Stumped by bypollshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/stumped-by-bypolls/

Stumped by bypolls

Congress leader Sachin Pilot was looking positively happy after his party cornered three seats in Rajasthan.

Counting for bypolls in three Lok Sabha and 33 Assembly seats across 10 states began on Tuesday morning.

Kashmir is no longer the favoured destination of TV crews looking for moving stories in the debris of the floods. Since Monday, Ahmedabad has displaced the Valley as the place all TV crews want to visit. That’s what a birthday and a foreign visit can do to the news.

If the birthday is that of Narendra Modi and the visiting dignitary is Chinese President Xi Jinping, what chance do the stranded people of J&K stand of grabbing our eyeballs?

Well, quite a good chance, actually. Each day sees detailed coverage of the continuing difficulties faced by the people in the state. And the better stories do not necessarily, or always, come from the more well-known TV news channels. For instance, on Sunday, News Nation’s reporters Shahnawaz Khan and Sufi Khan showed us evocative footage of the city under water — a petrol pump upended with a car balanced on the precipice of a boulder, two men clinging to what looked like lamp posts, Dal Lake overflowing into the buildings on the lake front. Local people claimed that self-help had been the best help in the absence of any official assistance; that supplies like biscuits distributed by the armed forces were stale; that the army assisted only the VIPs and not the public. Missing from the stories were official responses to these accusations. But otherwise, the stories gave us a slice of life in Srinagar — and made you want to head out and donate something immediately.

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By Monday morning, Ahmedabad was inundated with reporters. One IBN7 report in the evening had four or five correspondents reporting from different vantage points in the city to give us a guided tour of Narendra Modi’s and Xi Jinping’s itinerary on Wednesday, including Modi’s birthday commitments: from preparations for Modi’s visit to his mother in the morning to the Hyatt Hotel, where the Chinese president would stay, to Hriday Kunj and the Sabarmati river front for a banquet, we saw it all.

On Tuesday, we would have been treated to much more had everything gone according to plan. According to the plan, the BJP would sweep the bypolls and TV news could then return to Ahmedabad, where a triumphant PM arrived later in the day, to indulge in some more Modinama. While his arrival in the capital of Gujarat was celebrated with adequate coverage, it was eclipsed by the capital of Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP was not in a celebratory mood. It lost seven of the 10 seats it had held to the Samajwadi Party, so instead of a smiling Amit Shah, we saw a very pleased Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and father, Mulayam Singh Yadav.

TV debates on Tuesday made for a change. After the by-elections in Bihar, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, we had seen opposition spokespersons with something to smile about. So too this time. Congress leader Sachin Pilot was looking positively happy after his party cornered three seats in Rajasthan. Meanwhile, BJP guys like Nalin Kohli were positively grim. We have become accustomed to hearing Congressmen deny that Rahul Gandhi had anything whatsoever to do with the defeat of the party in the Lok Sabha elections. Now we have to get used to hearing BJP leaders deny Modi any role in their losses. A case of the more they try to look different, the more the two parties resemble each other?

The news channels went after the BJP, especially on its defeats in UP. Those of us who have been wondering if the news media had developed a “soft” spot for the BJP and Modi will have noted the hard stance most of them have taken on “love jihad”. On Tuesday night, they were equally cutting: “Bypoll results stump BJP” (Headlines Today), “Bypoll setback for BJP” (CNN-IBN), “From landslide to downslide” (NDTV 24×7).

Postscript: The most curious story about Xi Jinping’s visit to India, thus far, comes from News Nation. On Wednesday morning, the channel issued dire warnings against the health hazards of consuming Chinese food — from diarrhoea to brain damage. They quoted doctors from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Apollo Hospital, who flagged the dangers of monosodium glutamate and claimed that eating too much noodles is not good for you — but that’s true of everything, right?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com