Nothing seems to change these days. Aaj Tak’s Halla Bol programme is still asking, “Imran ka sardar, desh ka gaddar?” The Brexit drama continues, with UK prime minister Teresa May making a presentation for a “shared close relationship” in the future, European Union chief Jean-Claude Juncker describing it as “interesting” (a sharply double-edged word) and European Union leaders hoping pointlessly for a second referendum in Britain. And Donald Trump continues to entertain in his strangely malevolent way.
This week, MSNBC caught him handing out styrofoam-packed meals to hurricane victims at Cherry Point, North Carolina. They cranked up the volume so that you could hear the president tell a victim in a car, “Have a good time.” As if he were going to a party rather than fleeing the scene, which was especially endangered by a tidal river. Elsewhere, a New York Times staffer found Trump inspecting a yacht that had washed up in a man’s backyard. “Is this your boat?” he asked. “No,” the man answered. “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal,” POTUS apparently said. It was no less bizarre than the videos of reporters that have been reported, bracing against apparently severe winds while locals stroll past nonchalantly. Or the joke videos made by people sprinkling water on a fake reporter and flinging furniture across the frame to suggest violently bad weather.
On the disaster beat, Kolkata continues to make dramatic news. Following the spectacular collapse of the Majherhat Bridge, the fire in Bagri Market, in the city’s wholesale district of Burra Bazar, burned for days before it could be contained. Goods worth Rs 200 crore were destroyed, and the loss of business would be several times that figure. The state government is belatedly resolving to firm up fire safety laws, which are actually quite firm. But corruption and political patronage have made enforcement difficult, and almost all the city’s major markets are rabbit warrens teeming with unlicensed traders and vendors. News 18 revealed that in Bagri Market, bathrooms and staircase landings had been sublet for storage. This would not be news to the people of Kolkata, and the local TV media told far more interesting stories.
Bengali channels overflowed with compassion for the traders who had flouted fire safety norms. This would cause surprise elsewhere, but is normal for Kolkata, where the rights of marginal sellers trying to make an honest living has always been championed. But in addition, more than one channel had firefighters speaking of arson. And local sentiment darkly ascribed a political motive to the fire. Naturally. Elections are around the corner.
Be sar pair ki baatein, as the Hindi saying goes, is the stuff of news TV — stuff without a head or feet. But two Union ministers literally pushed the envelope this week, in ways that even TV reporters can’t cook up. Rare is the occasion when a defence minister appears to admit to the mutilation of soldiers by her own side (unlike Jaswant Singh, who pressed similar charges against the enemy when he was defence minister). Nirmala Sitharaman unfortunately responded to Rajat Sharma’s charge on Aap ki Adalat that her party was not keeping the election promise of cutting off ten heads for every two heads the Pakistanis took. It was a bizarre promise, to be quietly forgotten. But Sitharaman responded to the effect that heads were being cut off, but not displayed. Like they used to be on the ramparts of Tughlaqabad fort, perhaps, in the dim and distant past. That’s out of style.
Meanwhile, minister of state for heavy industries Babul Supriyo laughingly promised to break the leg of a man in the audience at a function to distribute mobility aids to differently-abled people. This was in his constituency of Asansol, and ANI caught him threatening to break the man’s leg and hand him a crutch. Times Now outraged about the matter, and Supriyo tweeted at them, “This was meant to be an absolute joke.” It absolutely backfired, because he swiftly deleted the tweet.
And finally, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s outreach programme at Vigyan Bhavan, which coincided with the prime minister’s birthday, cannot possibly be ignored. Breathless hours have been spent in TV studios discussing the matter, which appears to have distanced the RSS from its core texts and turned it warm and companionable. Countless more hours of TV time will transpire before its import is fully understood. All the way to the general election next year.