Ranjona Banerji: The emperor feeds peacocks. His captive TV channels run death spectacles

25 Aug,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Is it true there is nothing else happening in India, at least as far as TV “news” is concerned, apart from the investigation into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput?

Well, there was the Prime Minister’s walks with peacocks. This was a video released by Narendra Modi this weekend where, as he walks along some luxurious garden, peacocks come and do their peacock dance. Modi does not seem terribly interested in the dance as he just walks on. Later, Modi dresses in some hermit-like clothes and sits on a verandah writing, and a peacock comes to him in supplicant mode and he feeds it and others, and so on.

What is the point of this video that was shown on TV, shared widely on social media by government agencies and news agencies (often the same thing)? As if you don’t know. Like all such endeavours in the past, this was a massive public relations exercise to show the PM in different lights and to amuse his large fan base. Or, if you’re cynical like me, to distract the nation from all the problems facing us today.

But even though he’s the world’s greatest prime minister, Modi’s little peacock dance could not compete with the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. Nor could the various battles within the Congress party, which were media fodder for two whole days. No, when it comes to Rajput, all else fades away. We have gone from suicide to murder, with cherchez le femme conspiracies involving former and current girlfriends, evil Bengali witches as apparently all Bengali women are, another famous femme unconnected to Rajput but on a mission to attack those with relations within the film industry who are somehow responsible for his death, wicked film critics, even worse film producers, directors, other stars who never gave Rajput roles or time of day, fraud, theft, embezzling, political wrangling, inter-state rivalry, this police chief against that, a grieving family full of anger, ill-informed discussions on mental health, doctors breaking all kinds of patient confidentiality rules, “independent” “forensic” analyses of the crime scene and the post-mortem without having attended either or been involved with any investigation on the ground, court cases and finally a Supreme Court which has no time for Constitutional questions, transfers the case to the Central Bureau of Investigations.

Along the way, Rajput’s life and secrets have been ripped open, his privacy torn to shreds and his death has been made into a massive media spectacle. In all of this, exciting though it is to some, the actual details are either clear –suicide or foggy – let’s make up whatever we want by throwing as many wild allegations as possible. Yes, murder cases can be exciting, yes, it is tragic when beloved public figures are taken away from the public by death. But, even taking into account all the sensationalised deaths of the past, poor Rajput’s has left him stripped of all privacy. Open prey to anyone looking for advertising revenue, vicarious pleasure and a number of opportunities to capitalise on grief for their own nefarious purposes.

And, for large sections of the media, one more massive smokes and mirrors act. One that even Modi’s peacock stunt could not outdo. Even taking into account the theories that the Rajput case is BJP versus the alliance in power in Maharashtra, in order to 1) get a groundswell of support in Bihar using the death of an actor from Bihar to win the Bihar state elections and 2) to use the case to destabilise the Maharashtra government, Rajput’s death has outdone everything.

The situation outside the nonsense in TV studios continues to spiral further and further into misery: The virus, the economy, the law and order situation, the foreign affairs situation, the China situation, the Kashmir situation, the citizenship situation, the sectarian division situation, the judiciary situation…

First, there’s a Central government in denial. Hence the video. And then there’s the state of the nation. Hence, the cynical sacrifice of Rajput’s dignity in death.

In the old days, public hangings and public fights to the deaths were entertainment for a disgruntled public. That’s where Roman circuses began. We are now in one more circus. The emperor feeds peacocks. His captive TV channels run the death spectacles.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal



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