December 14, 2019 10:33:43 am
Assam and some other states in the Northeast, which have erupted into normalcy, are being compared to Kashmir, which has remained normal ever since National Security Advisor Ajit Doval dropped in for a plate of biryani with the locals. But J&K was locked down and the political leadership was put away, so that the government could have its way, while in Assam, it’s exactly the opposite. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was briefly marooned in Guwahati airport by protests in the city which appeared to spring up on their own, without visible formal leadership. This is very different from the movements of the late Seventies and the Eighties, when student leaders led from the front.
The scenes coming out of Assam this week are extraordinary. Torch-lit protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in major campuses, including Gauhati and Tezpur universities, Assam Engineering College, and thousands of common citizens on the streets of cities. Fires on the Guwahati-Shillong Road in the heart of town, and placards for the Indo-Japan summit in the city, where Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe were to meet, set on fire. Initially, while protests concerning the CAB were covered well in Tripura, the turmoil in Assam was covered by cellphone cameras in private hands. The national TV channels caught up a little later.
The I&B ministry had issued an advisory warning TV channels against broadcasting material that is ‘likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national attitudes or contains anything affecting the integrity of the nation’. The ambit of the offences listed here is so large and so open to interpretation that it is completely useless as a guideline. Opposition leaders have read it as a threat to media freedom, and they may have been dismissed but for Mirror Now showing CCTV footage of the offices of Prag News, one of the oldest local news channels in the Northeast, which has been on the air for almost two decades. They showed paramilitaries bursting into the premises and threatening staffers with lathis, causing them to flee. The channel clarified that they felt baffled and intimidated, because its programming had been calling for calm, in keeping with the government’s guidelines.
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Good news comes from afar these days. Amidst the uproar over the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha, glad tidings came from the region of Santa Claus, with the Finns electing a young woman from a “rainbow family” to head a female-majority cabinet. But a couple of other stories about European music, which made headlines the world over, were glossed over here. The Swedish pop rock band Roxette is no more, with vocalist Marie Fredriksson succumbing to cancer 17 years after she was diagnosed. Her health had forced the band to abandon the Neverending World Tour in 2016, ending a run of three decades on the world charts. Coincidentally, this week, Coldplay announced that they would not be touring until they can find a way to make concerts sustainable, and actually beneficial to the planet. It’s a tall order, because while solar powered venues and no single use plastic are obvious options, how to cancel out the carbon footprint of jet travel with a whole concert crew on board is baffling. Anyway, it’s the thought that matters. As younger audiences become more environmentally conscious, the music industry is clearly beginning to respond to their concerns.
Another international story which initially did not excite news stations was the Aramco initial public offering, which surged 10 per cent within seconds of trading. The lack of interest in the world’s biggest IPO, which has left the Alibaba IPO behind, is rather odd. Especially since in the lead-up last month, channels like CNBC-TV18 had even taken the trouble to explain how Indian investors could subscribe through the Liberalised Remittance Scheme.
Good, clean fun, too, is elsewhere. In September, Andy Borowitz had reported in the New Yorker: ‘In the latest in a string of humiliating blows to the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s dog has abruptly resigned as his pet’. Johnson’s dog is back in the news, but it’s a brand new dog, a cross-breed puppy named Dilyn, which is apparently Welsh for ‘follow’. Dilyn had dilyned the prime minister closely on the campaign trail and was cuddled and nuzzled by Johnson when he met the press after the Conservatives won. The world is unfair. When Johnson plays with his dog, the cameras just lap it up. But when Rahul Gandhi played with his dog, Himanta Biswa Sarma left in a huff and the Congress lost Assam after 15 years in office.
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