Exactly a month ago, we learnt a new word: Demonetisation. The media queued up alongside ordinary folk, examined every Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 note, from left to right, upside to downside to explain Modi’s money manoeuvre. The media has shown/told us what we know from our own experience: That there is a crushing cash crunch, that Indians have learnt to line up to line their wallets and that while plastic may be an environmental hazard, it is the new currency. And, we’ve seen the government and the opposition parties discover new ways to not allow Parliament to function. A costly loss for the nation?
But for two days, most news channels — and all English news channels — abandoned the money trail — or any other news. From Sunday evening, J. Jayalalithaa’s cardiac arrest, just hours after the AIADMK had announced her recovery, her critical condition and subsequent death on Tuesday, submerged the news, rather like Shiv Aroor’s “sea of humanity” flooded Rajaji Hall ( India Today).
Extraordinary sights: The crowds’ vigil outside Apollo Hospital where the erstwhile Tamil Nadu chief minister was being treated: The crying, wailing, howling individuals — TV cameras zeroed in on the women beating their breasts, inconsolably; the overhead shots of the grounds of Rajaji Hall where between half a million to a million people (CNN News 18) were packed together so tightly, they resembled a live, moving beehive buzzing with human grief.
Across channels, senior editors and reporters — Sreenivasan Jain and Uma Sudhir (NDTV 24×7), Pooja and Vijay (Times Now), T.S. Sudhir and Shiva Aroor (India Today), Zakka Jacob (CNN News 18) — described the situation but nothing they said matched the visual evidence of the public response to Jayalalithaa’s (imminent) death.
Viewers outside Tamil Nadu might be puzzled by such outpourings and though it was put down to the “mass connect” Jayalalithaa had with the people (Rajdeep Sardesai, India Today), and her many Amma schemes, his colleague T.S. Sudhir admitted it was “hard to explain” such reactions as he interviewed a man who had cut off a few of his fingers for the former CM.
Given that passions were running high, TV news warned, “it was extremely, extremely difficult to manage the crowds” and that nine RAF companies were “on standby” (Times Now). However, since the news of her death was announced late Monday night (some local channels declared her dead early evening and were contradicted by Apollo), the “nightmare” situation was averted by the police. Like the people queuing up at banks everywhere, Chennai’s public was restrained in its responses.
The major focus of the coverage on Monday was ECMO. Reporters and doctors — Dr Naresh Trehan in particular — tried to explain it; NDTV used a graphic of the mechanism doctors used to try and save Jayalalithaa’s life. Highly educative.
Less helpful was the speculative stuff: If Jayalalithaa survived would she take a break from politics (Times Now); the mind-reading of the PM at his condolence visit — he is “telling her (Sasikala) her grief is shared” (Times Now); an AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP alleging “foul play” ( India Today) and the party’s C.R. Saraswathi stating, “no problem, don’t worry. God is with Amma, she will come back” (NDTV 24×7).
Tuesday, the narrative was all about condolence messages and visits, none more so than PM Modi’s whose every move was tracked: Modi leaves for Chennai; Modi arrives in Chennai; Modi on his way to Rajaji Hall, etcetra. Also, obituaries recounted Jayalalithaa’s life from the silver screen “icon” to the “Iron Lady of Tamil Nadu” as one channel called her.
One complaint: There are many Tamil news channels but not one in English on our bandwidths. In such situations it would help us tremendously. Congratulations, India Today for broadcasting Jayalalithaa’s Rendezvous with Simi Garewal from 2012. It was a personal encounter with the lady who will always be remembered as “Amma”.