Shailesh Kapoor: Lalit Modi: A Scam-Starved Media’s Saviour

19 Jun,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor


The first 11 months of the Modi government at the Centre haven’t been the most eventful ones for the news media. In UPA-2, the media had the problem of plenty. One after the other, new scams would emerge, competing with each other for attention and news space. But that dried up May last year, after Narendra Modi came to power.


The Delhi elections and the exciting, sometimes dubious, brand of politics by the Aam Aadmi Party ensured that there was some fodder for news channels to provide their viewers with their daily dose of political voyeurism. The occasional foot-in-the-mouth statements from the fringes in the ruling party also helped. But overall, it has been a lean, scam-free year.


Till last week only, though. Starved for scams, the news media took to the Lalit Modi story like fish to water. It was like a homecoming after being away for an extended period of time. Five days down, the relentless coverage continues across channels and newspapers. And we know we haven’t seen the end of this ‘scam’ yet.


Compare this controversy to 2G, Coalgate, CWG and other such big stories from UPA-2 and you would agree that this one is much weaker in content. There’s no real sense of loot after all. And lobbying and politician-corporate nexus have existed from times even before any of us were born. But, as they say, never let facts come in the way of a good story. Or in this case, never let facts decide how big a story it can be.


There are many elements that make the Lalit Modi-Sushma Swaraj-Vasundhra Raje revelations newsworthy and highly entertaining too. First, the protagonist itself. Lalit is a media character in his own right. He’s not exactly the most pleasurable listening experience, but his unapologetic display of defiance makes it tough to ignore him. He gets journalists to fly to far-off Montenegro to interview him, and while a couple of them are in-flight, tweets that he will have to cancel the interviews because his ‘UK Lawyers’ advised him so.


In many ways, Lalit is the face of crony capitalism that the Prime Minister has been accused of encouraging. It’s difficult for the Congress to launch a full-blown attack given the Robert Vadra precedent, but the controversy offers a delicious opportunity to the opposition nonetheless. I’m surprised no one has connected the common surname of the two Modis yet and tried to create a story out of it. Or may be I missed it.


That the other two protagonists are women who have risen to powerful positions gives the story even more teeth in a country where politics is still a male bastion. This is a heady cocktail of powerplay, IPL, family ties, women empowerment, lifestyle of the rich and the famous, and even cancer. Our media would have to be too naïve to not lap it up.


How this story has developed is also a good commentary of the state of our news media today, where the focus has shifted progressively over the last two decades from reporting the news to owning the news. There is bound to be impact and a head or two may roll in this case. And since the next scam may not be in sight, this story will be dragged for as long as it can sustain.


So you know which industry you want to join if you want free trips to Montenegro and the likes.


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