[MJR] The Modi merry-go-round continues

08 May,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


As expected, the release of the report by lawyer Raju Ramachandran into Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 riots got TV channels into a frenzy. Having whipped themselves up over the “clean chit” given to Modi by the Special Investigation Team, the indictment of the chief minister by the “friend of the court” provided just the kind of contradiction that Indian TV thrives on.


However, the arguments for and against Narendra Modi and his “crimes” or his “achievements” have become old and tired. As have the panellists. There on NDTV was Jainarayan Vyas putting up a stout defence of Modi. And, of course, a short while later he was on Times Now. Kumar Ketkar, editor of Divya Marathi provided the objective line – while slamming Modi for his well-documented anti-minorities stance – also appeared on both.


But at the end of the day, little is achieved with such debates. The BJP and Modi’s fan club spew their spiel. Modi’s detractors have their own. The debate moves along predictable lines. The events have become so far away that the details have been forgotten which leads to even more chaos. Both Nidhi Razdan and Arnab Goswami had a tough time controlling some of their panellists who as usual forget all rules of civilised behaviour once a TV camera is turned on them. Smriti Irani of the BJP, for instance, gave us ample proof of how she can now graduate to the “saas” role in a poisonous soap – if they still have them on TV that is.


(A disclaimer: I was deputy resident editor of The Times of India, Ahmedabad, from 2001 to 2004 and have a fairly good idea of what happened during the riots. Watching people who were nowhere around in those dark days holding forth can be both a frustrating and amusing experience.)


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The big TV event of the week is of course the first episode of actor Aamir Khan’s Satyameva Jayate on the Star channels and DD. He dealt with the contentious and emotional issue of female foeticide and India’s skewed gender ratio. It was a well-researched show, with the subject presented from various angles and certainly struck a chord with the audience. The cyber world went gaga, judging from the number of tweets about the programme. Newspapers the next day were also congratulatory.


If there was criticism – especially on Twitter, the home of manufactured outrage – it was about whether female foeticide was such an unknown problem after all as well as whether any change would happen as a result of the show.


It is amazing to hear journalists talking about whether social change can result from media efforts, since we know from our own experience what a slow and pain-staking experience that can be. Your 140-character aphorism may take seconds to go out to the world; change on the ground takes a tiny bit longer than that.


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An evening at the Mumbai Press Club was a great opportunity to meet up with former colleagues and old friends. The now annual awards for journalists in categories from crime and cricket to politics and the environment is a very good idea. Giving the lifetime achievement award to Vinod Mehta was a winner – since he promptly said that working in Bombay (as it was then) were the best years of his life!


Applause all around.


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