As the term of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra draws to a close, the court has been in permanent session, rolling out important judgements. How charming it was to see almost all the studios of one mind on the question of Aadhaar — Times Now, NDTV, India Today and CNN News18, all on the same page. None of the polarisation and stridulation that we have become accustomed to, only a triumphant meeting of minds. It appears that the intrusive and coercive elements of Aadhaar had spooked the urban middle class in exactly the same way, irrespective of affiliations or beliefs. The delinking of Aadhaar from mobiles and bank accounts was hailed with the same enthusiasm with which the citizens of London had celebrated the relief of Mafeking during the Boer War.
Such was the excitement that just before the ruling was to be read by Justice AK Sikri, India Today let the veil drop and yelled that they had to go for a “very important commercial break”. And NDTV spoke wistfully of the era which is dawning, when Supreme Court hearings which are not in camera will be held on camera, and reporters will no longer have to play at Chinese whispers, thumbing dribs and drabs out of the courtroom in text messages. And the week closed on a note of mystery and imagination, which the Ayodhya matter has become. With age, even journalists who used to cover the beat feel a little hazy on the details.
Meanwhile, fleet-footed funny business is afoot in other courtrooms. Controversial US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who is accumulating charges of past sexual misconduct at a rate that should make his president feel insecure, has been heard. It was a disaster for the Republicans, but fun stuff is part of the story: his defence is to produce a calendar from 1982, to prove that he did not go to the party where he allegedly misbehaved. Of course, being underage, no 17-year-old would put down an entry for a drinking party. And anyway, no one except American psychos would write something like, “Wednesday, August 16: rape attempt planned.” It’s so bizarre that derision is no longer restricted to social media. Old offline brands are having unabashed fun.
In India, the fracas over Rafale and Hollande continues. TV has transmogrified it into the strange business of Raphael and Holland, which sounds like the incredible dalliance of a Renaissance painter with the Hague School. No time machine required. But rather than watching the inconclusive thrust and parry on TV, you could consult Brut, the social video company which shot into prominence last year, and now appears to have an Indian operation. Why is a video news company named after a once-popular deodorant? Never mind, they do rack up the numbers.
Brut India interviewed French political journalist Edwy Plenel, publisher of Mediapart, the Paris-based news site which set le chat among les pigeons. Datelined September 21, it’s in English, and focuses on Francois Hollande’s statement that the French was offered no choice but Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence. “We picked the interlocutor which was selected for us by the Indian government.” About the arms trade, he says, “It’s a bad, sad, dirty market.” Plenel goes on to assert the site’s independence, saying that Mediapart broke the story of the biggest scandal of Hollande’s government.
In the states, the election season has started on a turbulent note. In Alwar during Vasundhara Raje’s Gaurav Yatra, two BJP leaders turned the stage into an akhara and duelled like epic heroes. ANI showed a video of BJP leaders Rohitash Sharma and Devi Singh Shekhawat grappling in the presence of the presiding leader, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, while she delivered a speech. They persisted until Shekhawat was hauled off the stage by the chief minister’s security. But that was just fun and games compared to Amit Shah’s rally to consolidate the Purvanchal vote in Delhi, where he spoke of illegal immigrants as “crores of termites” eating away at the nation’s vitals. This language of demonisation has been heard before in other parts of the world, which came to grief shortly thereafter. The rhetoric of dehumanisation is known to be a preamble to action, has an immense literature devoted to it, and it is surprising that it got such little attention in the media.
What did get a lot of eyeballs was the first head of government to be laughed at in the UN General Assembly. The forum sets a lot of store by decorum, and this sort of thing may not happen again until the end of history. Donald Trump was laughed at for saying that he headed the most successful administration ever. Then he got laughed at again for saying: “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.” Later, he told reporters that he had done it on purpose. Whoopi Goldberg, who now moderates Barbara Walters’ show The View on ABC, organised a lot of fun with that.