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Breaking Down News: Time to cut the cord

How the theatre of the absurd plays out around temples and on television screens

Breaking Down News: Time to cut the cord The epic theatre involving the CBI developed into absurd drama with Alok Verma’s security detail picking up snoopers with IB identity cards outside his residence. (Express Photo/Tashi Tobgyal)

The deed is done. Yogendra Yadav has exited the studios of Times Now for all time, rejecting Navika Kumar’s programme as a “joke show”. According to Yadav, he had been invited to debate how Alok Verma’s removal from active duty at the CBI had “dented the image of NDA. Instead, it turned out to be an ‘expose’ on Verma’s deputy AK Sharma”. Sharma was investigating cases against Rakesh Asthana. Having wondered what he was doing there, Yadav signed off with this observation: “Before you do this great investigative journalism… the date on which Alok Verma was appointed CBI director was Jan 2017, and Vijay Mallya left the country on March 2016, but you would know better.”

This was an allusion to a googlie that was in play for a while, claiming that Verma had diluted the lookout notice against Mallya and allowed him to flee with a chunk of the Diageo stash. In reality, Verma was only reported to have enforced strict radio silence at the agency about the embarrassment, which predated his tenure. Times Now’s willingness to play the googlie was absurd enough to invite comment from peers, which rarely happens. Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted: “Spin ka zamana hai! We are a nation of great spinners, after all!”

In the meantime, the epic theatre involving the CBI (it’s not just within the CBI) developed into absurd drama with Verma’s security detail picking up snoopers with Intelligence Bureau identity cards outside his residence. To tell the truth, fancy-dress flatties from the lower echelons of the intelligence community have never been particularly hard to spot. (They do not need to loiter in a suspicious manner. They look dreadfully suspicious even when they’re sitting still.) And for one cop to recognise another is even easier. The beauty of this story was that the snoopers’ boss — and his ultimate boss — had let them go to a politically sensitive location with their identity cards in their pockets. This beauty, which betrays monumental stupidity in the rarefied heights of the intelligence apparatus, has been insufficiently appreciated in the media, which has focused on the snooping angle at the street level.

Down south, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s attacks on the RSS and BJP, and the tantri, over the agitation against the entry of women of fertile age in Sabarimala have been covered extensively by television. But for the most impressive speech of the week, try YouTube, which has subtitles: “Our great legacy is that of our renaissance. That’s how this land, which Swami Vivekananda called a lunatic asylum, transformed itself into a model for the entire country.” Vijayan spoke of earlier social reform movements, like the one against sati and child marriage, and recalled that conservative people have always come out against them. There were attempts to ostracise reformers in the south who opposed the Brahminical practice of marrying children to old men, who could be dead by the time the bride attained puberty. So, in retrospect, the current agitation does not have the quality of the unexpected.

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Vijayan also observes that women themselves have been divided on such issues. Some continued to offer themselves up on the pyre even after sati was banned. In Kerala, women of some groups had no control over their own person. They did not even have the right to cover their breasts. And social reform in their favour was forcefully opposed by their peers, who tore the garments of women who had dressed against the traditional code. Sabarimala is being reported totally, immersively in the present, and a reminder of social history, and of the mutability of tradition and its readings, is useful.

One reading in the present tense, by Union minister Smriti Irani, concerning a friend and a blood-boltered sanitary napkin, has been drawing a lot of attention on social media, apart from TV. Sundry facts prevent this from being a valid parallel to the question of Sabarimala. Chief among them is that no one is going to any shrine with soggy sanitary-wear. But for a while, it was a good distraction from the real action.

On January 12, the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of going to the people in support of a free judiciary. “We owe a responsibility to the institution and the nation,” they had said. Now, one of them, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, is chief justice, and has begun to hear the Common Cause case concerning the CBI. That statement from January will be put to the test in this matter.

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Within minutes of opening arguments, the CJI clipped the wings of the interim director, who cannot take any major policy decisions, and initiated a time-bound probe overseen by a Supreme Court judge to see if there is prima facie evidence of corruption. One found the blow by blow accounts of the hearing by individual lawyers and legal publications like The Leaflet far more illuminating than the stuff on TV. One more reason, apart from Netflix and Amazon Prime in the realm of entertainment, to cut the cord.

First published on: 27-10-2018 at 12:05:37 am
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