Word Bombs, Sabre-rattling Anchors and a Walkout: Post-Pulwama Circus in TV Studios
The only clarity that emerges from the faux war rooms of TV studios is that there is no “credible deterrence” against competitive jingoism/liberalism on-air. All that counts is ratings.
Representative image. (Cartoon by Mir Suhail)
Powdered cheeks aquiver in outrage or bedewed with grief, eyes smouldering with righteous wrath or sparkling with unshed tears, leading TV anchors launched a post-Pulwama offensive against the “political class”.
The sabre-rattling in TV studios reverberated through living rooms across urban India. Word-bombs exploded and the shrapnel of resentment fell everywhere. War cries of “Enough is enough”, “Pakistan needs to be taught a lesson” and “Does Modi have the guts?” sounded against a backdrop of anguish, as clips of the slain CRPF jawans' families mourning their sons were played over and over.
Far away from South Block, in the alternate reality of TV studios, anchors and their guests demanded that the ruling NDA “take action” against Pakistan, or taunted it for security lapses and poor handling of terrorism in the Valley.
The terms 'justice' and 'revenge' were used interchangeably and varying degrees of punitive action, from economic to military to diplomatic offensives, proposed. Military intervention short of a full-scale war emerged as the preferred option.
The political alignment of the anchors/channels determined the focus of attack. 'Nationalist' anchors, the dominant tribe, deployed every histrionic tool at their disposal to pillory 'terror apologists', that is, anyone advocating dialogue as opposed to eye-for-an-eye.
Channelling their inner Jhansi-ki-Ranis, they rained down on Pakistan and its attorneys in India. If the ruling NDA was scolded for a bipolar approach to Pakistan and bumbling in Kashmir, the Opposition was crucified for supporting separatists and their ilk.
'Secular' anchors preferred to condemn the government for having “messed up”, side-stepping the export-of-terror-by-Pakistan issue. The more dove-ish among them sought to shift the focus away from Pulwama to attacks on Kashmiri students and the alleged intelligence failure/ blunder in Awantipora.
Depending on the channel, terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir are either on the run or more influential than ever before. Likewise, the Uri surgical strike was a grand success or a massive failure.
Talking heads or 'guests' fell into four categories: the 'experts', by and large ex-cops and soldiers; the peaceniks or 'apologists', who were basically whipping boys for indignant anchors; party representatives, all of whom came off very poorly and political and defense 'analysts', who generally did better than the rest.
Shouting matches were inevitable. With three or more guests yelling simultaneously, anchors sought relief from the Babel-esque confusion by selectively turning off microphones and leaving their guests mouthing away in soundless rage. The drama would have been incomplete without at least one walk-out and a BJP spokesperson obliged, urged on by the anchor.
Anchors shot questions at their guests, then shouted them down as they tried to answer, subjected them to homilies and accused them of double-speak, shamelessness and misinformation.
Spokespersons of political parties invariably started with “I don't want to politicise it” and then proceeded to do just that, with the encouragement of the anchors. Former J&K chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah emerged as 'bad guys', with a vested interest in keeping militancy alive in the Valley and doing 'dhandha' with traffickers. Their spokespersons were hectored for “giving Pakistan a clean chit”, even as the nation mourned “40 of its bravest sons”.
Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh emerged as the good guy, the doughty old soldier who recently put Pakistan in its place. Congress president Rahul Gandhi gained brownie points for backing the government unconditionally, with the caveat that he stop playing politics over military procurement. His foot-soldiers, however, didn't come off too well and were repeatedly ticked off for trying to 'politicise the issue' and supporting 'apologists'.
BJP spokespersons, pummelled for inaction and a “Faustian bargain with the PDP”, oscillated between being pugnacious and defensive. One hapless gentleman writhed uncomfortably under fire from a fellow 'Sanghi'. All of them were relentlessly pressured into promising some decisive if indefinable 'action'.
For the ratings-intoxicated channels, the Kulbhushan Jadhav hearings in The Hague dropped like manna from heaven. Indian and Pakistani lawyers traded bytes, as anchors held forth on the demerits of the case against him.
In sum, the only clarity that emerges from the faux war rooms of TV studios is that there is no “credible deterrence” against competitive jingoism/liberalism on-air. All that counts is ratings.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
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