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The Gaga Newsreel

Housewives wanted stable market prices as always, one of them thought of the kitchens of the poor.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: July 12, 2014 2:06:49 am

Those of us who have lived too long for the good of the planet will recall the grainy, black and white government newsreels which used to play in cinemas before the main feature. Now, a new, improved version of that pre-prandial dose of propaganda is back. It’s in colour. It’s on TV. It’s India TV.

Rajat Sharma seems to have a hotline to the bowels of Modi sarkar. His channel has become an early warning system, sometimes bringing news of policy decisions and the Prime Minister’s travel plans days before the competition. But it pays a price for proximity: the gaga newsreel. The latest is Phainsla on the Spot, a caress-by-caress account of the Prime Minister’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir. The curtain-raiser: low resolution footage of bullet trains — perhaps, the blur was meant to suggest speed. The caveat: India isn’t going to get real bullet trains anytime soon. The story: The citizens of Uri demand that the Central School be upgraded from Class X to Class XII, the Prime Minister executes phainsla on the spot and two new classes are created in three hours. Not clear if new teachers were brought in by bullet train, but the celebration of decisive action is so like Mrs Gandhi’s newsreels, in colour.

What is it about the Budget that drives the media to rapture, asks IBN7’s ever-contrary Sandeep Chaudhary, while NDTV India rolled out the annual ritual of asking people who don’t matter what they want and can’t possibly have. This is done on Budget day just before the finance minister’s speech, after which people who matter take over the airwaves and caterwaul unstoppably about what they haven’t got. But NDTV’s responses suggested that India is changing, for the better. While housewives wanted stable market prices as always, one of them thought of the kitchens of the poor. A visibly prosperous student supported education incentives, since the majority cannot afford higher education any more. Nice. Has the Me Generation taken VRS?

Meanwhile, Chaudhary stayed with the contrarian questions. Why is an accounting exercise so all-fired important? Is the idea of a decisive Budget day a media creation — economics as soap opera? Doesn’t policy evolve through the year? When most Indians don’t even know what the Sensex is, isn’t it just an opportunity to echo elite fears that all the bijli and paani is going to farmers for free? Aren’t farmers being told to sell to multinationals and buy branded goods? And anyway, why should diesel be sold at the same price for SUVs and tractors?

Speaking of tractors, Rs 100 crore has been allocated to DD Kisan, a brand new channel which will supply farmers with real-time information. That’s another exhumation from the Indira era, when Krishi Darshan dispensed Green Revolution technology to farmers and ennui to urban viewers. But enough of the Budget, whose core message has been missed by the entire commentariat: for Modi sarkar, Hindi and Sanskrit are great for oaths but when you mean business, please speak English.

Times Now sold the Budget like Marie Antoinette’s cake: “Everyone deserves a piece of the SuperBudget. Get yours.” Someone out there has been ODing on pie charts, maybe. Meanwhile, IBN7 ran a news story about some Delhi Police safety ads ahead of August 15. A pregnant woman in a cinema and a blind man in a train compartment try, unsuccessfully, to check under their seats, until other people ask what they’re looking for. Abandoned packages, they say, “it only takes a minute”. Nice work, a pleasant change from the scariest police slogan ever: “With you, for you, always.”

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