Belling the cat

Mamata Di was in two minds over three options,talking heads scrambled to figure out who held the aces

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published:September 20, 2012 3:57 am

Mamata Di was in two minds over three options,talking heads scrambled to figure out who held the aces

There was Hitler Didi on Zee on Tuesday night and there was an irate Didi on the news channels. One was doing her duty by her family,the other by her poor people. One silently bore the injustice of supporting her loved ones,the other was flushed with the indignation of supporting an ungrateful ally. One would selflessly continue to shoulder the burden,the other had just shrugged. “Sometimes,someone has to bell the cat”,declared Mamata Banerjee,announcing the withdrawal of Trinamool Congress from UPA 2.

The “agony” felt by TV anchor Karan Thapar (CNN-IBN) and the TV audience for three hours while awaiting that decision finally ended at 8.18 pm (studio time). Or so we thought for the better part of Banerjee’s grandstanding speech that few of us understood,because she spoke mostly in Bengali,but comprehended perfectly from her angry tone and belligerent posture. It was “Didi’s day out”,in Rajdeep Sardesai’s words (CNN-IBN) as Mamata B or Di opened the UPA door and walked away.

But hold on. At the end of her speech,she gave UPA 2 almost 72 hours to withdraw its reforms before her ministers resigned on Friday,just as she had given the UPA 72 hours to reconsider them last week. Now,either she forgot to close the door firmly as she hurried to distance herself,as she said,from the blackened face of a coal-smeared Congress,or like Godfrey Gordon Gustavus Gore,she is someone “who would never shut the door”. So,theoretically,she could still return to UPA 2.

This and the possibility of an early general election consumed the airwaves after Banerjee triumphantly flounced off. With a huff and a puff she had blown down the house of cards,aka UPA 2,and between them,the news anchors and their guests — politicians,journalists — scrambled to decide who held the aces. A quick survey of ABP,NDTV India,Aaj Tak,Zee News,IBN7,NDTV 24×7,Times Now,Headlines Today and CNN-IBN suggested that UPA 2 was the joker in the pack.

That was not the story in the three days leading up to Tuesday. On the weekend,all the channels were adding up UPA’s numbers with or without Banerjee. Then it was “Mamata in two minds over three options” (Times Now). TV news framed it as a Shakespearean dilemma: will she or won’t she leave the government? For 72 hours and until she announced her departure,everyone on the air dithered between “yes”,“no” or “maybe”,but mostly “maybe not”. Nobody knew,because as Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI said,maverick Mamata Banerjee “is unpredictable”. Nobody knew what went on inside her head,let alone behind the closed doors of the TMC meeting.

This is a classic example of TV news filling in the blanks with shots in the dark: “Kya ho raha hai yeh nahin malum’’ (We don’t know what’s happening),admitted ABP,40 minutes after the TMC meeting had ended on Tuesday. Since Zee News didn’t know “kya baat ho rahi hai” (what’s being discussed),it took a commercial break. A journalist on Aaj Tak said there was a gap between what was going on inside and outside. Headlines Today was far cleverer. While NDTV 24×7 directly asked,“Mamata to ditch government?”,HT played with words: “Mamata decided on pull out”,which could mean she was still in two minds over three options or that she had decided to leave.

Zee News was perhaps inching closest to what would happen: “Will Mamata rain on Manmohan Singh’s parade? Has the chasm widened within UPA?” it asked,and reminded its viewers that she had gone with NDA previously. One question: why did Zee News display a Relaxo chappal ad alongside headlines of such national import? Was it a subtle way to suggest that Banerjee,like Nancy Sinatra,would walk all over Manmohan Singh?

Speaking of the PM,when he did finally address the nation and tell us what he thinks about any and everything,he did it through a meeting at the Planning Commission. On Saturday,news channels ran lengthy extracts of his address where he explained why reforms were vital for the economy.

He should have held a televised press conference or given an interview to DD News instead to explain Coalgate,his recent policy decisions and how FDI in retail would benefit the poor Banerjee spoke of. The Planning Commission speech sounded like too little too late. Especially to Mamata Di.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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