Following the bill

The House functioned. And then Sonia Gandhi’s health sent channels into a tizzy.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published: August 29, 2013 4:20 am

The House functioned. And then Sonia Gandhi’s health sent channels into a tizzy.

Watching news TV on Monday was supposed to give us food for thought. News channels like Times Now and CNN-IBN asked,food bill: good politics,bad economics? We were also supposed to enjoy the spectacle of Parliament not breaking bad or parliamentarians behaving badly,but doing what both are supposed to do: work. And finally,we were supposed to be watching the debate on the food security bill in the Lok Sabha for a rare occurrence: Sonia Gandhi speaking,that too on behalf of a bill.

It was our lucky day/night. In studios,the usual suspects from the Congress (Abhishek Manu Singhvi) and BJP (Chandan Mitra) lauded or lambasted the bill. For once,Parliament functioned — an achievement in itself. There were loud protests but Lok Sabha TV,which telecast the proceedings live,spared viewers the sound and sight of our representatives jumping up and down on the spot exercising their vocal chords by the simple expedient of focusing on the smiling,inscrutable face of the speaker and muting the volume.

And yes,the chairperson of UPA did rise to the occasion and in support of her favourite and most recent cause celebre. She chose to read out her views,that too in Hindi. The BJP’s L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj appeared to be listening in rapt silence.

In the evening,news channels mendaciously told us that voting on the food bill was about to be held; instead,the House voted repeatedly on amendment motions of members,most of whom had no realistic expectation of their amendments being passed but seemed to derive great pleasure from standing up and pleading their case. The CPM’s A. Sampat was one such. Yawn.

So you switched to Times Now (yes,it had come to that) where your anchor was giving Asaram Babu the choicest invective. He was joined in this impassioned endeavour by the News 24 team. At approximately 10.10 pm,Headlines Today claimed that Lok Sabha “approves” the food bill while CNN-IBN said Lok Sabha was “set to” pass the bill. On Lok Sabha TV,the speaker reading out amendment 23,33,3333 — whatever.

You were about to give up and give in to the charms of Priya and Mr Kapoor (Bade Achhe Lagte Hain,Sony) when visuals of Sonia Gandhi stumbling as she left Parliament displaced,well,everything. For the next two hours,footage of her unsteady on her feet ran intermittently with that of cars driving into AIIMS,where she had been taken as “a precautionary measure” — so said all the channels.

No one was interested in the food bill or its passage any longer,least of all,according to Zee News,ministers and Congress MPs who,it claimed,rushed out of Parliament to ask the media,kya hua Madam ko? With the exception of Minister for Food and Public Distribution K.V. Thomas who,in response to repeated questions by Navika Kumar (Times Now) about Sonia Gandhi’s condition,replied sanctimoniously that she was the inspiration for the bill,“she fought for it”.

Bhupendra Chaubey and Pallavi Ghosh (CNN-IBN) reassured us that there was nothing “serious” about Sonia G’s condition — she was breathless with slight chest pain. News 24 and India TV discovered that she had undergone an ECG which was normal. News 24 had exclusive news of blood tests while India TV told the nation she was on antibiotics,to which Times Now added she was “perhaps” under “strain” from a viral fever — and sitting through the food bill debate. India TV said she would go home in a couple of hours,but Headlines Today felt she might stay at AIIMS overnight. Right,thanks for the clarity,you guys — and the speculation.

Since there was nothing “serious” to report about Gandhi’s health,TV news switched its attention to the other vital matter: “Kaun kaun aaye the AIIMS?”,asked India TV and other channels. The procession included Central cabinet ministers (Ghulam Nabi Azad),chief ministers (Sheila Dikshit and Bhupinder Hooda) and that Very Important Person,Robert Vadra. So important,that he first appeared arriving in an SUV on ABP (and stayed 20 minutes) and then in a sedan on Times Now. Hmmmn.

Oh by the way,the food security bill was passed with much fuss but little opposition. That must have made Sonia Gandhi feel much better. Now,which enterprising news channel had the gumption to make a connection between the two?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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