Everybody loves a good crime and its punishment. None more so than TV news.
“#Asaram behind bars” blazed on many news channels in Hindi and in English, Wednesday morning. Just in case you didn’t understand either language, they helpfully provided a graphic of the “self-styled guru” in a jail cell. The Jodhpur court judge had pronounced “#RapistAsaram” guilty (Republic), a verdict which inspired News X to conjecture rather crudely, “Guru perv’s time up?”, linking “Osho, MSG & Asaram”, the “SUV babas” who “prey on girls and get rich”.
News channels pounced on the judgment, the verdict — and his supporters — with undisguised glee. Aaj Tak busily marked each moment between the verdict and its sentence; 1.15 pm: “Typing of sentence commences…”, it revealed. ABP was equally time conscious: 2.05 pm: “Judge has begun reading out his ‘faisla’.”
Aaj Tak also displayed touching concern for his predicament: “He hasn’t eaten lunch”, said one reporter to the other, “he is in the court, awaiting the sentencing”. And when life imprisonment was awarded, ABP announced with dramatic relish: “Asaram will never leave jail”. Upon which, Asaram, understandably, broke down and cried, said Aaj Tak.
His supporters, from Mumbai and Surat to Bhopal, were caught on camera praying for their “God”, while others sat in studios on hastily assembled “expert” panels (Zee Hindustan), where they defended the “god-man’s” actions: The good he had done must carry weight. But as a “Miss Tiwari” reminded them and India Today, on the scales of justice, “You cannot run away from what you do”.
Meanwhile, Times Now and Republic fought over which one had “first” access to a copy of the verdict/ sentence.
Well, Times Now had the “first”, exclusive, “explosive newsbreak” at noon Tuesday: “Writing on the wall for the Cong”, it revealed. “Hindus reject Cong” in a particular village of Karnataka with posters on their doors asking the party to “go away”. A similar story did the rounds during the Gujarat assembly polls so the story did not explode in either the party’s face or across other channels.
Salman Khurshid’s remark that “Cong has Muslim blood on its hands”, however, exploded across most news channels, Tuesday, although he himself looked unperturbed by the fireworks following video replays of his remark at AMU. No one knew if this would cause “Irreversible damage before Karnataka polls?” to the Congress, but it made for a fiery debate.
In any case, did it matter? According to the news channels, the Congress had already shot “itself in the leg” (CNN News 18, should that not be “foot”?) with its CJI impeachment motion denied by Vice-President Naidu, the chairman of the Rajya Sabha? Depending on your taste in hyperbole, this was a “blow” (CNN News 18), a “huge setback” (News X), nay, a “massive setback” (Times Now) and “biggest loss of face for Rahul Gandhi” — the latter has occurred so often in the last three years, according to channels like Republic, it’s a wonder he can “face the nation” at all without plastic surgery. By the way, Rajdeep Sardesai’s interview with Kapil Sibal, one of the architects of the “war” on the judiciary was excellent (India Today).
According to the PM, he is most self-effacing. At his Westminster London interaction with Prasoon Joshi’s poetic posers, he explained that Modi the man was never in the picture, it was the representative of “1.25-crore” Indians who met the Queen, “Modi nahin”. By the way, have we solved our population overgrowth problem under the NDA? Three years ago, in 2015, during his Wembley address to NRIs, Modi had talked of “1.25 crore” Indians too. Just asking.
Compare the two events and there’s a significant difference between Modi then and now. Then, he was the superstar who enthralled a football stadium and invoked himself and India as world leaders/beaters — climate change, terrorism were top of the agenda. This time, he was much more the Modi of a recent Zee News interview, less iconic leader more a politician speaking of his policies, his dedication to duty and “1.25 crore” countrymen.
Rahul Gandhi has changed too. At his “Save the Constitution” speech, Monday, his voice hoarse from too much talking — or is it shouting — had the same aggressive tone as Modi’s and rhetorical flourishes. That style becomes the PM for whom delivering speeches is like the newspaperman delivering the morning edition —- just a habit. Rahul doesn’t possess the 56-inch chest or expansive ability for grandiloquence. He had a gentlemanly, boyish charm, a quieter presence which contrasted well with the PM’s. Also, he was less personal earlier, now all we hear are jibes against, “Modi, Modi, Modi”. The Congress president may be better advised articulating Rahul Gandhi’s vision for India instead.
Short takes: DD News didn’t telecast Gandhi’s speech but went live on BJP’s Sambit Patra replying to him — huh? There was much discussion and heartburn on CJI’s impeachment move, little on AFSPA’s removal in Meghalaya. And a royal baby’s birth thrilled BBC and CNN reporters almost as much as the parents: When Princess Charlotte waved, they almost curtsied. Swear.