It was an outage that caused out and out outrage. The live feed from the Lok Sabha on Lok Sabha TV blanked out, or was blacked out, at the precise moment that the Lok Sabha was to vote on the Telangana bill. Like the viewers, TV news channels were outraged: “Democracy blacked out”, declared Headlines Today. Jaganmohan Reddy, outside Parliament, went even further: this is “the murder of democracy in broad daylight,” he mourned. The Lok Sabha Secretariat, put out by all the criticism, said it was a “technical” glitch. More like “a tactical glitch” retorted the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, even more put out by this explanation. But how can they be critical when they had done “something similar in 2002”, the nation’s channel (Times Now) demanded of the main opposition party.
And what of the Congress?
It claimed to be in total darkness, rather like Lok Sabha TV when it was blacked out. Gentlemen like Sushil Kumar Shinde, Salman Khurshid and Rajiv Shukla looked blank when asked about Lok Sabha TV’s adjournment. Blackout? What blackout? Why, we know nothing about it, we were in the House, they said, looking innocent of
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Frankly speaking, as Arnab Goswami would say? Well, now we’ve seen it all, even a blackout. The final outrage. We’ve watched parliamentary proceedings turn to mayhem, we’ve seen the boycott of an entire session. We’ve watched our representatives yell at each other, prevent each other from speaking, rush constantly into the well of the House, walk out of the House, tear into each other, tear up bills, scuffle, fight, and finally, last week, pepper spray each other. Parliament has behaved in unparliamentary ways and now it has been treated in an unparliamentary manner. Wrong? Of course, it’s wrong. So is much of what we have witnessed in Parliament. After this act of censorship, you wonder: is there anything left to see? And do you want to see it?
Well, we did get to see P. Chidambaram deliver his budget speech, even if it played out in the background of protests on Telangana. There was one priceless visual though: that of Defence Minister A.K. Antony thumping the table, laughing uproariously when the finance minister announced one-rank-one-pension
for the armed forces.
Speaking of pepper spray, even as it made its debut in the Lok Sabha, by odd coincidence, it also turned up elsewhere. In a conversation. At a beauty parlour, where a young customer speaks of using it to protect herself. The beautician dismisses pepper sprays with contempt. She has the kala teeka, she says, the vote, instead. Brought to you by Tata Tea, which is promoting women’s empowerment and is currently urging them to vote.
Narendra Modi has a habit of appearing when you are least looking for him. Least looking for him on Tuesday in the lunch break before the Lok Sabha met to vote on Telangana. He was in Karnataka, speaking about Telangana — what else? Obviously, all news channels immediately abandoned everything else they were covering — Parliament, protests at Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Mantar, the chargesheet against Tarun Tejpal — to telecast his speech. NDTV 24×7 was extremely scrupulous: it actually credited this telecast with “source: BJP feed” on a corner of the screen.
Daytime news TV is increasingly more interesting than what passes for news TV in the evenings. Why, you can watch Modi almost every afternoon — and nobody will deny that Modi’s speeches are far more entertaining than soap operas or the nightly political debates. Apart from Modi, there’s that other entertainer, Arvind Kejriwal, who you could have watched at an interaction with the CII at its national council meeting on Monday. Or the finance minister at his press conference on his interim budget. And then there was an impromptu media interaction with Rahul Gandhi making a guest appearance to laud the government, the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi for one-rank-one-pension. Elsewhere, you could have watched the protests against Telangana at Jantar Mantar with Jaganmohan Reddy getting more than a fair share of the limelight.
Lastly, have you been watching the “So Sorry” spoofs on Aaj Tak and Headlines Today? The latest has Modi and Rahul Gandhi facing off as gladiators, offering potential coalition partners their best deals. Great fun, but would they please make Rahul look more like Rahul?