Telescope: Upside down

Congress president sounds like PM. And news shows question ruling party

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: June 7, 2018 12:11:49 am
Congress president sounds like PM. And news shows question ruling party Congress president Rahul Gandhi

Last Thursday, Times Now, or since Republic claims, each week, to be the leading English news channel, Republic and some other channels, attacked Rahul Gandhi for giving in to the JD(S)’s demands on portfolio allocation in the newly-formed Karnataka government — he “caves” in, they sneered.

On Tuesday, Times Now attacked him for the “grotesque punishment to Muslims” meted out by the Congress-JD(S) combine — whatever that meant. On every other day, Rahul Gandhi is attacked for being Rahul Gandhi — on select Hindi and English channels.

Now, it’s time one of them attacked Rahul Gandhi for being Narendra Modi.

Have you listened to the Congress president lately at public, televised rallies — most recently yesterday at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh? Have you noticed how, after readjusting the microphones for the nth time, he declaims loudly, shouts until he is hoarse in the voice and red in the face? That he favours a mocking tone with sarcastic comments on “Narendra Modi ji”, as he chooses to refer to the prime minister?

And, aren’t these characteristics dearly beloved of the PM? Modi’s admirers will protest that this is the unkindest comparison of all since the PM is a natural, electrifying and charismatic speaker. And so he is.

Perhaps that’s why RG appears to be imitating him, although the result is far from felicitous. The Congress president was, and is, far more successful playing himself: Earlier, he displayed a boyish charm, a simple, straightforward talking style and a quiet voice — the very antithesis of Modi. While the PM seemed moved by a manic force of personality and rhetoric, Rahul was just your average, normal kinda guy, speaking every day language. That worked in his favour because he offered an alternative to the PM.

Now, he rages against Modi, and you want to muffle your ears. You want him to share ideas rather than insults; you want him to offer reasons to vote for him, not reasons to vote against Modi. If he tries to fight Modi on Modi’s terms and in his style, he will lose; if he’s himself, at least we will listen to him.

After a long time, we listened to prime time TV talk which questioned Modi’s magic and the BJP’s strategy. As the results of bypolls across the country last Thursday indicated Opposition victories, especially in UP’s Kairana, all news channels were compelled to sit up and take note of “the index of Opposition unity”. They also took the BJP to task: Rahul Shivshankar had it on the authority of a BJP “insider” that the arrogance and majoritarian politics of the ruling party were harming its electoral arithmetic (Times Now); Arnab Goswami asked the BJP representative what his party had done for the urban middle class. Where, by the way, was BJP’s Sambit Patra, on this crucial day for his party? Could he have learnt the art of absenting himself when defeat comes knocking from none other than Rahul Gandhi (Republic)?

India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai and Rahul Kanwal were equally severe on their BJP guests, while CNN News 18 got Swapan Dasgupta to admit disquiet for the BJP and NDTV 24×7 had Chandan Mitra admit that the BJP should be concerned.

In normal times, these would be nothing moments; but in these extraordinary times when many news channels never ask questions of the ruling dispensation, and the BJP admits to nothing but to victory even in the face of defeat, these Q&As were most unusual. And welcome. Could they be the hint of things to come? When television debates don’t make a hero of the PM and a villain of the leading Opposition leader?

On YouTube, you can watch former US President Bill Clinton squirm when asked about Monica Lewinsky during TV interviews, ostensibly about a novel he has co-authored. Will we ever witness the same? Maybe, but probably not. See how Shashi Tharoor is being tried and convicted on channels like News X or CNN News 18, besides the usual suspects, to realise that most of TV news still votes for the government.

New shows: Salman Khan is back in a new season of not Bigg Boss but Dus Ka Dum (Sony), where contestants are asked questions like what percentage of Indians are religious and the contestant who comes closest to the right answer wins big bucks — as in money, not what Salman did on a shooting expedition. He hugs female contestants, even picked up one — hasn’t he heard of #MeToo?

Sabse Smart Kaun (Sony) is also all about making money: In fact, that was one of the questions on Tuesday’s episode. This is a trick question quiz but the winnings represent a killing.

Lastly, a JK cement ad seeks to cash in on the current patriotic popularity of the armed forces by featuring a jawan on his return home. It ends with a mother applying a “teeka” to his forehead. Since when did religion become an important ingredient of advertising?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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