All For An Audience

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The election circus goes on, live and dramatic on television. The same old arguments now get comic

SANTOSH DesaiSantosh Desai

THE NAME-CALLING continues. By now, we’re past caring who likes whom and who doesn’t. In any case, the relationships between parties seem more fickle than Paris Hilton’s love life, and considerably less telegenic. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Arun Jaitley, Sudheendhra Kulkarni continue to attack, defend, deflect, equivocate and sidestep questions with practiced ease. Some boredom is creeping in, but I’m sure viewers continue to be enthralled with this riveting exchange between lawyers. There’s no other reason why channels run the same argument with the same panel over and over again.

But it’s not déjà vu all over again. Last week, we saw the Congress unleash the personal side of its leaders on us. First, it was an intimate glimpse of Manmohan Singh’s family on CNN-IBN. Then, Barkha Dutt went one-onone with Priyanka Gandhi in a cosy chat-on-the-lawns. Singh’s family was what we expected them to be: straightforward, low key, and self-effacing. We learnt nothing new, but came away with a reinforced image of Singh as an exceedingly earnest person. Priyanka Gandhi is a media natural, and has the rare ability to be completely honest without saying anything she doesn’t want to. Rahul Gandhi too took on the Left in a press conference in Kolkata. The Congress strategy of projecting Singh while paving the way for a Gandhi continues its squint-eyed journey.

The Congress is not alone in speaking from both sides of the mouth. Narendra Modi is being seen in an uncharacteristically coy avatar; with every suggestion that he is the natural successor (read: replacement) to Advani, he proclaims his devotion to Advani. Proclamations of ambition are clearly unhealthy in every major political party.

The Congress strategy of projecting Manmohan Singh while paving the way for a Gandhi continues its squint-eyed journey

The ban on exit polls has made election coverage tedious. The sound of so many people shooting in the dark is nothing but a procession of dull plops. With the exception of Yogendra Yadav, whose precise and dispassionate analysis gives us the comforting illusion that some sense can be made of all this. Not that exit polls rightly predicted the outcome, but they gave us something tangible to disagree with.

The BJP attempt to contrive a national issue out of black money is finally beginning to get some media traction. The Congress, forced on the back foot, makes mumbling sounds by way of defence. A typical pattern is something like this. Someone from party A asks someone from party B an uncomfortable question. Instead of answering the question, this person points out that the questioner too was guilty of something. Party A now rebuts with another accusation leveled at party B. The circus continues, and the viewer is convinced that in spite of all the campaigns exhorting him to do otherwise, voting is a mug’s game.

Given the similarity of panelists and issues across channels, it’s difficult to focus on the differences. Aaj Tak is unusually subdued, India TV is waiting for this election nonsense to pass so sanity can return and they can go back to beginning every story with the word Taliban, Rajdeep continues to enunciate dramatically, NDTV is well, NDTV, and Times Now continues to ride on Arnab Goswami. Arnab has perfected the art of putting words in panelists’ mouths by summing up what they did not say. This is aggravating for those being interviewed, but quite entertaining for the viewers. Varun Gandhi is back, mincing words of nonviolence. Advani continues to give interviews in his plane; it makes us long for his rath.

Yes, there are still two whole weeks to go.

Desai is CEO, Future Brands

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