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Three-legged race

The respite from TV coverage of Modi, Rahul and Kejriwal did not last long.

Politicians appear to have understood that for TV news to turn the spotlight  on them, they  need to make some outrageous comments about one of the three leaders. Politicians appear to have understood that for TV news to turn the spotlight
on them, they
need to make some outrageous comments about one of the three leaders.

The respite from TV coverage of Modi, Rahul and Kejriwal did not last long.

For once after a very long while, the triumvirate who rule the airwaves had been upstaged. By the old guard. Between them, the BJP’s elder statesmen, L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh, have obliged newshounds to train their cameras on them. By Tuesday, they were joined in the spotlight by another gentleman whose time may also be up — BCCI President N. Srinivasan. No Modi, Rahul or Kejriwal. At least for a few hours, a few days.

The Supreme Court’s strictures on Srinivasan were the main draw on Tuesday morning, although a channel like NDTV 24×7 was equally excited by the news of the arrest of Indian Mujahideen commander Tehseen Akhtar. Times Now, meanwhile, had a detailed conversation with BCCI vice president and former cricketer Shivlal Yadav, who said the Board had to abide by whatever the SC said and ended by generously offering to do anything that was asked of him (such as take over as president, perhaps?).

On the weekend, Advani’s wanting to stand from Bhopal and Jaswant Singh being ignored by the BJP and then leaving the party managed to gatecrash and steal the headlines.

But by Tuesday afternoon, order had been somewhat restored. The insurrection raised by Advani, Jaswant Singh and N. Srinivasan’s predicament had briefly given us respite from the usual suspects. However, once Arvind Kejriwal made his way through the lanes and bylanes of Varanasi, he became the headline breaking story. All news channels dodged egg missiles, followed protesters and even allowed us the great privilege of watching Kejriwal take a dip in the Ganges. What a memorable sight: far, far better than seeing him wrapped up in his quilt for a cold night on a street in New Delhi not so long ago.

Barkha Dutt (NDTV 24×7) was on hand to interview the maverick politician and one of her questions was: who would be the better prime minister, Modi or Rahul Gandhi? Or was there a possibility for Arvind Kejriwal to seize the post? We need not concern ourselves with his answer. What’s important is the framing of the question. It reduced the Lok Sabha elections to a three-man race and thus highlighted once again the obsession of TV news with these three gentlemen.

All TV opinion polls thus far have indicated a high number of seats for smaller, regional parties with chief ministers such as Mamata Banerjee and J. Jayalalithaa projected to win sizeable numbers by themselves and play a crucial role in the formation of the next Central government. But there’s been almost no coverage of them or their states. The same can be said for states like Odisha and Bihar, leaders like Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar — the latter makes news usually when he rails against Modi. Or Ram Vilas Paswan when he praises Modi.

And does anyone know what is happening in Telangana?

Politicians appear to have understood that for TV news to turn the spotlight on them, they need to make some outrageous comments about one of the three leaders — Modi, Rahul or Kejriwal. Talk about issues and you will face a blackout. Issues are out; personalities are in, more importantly, these three personalities. So an interview with Tarun Gogoi, chief minister of Assam, had the inevitable questions about Modi’s influence in Assam (NDTV 24×7).

On Tuesday afternoon, TV channels were in Varanasi chasing Kejriwal and waiting for him to address a rally. That’s another thing: rally speeches by the three leaders are the TV staple — helped by the live feeds provided by the BJP and Congress of Modi’s and Rahul’s speeches. Interviews with Kejriwal are commonplace because he is willing to speak to any and every journalist.

This has already been said but it bears repeating: the coverage of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is being treated more like the American presidential election, where the candidates for the top job from the two major parties are in the limelight while their parties are secondary. Kejriwal has managed to join them — at least in media coverage. All other leaders and parties come in a poor fourth.

While Kejriwal’s presence may have enlivened proceedings, isn’t it a pity we don’t hear or see more of other politicians?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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