar” etc. It was quite shocking. The fact of the matter was that the Prime Minister of the country was still Manmohan Singh, till he officially laid down his office. Narendra Modi could be referred to as “Prime Minister” or “Pradhan Mantri” only after he was elected by his Parliamentary board and officially sworn in for that post by the President. A senior anchor like Karan Thapar should have known this, even if his younger colleague Rahul Kanwal, Editor-at-large at Headlines Today, did not. A comment by a seasoned journalist from the UK came back to haunt me. “Television journalists in India were not journalists at all.”

By afternoon, as the UP results began to give BJP over 60 seats – Rajdeep was saying: “It is not just a north-west wave but an all Indian wave… Amit Shah got it right!” NDTV’s Barkha Dutt was euphoric: “Amit Shah is a real star... isn’t he!” Amit Shah was being dubbed as the ‘best psephologist” as he had said they would get more than 290 seats. Shah was hot property on all channels, giving interviews back to back with a smile playing on his usually unsmiling face.

Meanwhile, celebrations had started in the BJP office and Barkha Dutt shouting above the din of dancing bodies and beating drums was saying: “It’s like a wedding here.” On Headlines Today, Rahul Kanwal was asking: “How did it go so hopelessly wrong with babalog?” Prabhu Chawla was saying: “Modi has broken all caste barriers!” Rahul Kanwal was saying: “What about those who opposed him? Modi stomped on them and came to power!” Someone said Modi was the first OBC to become the Prime Minister of India. Someone else corrected him: “No, no, Deve Gowda was the first OBC Prime Minister”. Arnab was telling a BJP leader in his authoritarian tone: “You have the numbers now and you can crack the whip”! Whom did he want them to crack the whip on? Pakistan, Congress Party, the Media?

Elsewhere, Rajdeep was openly coaxing Ravi Shankar Prasad: “Please smile... slightly wider... slightly wider” and then after hearing out what Prasad had to say, Rajdeep went onto borrow Modi’s phrase: “Achche din aane wale hain”. On CNBC – India going unbound – Latha Venkatesh who had openly critiqued the social welfare measures of the UPA in earlier programmes on her channel, hoped that India Inc was “happy”. After all, in India, financial journalists are happy if the corporates they ‘serve’ are happy. Sagarika Ghose who had earlier been critical of Modi had also decided to join the party. “Modi is like a rockstar!” Ghose repeated ad nauseum. “Rahul Gandhi is down!” exclaimed Rajdeep. “Win or lose, he is not winning by three lakh votes… (this was before the final tally was in) you are headed for the worst ever performance.”

When C R Kesavan, spokesperson of the Congress asked why the BJP did not release its manisfesto till the day of the elections, Karan Thapar almost snapped his head off: “Are you saying something is wrong with the people of India in the verdict they have given?” Nalini Singh added her firepower to Karan’s to pummel the young man who was admitting that it was a very disappointing performance by the Congress. There was no room for any dissent whatsoever. Rajdeep carried on: “Somehow everybody feels that Modi is a jadugar – that he has the power to solve all problems!” Swapan Dasgupta replied to that by saying:  “It is all about the delivery of hope”. About Mayawati’s BSP Rajdeep was saying: “Bahujan Samaj Party has got anda! A zero.”

On News X Diptosh Mazumdar was making an outlandish suggestion: he asked the AAP candidate: “Do you now accept that you cannot win being clean?” This provoked someone else on the panel to ask: “Are you suggesting they become corrupt??”

Then there was Rajdeep’s story about the bhujiawala - Chanakya - who predicted that the NDA would get 340 seats. “I have a confession to make. One day this guy Chanakya who used to sell bhujia came to me with a packet of bhujias and said that he could also predict elections. I gave him two-three chances and then referred him to someone else and look at what the bhujiawalla came up with this time. I must say I am proud to say I was somewhat responsible for this. I told him thoda aur de do...yeh dil mange more”. Time was that journalists would feel proud that their story and exposures changed the living conditions of their fellow citizens less privileged than themselves. Now they boast about mentoring bhujiawalla turned psephologists.

Over the next 24 hours the channels trailed Modi’s criss-crossing across cities – from Vadnagar to Vadodara, from Gandhinagar to Ahmedabad, from Varanasi to Delhi. Modi addressing his victory rally at Ahmedabad by the evening was as vitriolic as ever about his critics: “Jin log dus-barah saal se Modi ki chamri udharne me lage the... Modi ki khaal utarne main lagen the...” etc. (Those people who for the last 10 - 12 years have been trying to skin Modi alive etc.” 

His anger had not subsided even after such a massive victory. Earlier in the day the BBC’s senior journalist, Andrew North’s report showcased an interesting  interview with Modi’s younger brother who recalled that as a child, his brother, Modi, would get very angry and hit him if he did not help him fly kites. The brother was also telling the BBC journalist that Modi, in recent years, would never even offer them a cup of ‘chai’  if they went to his house. So much for ‘chai pe charcha’ for the public. As a train rolled on the frame on Andrew North’s report, his voice over was: “For the first time a man from the other side of the tracks is set to become the Prime Minister of India”.

On Headlines Today the music department has been working hard before the election results day and are fully prepared to belt out their songs with graphics depicting Modi dancing: “Aaj kal Modi Modi Modi har zaban par... sabko maloom hain aur sabko khabar ho gaya’. Yes the khabar was disseminated as the results came in and how!

The anchor who took the saffron cake and ate it too was Rajdeep. Waving his orange tie from his specially planned wardrobe the CNN-IBN Editor- in-chief whose channel slogan from the time it started has boasted  of “credibility” wished away all that by saying: “The mood of the weekend is reflected in my tie and now I think I deserve to go on holiday!” In Delhi Narendra Modi thanked the media for helping garner this victory. “Sorry if I have not been able to meet all of you – but you belong to us and we will keep meeting now”.