Many Chefs, One Poll Pot



Santosh Desai

BY THE time a soap opera is done, everyone in the cast has slept with everyone else, producing a dazzling array of improbable offsprings. People have switched identities, been reborn with new faces, married, divorced and remarried a few times. The Indian election scenario looks like we have fast forwarded five years of The Bold and the Beautiful in a few weeks. Promiscuity hangs like a thick cloud over the elections and the loins of to-be-bedfellows have no doubt been girded for the strange encounters to follow.

The week began with Rahul Gandhi praising alliance partners of others, leading his own partners to wander off in a sulk. The middle of the week saw a BJP spokesperson denying that even the Congress was an untouchable. By the end of the week, the TRS was playing footsie with the NDA, and Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar were crooning songs thick with longing and love to each other. Things have now come back a full circle, with the Congress scurrying back to its old allies.

This has added to the general incoherence with which the media is reacting to these elections. A Times Now attempt to make sense of the possible scenarios that might emerge, made Indian traffic seem like an orderly and determinedly linear affair, so chaotic was the outcome. Firstly, the ghosts of all editors past and present were part of the panel which made uninterrupted speech for more than a few seconds by anyone impossible. When other editors didn’t disagree with each other, Arnab did. And of course, the situation itself is so mind bogglingly complex that nothing could really have salvaged the discussion. The attempt to provide some clarity about numbers by laying out all possible combinations in a scrolling crawler made the cacophony complete. It was not really the channel’s fault. Given that there is time to be consumed on air by talking about the elections and that no one has a clue as to what might happen, bewilderment was bound to be the eventual winner. The politicians had a brief moment of respite when the Mumbai voting percentages came in. Leaders from all parties clucked disapprovingly, basking in a sense of righteousness that becomes available to them only fleetingly.

The ghosts of all editors, past and present, were part of a Times Now panel. This made even a few seconds of uninterrupted speech impossible

The Samajwadi Party road show continues. Azam Khan is the new star on the television firmament having perfected a sardonic style dripping with apparent self-effacement. A soap opera within a soap opera, this one. Rajdeep Sardesai tried to get leaders of all parties to admit that they would be open to alliances with others. This did not help clarify anything but screen time they did pass.

The best thing about this campaign is that it will end soon, so that the real democratic process of cosy deal making can begin. Looking back, one is struck by the enormous appetite the media has for sameness. Eventually, the politicians, for all the appearance of being put under scrutiny, managed the media exceedingly well. They said what they wanted to when they wanted to, fielded people good at fending off uncomfortable questions, controlled when and whom to give interviews to, and used the media to communicate with their allies. I cannot think of a single instance when we reached beneath the carefully presented exterior to reveal a truth, not one example of genuinely fresh perspective peeping through the verbiage.

To be fair, the media had a real dilemma on their hands. On the one hand, they could not ignore the elections and focus on film stars, although they did give that a shot. On the other hand, there was little by way of original and enlightening content they could provide. Nothing was happening by way of activity one could show. So it was all gas, all the way.

Desai is CEO, Future Brands


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