Ranjona Banerji: No discretions please, it’s poll time for politicians

29 Apr,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


This election has definitely gone on for far too long. The tedium and desperation is evident in political campaigns and in the media. And the horror is that we are still not done. Results will be announced on May 16 so this farcical circus has over two weeks to make matters worse. As political parties are getting more strident and making melodramas over minutiae, they are also throwing good manners and caution to the winds. And as people like Azam Khan discovered, while earlier you could say awful things to your close followers and no one would get to know, very little is secret any more. But rather than exercising some discretion, politicians seem to have decided that all out attacks are their only recourse.


For the media, this means that they have to play up every little thing that happens or anyone says if only to keep this election juggernaut rolling news-wise. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN, Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today and other TV worthies have hit the roads, picking up campaign heat and dust. Arnab Goswami of Times Now has stayed in the studio – the Newshour now extended to weekends – to badger his guests.


Vikram Chandra of NDTV conducted his Big Fight last Sunday in a Punjab village, with everyone sitting on charpoys. Picturesque as this was, there was clearly no connection between the audience and the contestants – Gul Panag of AAP, Pinky Anand of the BJP and local candidates. The debate was in English, the audience spoke in Punjabi – as much as I could understand anyway. Whatever the purpose of this sylvan setting was, it only highlighted the tremendous communication gaps we still have in India.


As for the Newshour, I caught one this weekend on the subject of some change in land laws perhaps to suit Robert Vadra and perhaps to suit land sharks and developers in general. The issue was so specific that the debate had no punch. Goswami seemed to be on the backfoot on details and when confronted with details, he took the moral high ground of “propriety”. Once it was amusing, all this “nation wants to know” posturing. Now it has become sad and funny.




The direction which the media is taking is also under discussion, especially television. NDTV for instance has long been slammed for being pro-Congress. Now it appears to turning pro-BJP according to some. This means it joins the list of all other English TV channels, according to gossip in the pro-Congress camps. However, the pro-BJP camps still find that TV channels are not as nice to them as they should be. So is this the pot calling the kettle black or needless conspiracy theorising or that we all see only what we want to see?


I don’t really have the answers. But it does seem to me that media houses will now ensure that they stay on the right side of whoever they think is likely to come to power. There is the inherent anti-establishment aspect of the media and the which-side-the-bread-is-buttered aspect of the media and the conflict is evident.




Meanwhile, for a really superb critique of the media, American and Indian, you cannot spend a better eight minutes of your life than watching John Oliver’s take on media coverage of the Indian elections. Truly unmatchable!





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