The TV media, it seems, is gradually showing its (sometimes subtle, sometimes brazen) bias in favour of the Hindu nationalist leader, Narendra Modi. The biggest example of the bias is the way it treated the sudden outburst of Congress VP Rahul Gandhi at Ajay Maken’s news conference (at the Press Club) against the controversial ordinance issued by his party’s government that would have allowed convicted politicians to become lawmakers, despite a Supreme Court order to the contrary.
Yes, he did that after the ordinance was sent to President Pranab Mukherjee for signatures, but how does it matter. The fact is that Gandhi had already expressed his opposition to the ordinance within the party, but the PM (with the blessings of Sonia Gandhi, of course) sent it to the President for approval anyway. Apparently, Rahul was not consulted because he is neither in the cabinet nor in the party’s core group, which makes such decisions. So when he felt slighted, he rebelled. After all, he is the person responsible for giving tickets to the prospective candidates for the 2014 parliamentary polls.
He told reporters why his party issued the ordinance to save the convicted politicians.“We need to do this because of political considerations... Everybody does this. And there is a time to stop this nonsense. I feel that it’s about time political parties, mine and all others, stop making these type of compromises, because if we want to actually fight corruption in this country, we cannot continue making these small compromises because when we make these small compromises, we compromise everything.”
The media initially failed to understand that Gandhi’s surprise remarks were a brilliant political move to demonstrate to his constituency of the aam aadmi that he is not a part of the UPA government that has been labelled ‘corrupt’ and ‘compromising’. I believe in his brief, tough remarks that the ordinance (that had not been signed by the President yet) should be thrown out actually strengthened his image as an ‘insider’, who can also become an ‘outsider’ when it comes to his concern about the sentiments of the people. And five days later he was vindicated when the government not only withdrew the ordinance, but also a similar bill that was pending in Parliament. Initially, for digital media, it simply meant that there are differences within the Congress Party, between the old guard and the new blood headed by Rahul Gandhi, which was nothing new. It also happened when Indira Gandhi rose from the ranks in her party after Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death and again when her son Rajiv Gandhi became the PM after her assassination in 1984. In Mrs Gandhi’s time the Congress was split, while in Rajiv Gandhi’s time new blood prevailed without a split. The media went amuck and reported it as if Rahul had insulted his mother and the PM, but never said that it shows that a new wave of democracy is coming within the party.
When similar cracks appeared in the BJP leadership over Narendra Modi’scontroversial anointment in the party, TV media reported it as an element of democracy in the BJP. I don’t know for a fact if it is true or not, but the Indian capital is rife with rumours that Modi has bought the “political programming” of several channels until 2014. It is not surprising because if Modi can spend crores on hiring an American PR firm to build his image, he can definitely offer money to some of the private TV channels to win their favours. Again, it is not for me but for the Election Commission to find out, which is already concerned about the phenomena of “paid news” becoming the “Achilles Heel” of the 67-year-old Indian democracy. It is a 360-degree turn because the state-run TV was considered pro-government and now private media is being bought over by the opposition. But the irony is that private TV channels, being choked by a financial crunch, have suddenly become pro-active in promoting only Modi, but not his party as such. Some may argue that it is the same thing. But this reporter begs to differ, predicting a possibility where Modi might win in the 2014 parliamentary polls, but his party may not be able to get the required 272 seats for a working majority.
Not surprisingly, only a few seasoned newspaper journalists wrote that Rahul’s sudden outburst was a political master stroke that signalled to his party as well as the country and even the opposition that he means business. But no novice TV journalist saw it that way, until their invited guest experts started saying that.
In fact, initially the TV media ridiculed Rahul by saying his timing was wrong and that he insulted the PM. But no one reported that being the VP of the party he will be responsible for selecting and fielding Congress candidates in the 2014 parliamentary elections and the ordinance in question was directly related to his responsibility. So in an effort to prevent President Pranab Mukherjee from signing it, Rahul chose an approach that had been successfully tested by his father Rajiv Gandhi and grandmother, Indira Gandhi.
Now, some veteran analysts say this was an orchestrated move by the Congress party to establish, once and for all, Rahul as the leader of the party and in which even the prime minister was kept in the dark. They said the party also wanted to demonstrate to its allies such as Lalu Yadav that it did everything it could to protect him but the ordinance had to be withdrawn because of the public sentiment triggered by Rahul’s remarks. They contend that the move made it easier for the party to forge an alliance with Nitish Kumar. If Rahul Gandhi’s strategy was to kill several birds with one stone, I hope the media will now try to find out who is the ‘Chanakya’ behind Gandhi and the Congress party who came up with this brilliant strategy.
(Author/news analyst Ravi M Khanna is currently freelancing after a 24-year stint with Voice Of America in Washington DC, as South Asia bureau chief)