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Telescope: They do protest too much

Politicians divided by Agusta unite on odd-even

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published: April 28, 2016 12:29:59 am
ongress leader Mallikarjun Kharge speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo / TV GRAB Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge speaks in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo / TV GRAB

The Agusta helicopter verdict in Italy achieved one of those rarest-of-rare moments: Sonia Gandhi had to answer questions on live TV (Wednesday). Equally unusual: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke out (NDTV 24×7). For two public figures who have consistently and conspicuously avoided speaking to the media — TV news in particular — these comments indicated how seriously they had taken the BJP’s allegations of corruption against the party and The Family.

Since Tuesday, allegations have been flying faster than the chopper itself. Facts were rarely and barely mentioned: What of a two-year-old CBI investigation? Till Wednesday afternoon, we had heard nothing of it.

For the BJP, the verdict allowed it to drag Sonia Gandhi into the controversy. On Wednesday, newly appointed BJP Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy actually named her; his remarks were expunged but that didn’t trouble TV news which liberally quoted him, then juxtaposed him with Sonia dismissing the charges as baseless while the ticker tape fought its own version of the war: “Top” Congress leaders involved, says Defence Minister Parrikar; “Let them take my name, I am not afraid,” replies Sonia.

This is the ding-dong war of words TV news so loves, the Hunger Games of politics as entertainment — like the Ishrat Jahan case and P. Chidambaram last week, both stories first on Times Now.

TV’s role is interesting: It “breaks” stories, debates them, encourages opponents to attack each other as the best form of defence; and it is brazen where political parties are coy: So when Manohar Parrikar said “top” leaders of the Congress are involved in Agusta, CNN News 18 obligingly interpreted him — “Gandhis” have taken money. When NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan asked Sambit Patra if he was saying that Sonia had taken money, she had linked “Sonia” to “money” and he didn’t need to answer.

As a political strategy, it works wonderfully for the BJP: No proof required, simply hammer the allegations into the Congress coffin with repeated allegations and let the media do the rest. And the more the Congress protests, the more it appears that, “The lady doth protest too much”, as Shakespeare put it.

The two parties behave like the bitterest foes in the latest season of Game of Thrones (Star Premiere HD). On television, they are at each other’s throats, almost ready to slit them. Can anything, ever, unite them? Odd-even of course.

Monday, they shared their sense of ill usage and righteous indignation with Delhi’s Kejriwal government. On Left, Right and Centre (NDTV 24×7), the BJP’s Bhartendra Singh was positively outraged: There he was, a representative of “17 and a half lakh people” needing to use “every single minute” of his time in Parliament in the service of the people but with odd-even it was impossible for MPs to discharge their duties. Suppose a villager had an electricity problem or a child needed admission to school? He would have to go from ministry to ministry, he needed a vehicle. Ultimately, he claimed, to our utter disbelief, it was the “poor villager” who would suffer because of the odd-even scheme.

Congressman M. Goud Yaskhi heartily agreed: MPs’ work was being hampered, compromised by the scheme. When the AAP’s Adarsh Shastri suggested they meet ministers in Parliament, they were appalled and rejected it outright.

Had they heard themselves protest too much, even they would have laughed out aloud.

Could Salman Khan’s muscular frame lift Indian athletes out of anonymity at the Olympic Games? Rajdeep Sardesai was dubious (India Today), but Moraad Ali Khan thought the actor would be a “boost”. Rahul Mahajan rooted for Salman (ABP) while Ashok Pandit (Times Now) screamed out a wholly unwarranted and unnecessary defence of Bollywood — how the world used and abused the poor dear (tut, tut).

Finally, what’s so special about Game of Thrones aka GOT. Don’t get it, do you?

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