Telescope: A yatra, a blind alley

After Amarnath attack, a question: Is it only politicians who play politics?

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published:July 13, 2017 12:00 am
amarnath yatra, amarnath yatra attack, amarnath yatra politics, rajnath singh, mehbooba mufti, indian express news, indian express opinion Anantnag: Security personnel keep vigil at the site of the yesterday’s militant attack on Amarnath Yatris in which seven pilgrims were killed and 19 others injured, at Batango in Anantnag district of South Kashmir on Tuesday. PTI Photo 

“There are two Indias,” said the anchor on Tuesday evening — one that stands in “solidarity” against terrorism; the other which spreads “fear” and “mistrust” (Republic). Which India do you choose?

On the one hand, there was the India represented by a composed Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who, on Tuesday, lauded Kashmiris for condemning the terrorist attack on a bus of Amarnath yatris with a “salute” and said he believed in “Kashmiriyat”. On the other hand, there was Major General G. D. Bakshi, red-faced and swollen with anger and outrage over alleged inaction: “Kaam keejiye… (those responsible for the attack) should be hunted down in two or three days”.

On the one hand, leaders across the political spectrum, on TV news, denounced the terrorist attack and offered condolences to the families of the bereaved — Rajnath Singh, other Union ministers, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, NC leader Omar Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress), Lalu Prasad (RJD), etc. In the headlines, condemnations and sympathy from President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee
(TMC) indicated that “India stands united” (Republic).

On the other hand, News X, Zee News, Times Now and Republic went after what the latter in its promo called, “bleeding hearts”, “Pak terror proxies”. Times Now claimed, “The Opposition won’t take a stand. Even now RaGa and Co appease…” In the evening, it flashed photos of Omar Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad, suggesting their condemnations were mere lip service. News X derided “Netas (who) bicker”, asked them to “Put India First. Show maturity” and proclaimed, “What a time for politics!”.

But who was playing politics here — the politicians or the news channels? Why did there seem to be a determination to divide even when everyone across the board united against terror?

Zee News and Zee Hindustan talked of the blame game and wanted immediate retaliation: “Desh maange jawab”, “Badla lo” — something that was echoed by families of those bereaved. But they also had questions. In Mumbai, Nirmala’s family was in tears. Her husband wondered why no one was there to help the people in the bus; a female relative wailed — what kind of security was in place? (Zee Hindustan).

India Today said that there were “serious deviations” by the bus from the norms set out for yatri buses. News 9 wondered if there had been a security lapse while News X asked BJP’s Ram Madhav, in charge of party affairs in Kashmir how, in spite of intelligence alerts, could such an attack take place? Legitimate questions. And the same questions were raised by some opposition leaders who were promptly accused of playing politics by the channels mentioned above. Do you think that perhaps some news channels suffer from selective hearing? Whether or not they do, some certainly appear to practise selective questioning. It is by no means anyone’s case that politicians should not be cross-questioned; by all means ask questions but ask them of all politicians. And should questions be put to those who govern and are therefore, in a position to take decisions or should questions be asked of politicians out of power? What is more in the public interest?

If there was one thing all news channels agreed upon, however, it was Salim Sheikh, the driver of the ill-fated bus who continued to drive through the welter of bullet shots — he was hailed as a hero, or in the words of CNN News 18, “India salutes Salim”.

There couldn’t have been a channel which didn’t interview him and herald his courage under fire.

For the rest, the coverage was more sober than it was when the Uri attack took place last autumn or even during the recent lynching of police officer Mohammed Ayub Pandit. Monday night, the terrorist attack took precedence over the bickering on channel debates and through Tuesday morning, the coverage was about developments on the ground — news more than views.

Lastly, a word about DD Sports coverage of the 22nd Asian Athletics Championships. Poor. The commentary was often not professional: Commentators didn’t always know who had won, got the names of the winners wrong — Lili Das instead of Archana Adhav in the 800 metres (she was disqualified later), for instance. The cameras could not capture all angles of the track so you could only follow the leaders and the studio chit chat was idle: “As you see people are pouring into the stadium,” said one presenter when you could clearly see the almost completely empty stands behind him.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com
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