Liqour selections

Liquor-gate, Sharab Raj, Operation Lootus – TV news is having fun in the current raid

Jwinner takes all / Loser is small,” sang ABBA, Once Upon a Time in the 1980s. But who is the winner of the current raid? Is it the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or opposition parties such as Aam Aadmi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress that are being investigated?

None of the above: If there is a winner, it’s TV news.

The AAP enjoys full television coverage, yes, which raises its public profile compared to other regional parties, but the lack of answers to the charges against it raises questions about its credibility. The BJP is seen as acting eagerly against corruption, especially on TV, but what everyone wants to know is why is it only acting against opposition parties that run state governments? This lends credence to the opposition’s assertion of a “vendetta policy”.

The TV news, meanwhile, is thrilled to play BJP against The Others for all its worth.

And, as political parties go on the hunt for all, a critical development that has implications for all of India’s media, including news channels, has been overlooked: the reported hostile takeover of NDTV by the Adani Group, revealed on Tuesday. Also note that news channels, in addition to NDTV and India todaybarely mentioned the remission of the 11 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case.

Also read: ‘Undue Benefits for Licensees, Loss to Treasury’: What CBI’s Excise FIR Says on Sisodia and Others

News channels have fun

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised he would act fearlessly against corruption in his August 15 speech and that promise is being kept even as many of us are still sleeping.

On Wednesday morning, even before some had had their tea, Indian television sounded the alarm: ‘Raids since 7am’, It said. ‘4 RJD leaders being raided’, shouted Republic Television headlines, shaking you awake. “CBI spoils the Nitish-Tejashwi party,” shouted times now, quickly brings you back to your senses.

As we watched, RJD MLC’s wife Sunil Singh gesticulated and shouted so furiously from the balcony of their home that we may have scalded our tongues at the first cup of the day – “Before the ground test , a ‘taste’ of CBI ED’, pun Times Now Navbharat. You can repeat it.

There was more to swallow: ‘the NIA raids in connection with the Kutch drug case’, said Republic Television. “Big socialites involved” – now, if that doesn’t get you out of bed, nothing will.

Exactly a week ago, we were watching similar scenes in Delhi: the CBI raided the home of Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister – for 15 hours (is that a one-day search record?). Since then, TV news has aired their latest blockbuster featuring Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Sisodia at his side, and AAP leaders Sanjay Singh, Saurabh Bhardwaj, Raghav Chadha and Atishi shutting down the walking. Against them are Union Minister Anurag Thakur as well as BJP members Gaurav Bhatia, Shehzad Poonawalla, Manoj Tiwari, Sudhanshu Trivedi, Kapil Mishra and Manjinder Singh Sirsa.

Why such a commotion? Ah, this is where the news channels have fun. What is a “political face-to-face” (times now) on an “excise policy” (India ahead) investigation into the Delhi government’s alcohol policy became “Darru-gate” (India today) in the AAP government’s ‘Sharab Raj’ (Aaj Takciting Anurag Thakur).

News channels competed over nicknames for the alleged scam, and prime time held daily talks on Delhi’s “liquor gate” (CNN News 18) where the gloves were off.

News channels then sat down to enjoy the battle of words and wits between the BJP and AAP leaders, which reached superlative lengths. Both sides have used press conferences, debates and public appearances to hit each other – below the solar plexus if necessary.

We don’t have to repeat what they said about each other since you must have heard the outrageous statements: de Kejriwal’s Call of Bharat Ratna for Sisodia and Sisodia’s claim to be approach by the BJP, Kejriwal and Sisodia being the response of the “most corrupt leaders” of the BJP; from AAP ‘nautanki’ raids to BJP ‘swindle’, from ‘Operation Lotus’ to ‘Operation Lootus’ – the name calling has not stopped.

To read also: News broadcast on August 15 with jawans on LOC. And then ignored the tragic death of the ITBP soldiers

AAP diversionary tactics

For starters, it was an AAP advantage: Sisodia has enjoyed a good ‘clean’ public image so far, so the CBI’s arrival there has appeared ‘political’.

Non-stop television coverage throughout Friday made the raids seem excessive – 3 p.m.? “The papers have been recovered,” revealed the Republic Television journalist. Oh okay.

Moreover, the news channels seem to like Arvind Kejriwal/AAP in a way that they dislike other opposition parties and chief ministers such as Nitish Kumar (JDU), Mamata Banerjee (TMC), MK Stalin (DMK), K. Chandrashekar Rao (TRS) and Congressmen Ashok Gehlot or Bhupesh Baghel to name a few. Maybe Kejriwal’s presence in Delhi makes the hearts of the news channels grow fonder? Or is he just more telegenic?

Whatever the reason, they play all his video statements and follow him wherever he goes – so they went with him and Sisodia to Gujarat on Monday – “AAP takes Delhi Dangal to Modi territory” (NDTV 24×7) – where they covered the AAP press conference and parts of a town hall meeting.

Although Kejriwal and Sisodia hogged the limelight and continued to change the goal post – from saying the BJP was trying to divide or bring down the Delhi government to the whole country being angry with the BJP – their diversionary tactics, in the absence of answers to the questions raised on the alcohol excise policy, was not good television communication. Here, the BJP was on a strong wicket. Where is the famous transparency that the AAP claims to represent? Not in sight, at least not on television so far in this controversy.

What hurts the BJP’s case is the growing and weary public perception, all too often seen on television, that from state to state, from West Bengal to Maharashtra, the CBI or the Law Enforcement Directorate is targeting the opposition – that too so blatantly that the CBI chooses the day of the ground test in Bihar to attack the RJD members.

So this game of cat and mouse between the BJP and its opponents leaves both sides looking ridiculous. Only the television news keep smiling.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)