By filing his nomination in Varanasi on Thursday, Narendra Modi ensured television domination even on a polling day. No chance of the electorate in the 117 seats at stake being distracted by other stories of the day, with Modi declaring that Mother Ganga had drawn him to her breast, and telling moving tales of how, after deep research into paper kites, he had expanded the market of his kite-making brothers back in Gujarat. Said brothers are poor Muslims, of course.
TV just had to cover the huge roadshow in Varanasi as Modi travelled to the collectorate, stopping to garland the intervening statuary. Times Now reporters even calibrated how many steps he would have to walk from his vehicle to the statue of Sardar Patel. Arvind Kejriwal took a tactically prudent maun vrat that day, ostensibly to meditate upon violence recently unleashed upon Somnath Bharati.
Meanwhile, CNBC-Awaaz is still running its week-old Modi interview. Markets were closed a couple of days and there may have been a drought of business news but even so, it’s a bit much. Even the statuette of Swami Vivekananda, which bears witness to Sanjay Pugalia’s affable chat with Modi, looks imposed upon. The channel was not half as enthusiastic about its interview of Arvind Kejriwal, in which he set Pugalia’s fuse sputtering with an allusion to Mukesh Ambani. In the wrangling which ensued, Pugalia had accused Kejriwal of “indiscriminate firing” and “fake encounters with facts”. Kejriwal had asked why he was so defensive about Ambani and demanded to know the holding pattern of Network 18. Good entertainment, always just about to tip over the edge and turn nasty.
“Rok do, Girish,” went the second-last line of the week’s most important stillborn interview. The last line was: “Take out the tape, or else — erase it all, total, and start over again.” The first voice was that of Sumit Awasthi of Zee, one of the calmest journalists out there, whose shows contrast very pleasantly with the eldritch screeching on English news TV. The second voice was that of Murli Manohar Joshi, who actually put on the headphones of Girish the cameraman and poked about in his camera, deleting his interview with his own hands because Awasthi would not let him steer it. Occasionally, Girish glanced guiltily at the second camera, which was still running. The provocation: questions suggesting that even in Joshi’s own constituency, Modi counted for more. Awasthi terminated the interview, telling Joshi not to teach him to do his job. Quite a contrast with prominent TV interviewers who are happy to put up with an abrasive Raj Thackeray.
But even Thackeray seems muted in comparison with veteran rabble-rouser Praveen Togadia. The Bhavnagar police may press charges against him for inciting the public to intimidate Muslims and violate their right to property. But the debates which have been raging about the issue don’t really convey a sense of its enormity. For that, check the actual footage posted by ABP News on YouTube. The issue is a house in a Hindu-dominated area which has been bought by a Muslim, leaving locals distraught. Dr Togadia first prescribes a prophylactic: they should urge the government to put Bhavnagar under what he calls the “Disturbing Act” — the Disturbed Areas Act — which would apparently make such deals impossible. The next prescription is toxic: “You won’t hang for spitting on people. You won’t hang for throwing tomatoes at them. Not even Rajiv’s killers are going to hang…” Togadia is stuck in the 1990s, when you could get away by claiming to have been misquoted. In the camera-saturated 21st century, that trick just doesn’t work any more.
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