By Sushil Kutty
It is one of the most foolhardy things to do, the Congress decision that the INDIA alliance parties will not send spokespersons to prime-time shows of 14 television anchors. It is poor decision-making. Hasty also. It is tantamount to boycotting the media not knowing when it will be needed the most. Like when the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly elections are too close for losing connect and comfort. In this era of television and the smartphone, the dissemination of information far and wide at optimal cost, elections are not won by word of mouth alone. Three, the 14 blacklisted anchors are not going to lose sleep. These are professionals who wear their affiliations and ideologies on their sleeves and quite blatantly at that.
Also, if it is their “Hindu-Muslim” narrative which is what is bothering the INDIA grouping, then that too is second nature to the ‘14’. An infant can be groomed but getting an adolescent to behave takes time with no guarantees attached. Only the threat of losing next month’s paycheck makes TV anchors mend their ways as was proved during the anti-farm laws agitation with a prominent television anchor.
Besides, what is alliance INDIA complaining about? It is not that political parties are free of “Hindu-Muslim”. Blacklisting the ’14’ and “naming and shaming” them as if they were common thieves smacks of censorship and if anybody is the loser, it is the alliance INDIA. Whatever the impact, the fallout did not take long – within 45 minutes, at least a couple of the blacklisted ‘14’ were discussing ‘Sanatan dharma’ with INDIA spokespersons who had been invited to take part in their TV shows.
Also, harking back to “Indira’s Emergency” became common parlance for the rest of the evening’s prime-time picks. It was easy to associate the Congress with press curbs and ‘Indira’s Emergency’. The Congress was the party which tweeted the names of “blacklisted 14”. But parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were in no mood to join the “ban the 14” bandwagon. The SP and BSP spokespersons were conspicuous by their presence.
The Congress and the AAP had led the charge against the ’14’. But why should the SP and the BSP lose airtime because the Congress and AAP had a problem with this or that TV anchor? After the initial euphoria, and clarity of purpose, it was back to barbs and banter in the TV studios of the blacklisted ‘14’. Among the ‘14’ there is also a DD News anchor. But DD News doesn’t tell its anchors to be neutral. Only those who are dumb as doornails will blacklist a DD News anchor.
DD News is still staple channel for rural voters. And to not favour the government in TV debates is not an option for Doordarshan. The INDIA grouping appears to have run out of ideas after the big and brilliant one in ‘INDIA’. Actually, blacklisting the ‘14’ TV anchors finds no parallel in history. And this is the first time, the Opposition has resorted to such action. So, it is unprecedented. It is also anti-democratic. It seriously curbs Press freedom. And, hereafter, it will become difficult for parties in the INDIA alliance to criticize curbs on Press freedom and Freedom of Expression.
For Rahul Gandhi especially who never fails to question Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s for his missing commitment to Press freedom. On September 14, the Congress party’s “PM face” Rahul Gandhi lost more than what the INDIA grouping gained. Rahul Gandhi lost the “moral high-ground” on sacrosanct matters regarding the freedom of the Press. Rahul Gandhi cannot get atop a pedestal henceforth and castigate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for India’s poor showing on the World Press Freedom Index.
Also, the big charge that the ‘14’ were forever taking sides with the Modi government and not allowing opposition parties’ spokespersons their right to reply and rebut was blunted by the action taken against the ‘14’. Instead, alliance INDIA got slapped with the charge of running away from the battlefield?
The blacklisted ‘14’ reads like a ‘Who’s Who?’ of prime-time television and their “hate-filled” debates continued unbroken even after the “action-taken”. Also not all INDIA parties are on the same page. Several INDIA alliance parties weren’t happy with the decision. Their big grouse was that their POV was not considered.
But the uncalled for action has put the INDIA parties in the dock. Even though there is a whole new generation in the country with no clear clues to Indira’s Emergency, news still gets around. So, this action is being linked to the calls for the eradication of the Sanatana Dharma and to the return of the dark days of Emergency if INDIA is elected to power. If “they can do this when not in power”, imagine what they will do if they actually get the power? (IPA Service)