The media, which speaks in many voices, is united in its contempt for the United Nations. As a tribe, we would like to see the headquarters of this exhausted body turned into the Taj Turtle Bay, or similar, with tennis courts and putting greens tastefully scattered about. How odd it is, then, to find the very same media agitated because the UN has discovered that UP exists, that the state’s boys will be boys, as Mulayam Singh Yadav protests, and that Akhilesh will always be Akhilesh — a little too easy on the said boys.
Arnab Goswami feels internationally humiliated, especially because Mulayam Singh Yadav had told the media to do its job and let him do his. Bhupendra Chaubey wanted to know what this would do to India’s image, and he had Ashwini Kakkar, old Thomas Cook hand and executive vice-chairman of Mercury Travels, in the studio to monetise the damage. Kakkar sensibly sidestepped the issue, since Badaun is not about what the neighbours will think of us, and how many tourist footfalls we shall lose as a result, but about the culture of impunity which has taken hold of India.
The programme was a short primer for all political parties, which are yet to understand that personal security has become a zero-tolerance issue. On the show, Chaudhury Sahib Singh of the Samajwadi Party was a duck so lame he had to sit. He had brought papers to the studio — even more papers than Arnab Goswami brandishes. He read obsessively from these cheat sheets, refusing to be deflected, in a manner which suggested that he was spouting lies, damned lies and statistics that he actually knew nothing about.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli is a soothing presence on noisy screens. He is smooth in speech and utterly smooth above the brows. Which were knitted for a change when he was told off by Anna Vetticad, who was on Chaubey’s panel, for reeling off well-intentioned noises from the BJP manifesto and for, well, behaving like a man — saying that he understood what was what on account of having a mother and sister. In fact, the chestnut-flavoured traditional wisdom of ma-behen is part of the problem, suggesting that some women are your own, and that the rest are fair game.
Early this year, News Express rebranded itself. They spiffed up the look and feel, sobered up the content and introduced counter-intuitive ideas like Udaan, an excellent show anchored by acid attack survivor Laxmi. But Badaun moved the channel to tragic verse. Oddly, the trigger was not the monstrous impunity displayed but the statement of the UP inspector general of police attributing 60-70 per cent of rape cases to the lack of sanitation in homes.
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While it is shame that more than half of India’s people still have to head for the great open spaces, it wasn’t easy to follow Navin Kumar’s outraged story, which descended rapidly from a quote from Varanasi’s poet Dhoomil to the conclusion that politicians have turned India into a vast loo, and that we are urged to look at the false gods of airports and highways, and not at Badaun.
Vivid verbal imagery prepares us for the worst spectacles. Like the images of running swordfights in the Golden Temple, following an Operation Bluestar protest gone wrong. Of greybeards chasing a crowd with sharp instruments, of terror-stricken people thundering past in a herd so big the camera shook. Within a couple of hours, the story had gone international. For sheer drama, it leaves even the saga of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, whose release video has been haunting the Western press for three days, tossing in its wake.