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Monday, July 16, 2018

Telescope: Caught off guard

Smriti Irani’s downsizing in the Modi ministry took everyone by surprise.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: July 7, 2016 12:02:58 am
modi cabinet reshuffle, modi cabinet expansion, cabinet reshuffle, smriti irani Smriti Irani. (Express Photo: Amit Mehra)

Face it, this government is a well-kept secret. Ever since the National Democratic Alliance government completed two years in May, there has been endless speculation in the media over the timing of a Union cabinet reshuffle or expansion. Each time we were told it was imminent, it didn’t take place — the sheer perversity of it all.

When confirmation came, at last, on the weekend, that it would take place on Tuesday, the media game changed immediately: Now it was who’s in and who’s out. Jayant (Sinha) going up, Piyush (Goel) going up, Gowda going out, said NDTV India on Monday afternoon. This was followed by listing the who’s who amongst the new ministers. The government played its cards close to its chest so that the 19 new appointees were really known only late Monday night.

After such a long anticipation, the swearing-in ceremony turned out to be a tame affair, barring President Pranab Mukherjee reminding Ramdas Athawale to take his name when he took the oath of office. At the ceremony we saw four kinds of people: Those who looked down at their toes lost in thought, those who looked bored, those who looked as if they wished they could have been elsewhere and those who looked delighted to be there since they were being sworn in.

The news channels entertained themselves with discussions, where panelists saw the “expansion” in good, bad or indifferent light. Indeed, on NDTV 24×7, none of the panelists or anchor Barkha Dutt seemed even remotely interested in the ceremony’s proceedings as they argued about the “messaging” of the expansion.

India Today showed a little more respect by introducing us to the PM’s new men. When the national anthem was played at Rashtrapati Bhavan, anchor Rahul Kanwal casually advised us to “listen in”. Hey, that’s no way to treat Jana Gana Mana.

The media was caught completely off guard by the real story of the reshuffle which surfaced late Tuesday evening: “Skipper Modi” as CNN News 18 called him, had moved Smriti Irani from curriculum to clothes. Not known for its impartiality or restraint, TV news almost gleefully reported on the former HRD minister’s downsizing, well into the next day. Although she looked somewhat pale, Irani braved the media in her new office on Wednesday afternoon where it had, as she pointed out, dutifully followed her.

Priyanka Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit almost stole the thunder from the new cabinet. No sooner was the swearing-in over on Tuesday noon, than Sheila Dikshit was on air about a possible role for both women in the UP polls and this became “breaking news”.

Dikshit neither admitted nor denied anything, especially during an NDTV 24×7 interview, thereby adding more fuel to the speculation that is at least a few months old —- and we are still waiting for an announcement. CNN News 18 said it was expected in the next 48 hours. Remember what the adage taught you? Don’t believe everything you see or hear.

The other major news development came from Friday’s terrorist attack in Dhaka. Indian TV news immediately switched to Bangladesh news channels for footage as did CNN and Al Jazeera. Surprisingly, the BBC remained with the scheduled Focus on Africa and went to Dhaka only after the programme ended. Odd. The attack on Istanbul’s airport earlier last week had also not sustained the kind of carpet coverage we saw from channels like the BBC for Orlando, Brussels or Paris. Odder still, given that Turkey is at the cusp of the refugee crisis that so plagues Europe.

Have you noticed the Salman Khan promos on India Today with Rajdeep Sardesai for a new quiz, News Wiz? It makes you wonder at his silence on his “rape” remark, something Aamir Khan could not ignore when asked about it. Aamir didn’t make any mistakes in the media glare: It was “unfortunate” and “insensitive”, he replied.

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