The ramparts of the Red Fort are recommended by every stakeholder from the local tongawallah to Lonely Planet, but all of India regards them uneasily on August 15, when the prime minister commandeers their heights to launch his or her annual harangue upon the public. This year, instead of dutifully watching TV at the dread hour, I went for a walk in a very middle class Delhi neighbourhood to see how the BJP’s core constituency took the speech.
They didn’t. At all. The silence in the streets was so echoingly vast that each of the tiny number of TVs tuned to the 90-minute harangue was individually audible. Less than one in 20 apartments seemed to be watching. In retaliation, a chaiwallah had hooked his TV up to a loudspeaker to fight off the silence. He was of the faithful calling but for the rest, it was unthinkable to waste a Saturday morning.
PM Modi’s commitment to making it impossible for the world to ignore India and his government is working, sometimes in unanticipated ways. For instance, the unsummary sacking of Sanjiv Bhatt was picked up by Time magazine. But there’s an element of randomness at play: Bhatt was last mentioned in the magazine in 2012, and only because his wife was an election candidate. And the Teesta Setalvad bail episode, which was a fine example of the vindictive state and should have played on the worst fears in Western democracies, did not get much foreign coverage.
Since time immemorial, or at least since liberalisation, each outlet of the business press has produced one cola wars epic every summer. Over the years, this rite has assumed the contours of a sacred duty. And since food inflation began under the benignly indifferent gaze of the UPA government, it has become customary to follow this solstice ritual with an onion rampage story during the monsoons, when spoilage causes scarcities which traders are happy to amplify. Usually, there’s a crucial election conveniently in the offing to politicise the issue.
This year’s edition of the rampage was launched on Thursday, when the wholesale price jumped by Rs 900 a quintal in Nashik. The monsoon is almost spent and the story may languish this year, but reporters generally follow it closely because once upon a time, it wiped out the BJP in Delhi. And sometimes, keen sleuthing does produce extraordinary surprises. A couple of years ago, a local NCR channel had tracked down some traders in a mandi who were accepting bets on the opening price of onions the next morning. Derivatives trading, after hours!
The Uphaar ruling has been anathematised by everyone, with the notable exception of Ram Jethmalani, who was happy to tell ANI that it was the best thing the Supreme Court had ever done. An extraordinary conceit, it is inviting colourful responses from the reading and viewing public. It was bizarre to watch Jethmalani sounding off while, one click away on the remote, Soli Sorabjee told NDTV that he failed to understand how money could address the trauma that victims and their families have gone through.
Uphaar was a landmark case of Indian jurisprudence. Eighteen years ago, it commanded the kind of space in newspapers that the Aarushi Talwar case did in this decade. Still does, on occasion, like the hubbub surrounding Avirook Sen’s new book about the case. Samples from a Twitter conversation this week, somewhat simplified:Random Twitter Bum: “Who did it?” Avirook Sen: “Read the book.” Random Bum II: “What does it all mean?” Sen: “Read the book!” And so on. That was always the lot of the Aarushi story — it was a talking point, and people only read as much as they needed to hold up their end of a conversation.