If you haven’t watched primetime TV in India for a year or three or 10, the current vocabulary might baffle you. “Khalistanis”, “urban naxals”, “tukde-tukde gang”, “Shaheen Bagh”, “anti-nationals” – how did the news at 8 pm descend into this bottomless pit of madness?
You’ve got Arnab Goswami describing “participatory democracy” as “that weird American form of socialism”. You’ve got Sudhir Chaudhary triumphing about how “andolanjeevis” will now be “unemployed” in India. And then you’ve got Rahul Shivshankar, braving his own disappointment to explain how India’s “second Green Revolution” has just been derailed.
And all this just last night, after the Modi government announced the repeal of the three contentious farm laws that morning.
Now, many prominent mainstream primetime anchors spent the better part of the past year defending the farm laws, , and heckling the opposition. With barely hours to prepare for primetime after Modi’s complete u-turn, our favourite anchors gave it their best shots.
Some did better than others. Let’s break it down.
Proof of Khalistani hand
Arnab Goswami came prepared for his debates last night on Republic World. Armed with a list of why Modi had repealed the laws – national security, national interest, massive blow to anti-India forces, you name it – he reiterated points that he’s made multiple times over the past year: that the farmer protests were not “legitimate”.
“I’ve been saying from the beginning, friends, that this is not a protest. This is an experiment, an experiment to break the country,” he said. “These people had done the same experiment on CAA and NRC...in Shaheen Bagh. And now, in the guise of the farm laws, these people have left the country bloodied.”
And now that the farm laws are being withdrawn, he said, “the elements that wanted to burn the country...have nothing to burn India over”.
If it’s not clear enough, Goswami’s focus last night was on “these people” who purportedly worked alongside “Maoist terrorists”, “Pakistanis” and “Khalistanis” to organise the farmer protests.
This was by Zee News’s Sudhir Chaudhary, who of dreaming up the “Khalistani hand” in the first place. Standing proud by his channel’s “solid coverage” of the protests, Chaudhary said the repealing the laws “nowhere proves that there was no Khalistani hand or that the tukde-tukde gang was not involved in the protest”.
So many double negatives, so little time. But the gist is that Chaudhary believes the laws being repealed can be taken as proof that there was a Khalistani hand involved.
Thankfully, he made it much clearer during the rest of his show. “From now on, the supporters of Khalistan will never be able to misuse these protests,” he said.
News18 India’s Aman Chopra, who at his previous stint at Zee News had compared what he called the “Shaheen Bagh model” to the “Singhu border model” and branded the farmer protests as “Khalistani” throughout the protests, did not try to repackage his old script at his new job – even in the light of fresh developments.
“The repealing of the laws has put a big lock on the shops of the tukde-tukde gang and Khalistan,” he declared. “Those who were using the shoulders of the farmers to fire the anti-India gun, those who were turning Singhu into Syria, those who were running the shop of anarchy under the guise of the farmer protests...those who wanted to turn the whole country into Shaheen Bagh in the name of the protest: all their shops have been shuttered today.”
India’s loss, democracy’s failure
Yet, anchors tempered their exultation with caution.
“Today is the defeat of reform in the farming sector. Because they were not just laws, but an example of the politics of economic improvement,” said Sudhir Chaudhary gravely. “But the country – whose entire politics has been based on poverty, illiteracy, corruption, unemployment, casteism and religion – cannot digest the politics of prosperity.”
He also worried about what message this was sending to the world about India’s democracy, since India is “a country where some people can block the streets and manage to get the parliamentary laws called back”. The ticker agreed, flashing, “Has too much democracy proven detrimental to India?”
Rahul Shivshankar took it on Times Now. Playing the role of a jilted lover masquerading as an angry economist, Shivshankar minced no words. “Today is a sad day for India...India lost today,” he told his viewers.
No matter that Times Now spent a year using hashtags like #AndolankarisGoBack; last night was devoted to the progressive economics of the farm laws.
“A set of laws that could have transformed the face of agriculture, doubled farmers’ incomes, made the sector more productive, delivered kisans from the hands of middlemen, made the sector competitive...have been sacrificed, viewers,” he said.
With the uncanny insight that’s come to characterise his shows, Shivshankar explained how Modi had looked “visibly disappointed” during yesterday’s announcement, and how India was now losing its “second Green Revolution”.
“The agriculture sector, which employs the most number of Indians, will remain shackled to ruin its practices to interest groups that are stifling its growth and limiting India’s overall economic prospects,” he said.
The ticker, in keeping with the sombre tone, flashed text like “Politics win, but India loses?” and “2nd Green Revolution derailed”.
His colleague Navika Kumar set by her former boss Goswami. “Is this a victory for farmers,” she asked, “or for the Congress?”
Goswami himself launched into a tirade about “participatory democracy”.
“Participatory democracy is that weird American form of socialism where you basically say you disagree with any issue, you hit the streets, and then say, ‘let us all participate’,” he said. “...Parliament has no relevance. Tomorrow, they’ll say courts have no relevance...Remember viewers, on the basis of the farm laws, the country was being threatened.”
Modi is the best
Amidst this doom and gloom, it fell to News18 India’s Aman Chopra to spotlight the man of the moment.
Modi “saved the nation”, Chopra said jubilantly. “...He lost himself, but made the country win. He bowed down so that the country doesn’t have to...Modi won the trust of real farmers and the shops of fake farmers were shuttered.”
#ThankYouModi, said the ticker.
Goswami’s panelist, BJP member Gaurav Bhatia, also worked hard to praise the prime minister. “When [Modi] brought in the three farm laws, that was his 56-inch chest,” Bhatia said. “Now when he is repealing them, it is his 65-inch chest.”
His co-panelist Lalit Ambardar, who calls himself a Kashmiri activist, agreed, describing Modi as “calm, composed, and the use of vocabulary and grammar, he was so modest and full of humility”.
, Rubika Liyaquat also joined the hail-Modi chorus, albeit obliquely.
“If the head of the government doesn’t accept the people’s demand, he is called a dictator,” she said. “If he accedes, it is said that he has accepted defeat. This is politics.”
was how the farm laws were Modi’s “gift” to farmers, which naturally led her to discuss how Modi’s “gift” to the armed forces was modern weaponry.
“Jai jawan, jai kisan,” she pointed out.
When most anchors read from the same scripts, it’s hard to stand out. So props to Sumit Awasthi on ABP News for daring to be different.
Awasthi parsed the prime minister’s speech, not just for content but also for word count.
“Total words=1,430,” his screen read. “Most important words=86.”
“He didn’t use the word ‘andolan’ even once,” Awasthi enthused.
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