“Modi coronated India’s 15th PM” is how at least one TV news channel described it (News X). “Biggest swearing-in in history,” it continued. Clearly, TV correspondents and anchors were awed by the spectacle before them. And you can’t really blame them: beneath a setting sun, the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan bathed in soft light with India Gate in the backdrop and over 4,000 people seated before the president of India. Only, Sunil Gavaskar looked unimpressed when the TV camera singled him out in the crowd— his eyes could barely remain open to watch Narendra Damodardas Modi take the oath of office.
Of course, Gavaskar was not the only one. Many others may not have been looking their best — it was just his misfortune to be caught napping, literally. While TV anchors continued their interminable speculation on the portfolios for the worthy men and women seated to the president’s left — something they’d been indulging in for an entire week — the viewer was more interested in people-spotting. Where is Rahul Gandhi seated? Who is that next to him? There’s Anil Ambani leading in his mother but look, he’s not seated next to his brother Mukesh! TV anchors indulged us, with many of them helpfully pointing out Very Important People. Like Salman Khan in the second row, looking serious — or was it bemused?
Since TV news channels had been playing fortune tellers for so long, some of them, like Times Now, finally gave up as the time drew near for Modi’s investiture. Instead, it left it to Doordarshan to fill in the blanks. Doordarshan, which shared its telecast with all the private news channels, belongs to a class of its own. While the other channels were discussing why Murli Manohar Joshi was left out of the cabinet (Aaj Tak and India TV), who would replace P. Chidambaram as finance minister (ABP), what the significance of so many sadhus and sants at the function was (Headlines Today), et cetera, et cetera, DD News was gloriously unconcerned with such trivial pursuits. It was playing a mournful shehnai — surely the wrong choice for this occasion, when we were supposed to be celebrating a new prime minister? And the commentary reminded one forcefully of the Republic Day parade: “It is a clear day but a warm day nevertheless.”
One should be a little generous about the quality of the coverage. Visually, the event was spectacular. And if the discussion and the commentary were somewhat tedious, blame it on Modi. Why did he not announce his cabinet on Sunday or Monday morning and put news channels out of their misery as they tried to predict its composition and portfolio allocation?
On Sunday midday, Zee News revealed what it claimed was Modi’s cabinet: Modi to keep MEA, Smriti Irani to be I&B minister, Rajnath Singh, home minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad law minister. That was 50 per cent off the mark. A great deal of TV time on Sunday and Monday morning was spent on telling us who was meeting whom — breaking now, Times Now told us on Sunday afternoon, “Jaitley visits Modi”. After a while, it added, “Amit Shah meets Modi”. Since Jaitley and Shah had met him every day since the elections were won, why was this news, let alone breaking news?
On Monday, Modi had TV news channels up and running from early morning with his visit to Rajghat. Once he returned to Gujarat Bhawan and the cars began to arrive at its gate, the excitement reached a fever pitch: “Rajnath Singh has arrived”, screamed the News X reporter as though he was seeing him after ages. As more and more cars drew up, the channels were happy to see the faces of those they had predicted would be part of the new cabinet: Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, etc. But they still didn’t know the allocation of portfolios and so they could happily continue with their speculation. “Modi ke mann mein kya hai?” asked India News. “Merit, I believe, is the key,” replied News X. “Breaking on India 2014, cabinet list sent to the president”, announced Times Now, sounding almost petulant that the route to Rashtrapati Bhavan didn’t go via its office.
As you can tell, it’s a case of maximum coverage and minimum information.