It was a weekend unlike any other as two of the country’s most prominent media houses wrapped up their annual summits.
While the India Today Group’s Agenda Aaj Tak aimed to determine the country’s “agenda” for 2022, the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2021 was claimed to be a presentation of “international quality thought-platforms aimed at solutions”.
With big-ticket schedules, who got the big guns and top ministers, and asked them the tough questions too? How many opposition faces made it to the guest list? And, in the wake of a relentless campaign by sections of the mainstream media against film celebrities (beginning with the controversy around Sushant Singh Rajput’s death), how many Bollywood A-listers turned up for these events? We take a look at the summits, and their most cringeworthy moments.
The Cabinet, Covid and Kashmir
There were more Cabinet members at Agenda Aaj Tak, which hosted Nirmala Sitharaman (finance), Nitin Gadkari (transport and highways), Mansukh Mandaviya (health), Kiren Rijiju (law) and Jyotiraditya Scindia (civil aviation). BJP president J P Nadda and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan were also present.
However, home minister Amit Shah, who had attended last year’s Agenda Aaj Tak, decided to show up this time at the Hindustan Times event, which also had Sitharaman and external affairs minister S Jaishankar in attendance.
On the fifth day of the summit, Shah gave a 30-minute and sat for a Q&A session, but the group chairperson Shobhana Bhartia and Hindustan Hindi editor-in-chief Shashi Shekhar said he had answered “everything” with his speech.
No questions were asked about the mismanagement of the as Shah tried to pass the buck while asserting that the country successfully handled the pandemic. All those who had dismissed the lighting of “diyas” and “wearing of masks” are now quiet, he said. “No other world leader could have handled the pandemic better,” the minister said, hailing PM Narendra Modi, while also referring to other decisions such as the surgical strike, airstrike and the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir.
Bhartia and Shekhar were visibly floored. “You exhausted the whole list of our questions with your speech,” said Shekhar, as Shah left the podium to sit for a Q&A.
Bhartia concurred, “Even I was just saying the same, you answered all our questions in detail about what the government has done, so let’s talk about politics now.”
A few questions were then asked about division of votes in the upcoming UP elections, farm laws affecting the Punjab polls and the demand to restore Kashmir’s special status by political parties in the Valley. It was only in the last 30 seconds that the panel sought to know the centre’s preparations to tackle the Omicron variant.
While Shah hailed Modi at the HT event, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra attributed achievements to the home minister at Agenda Aaj Tak. “Shah was the only reason why Article 370 could be revoked in Kashmir.”
At the Aaj Tak event, all hell broke loose during a panel on nation or nationalism, moderated by anchor Chitra Tripathi, and including Patra, Congress’s Kanhaiya Kumar and Hardik Patel, and ABVP’s Saket Bahuguna.
Patra was interrupted by Kanhaiya as the latter pointed to his appointment as the chairman of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation at a time when his services as an “MBBS doctor” could come in handy to prepare for a possible third wave of Covid.
After a tirade against the “tukde tukde gang” and Rahul Gandhi, Patra demanded an intervention by India Today Group founder Aroon Purie and vice chairperson Kalli Purie. He also angrily asked Chitra Tripathi if the BJP had any “proprietary” on the panel or if Kanhaiya and Patel had been called to spread “propaganda”.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra was part of a panel discussing nationalism.
Kalli Purie eventually took the mic. “Please let Sambit Patra ji or any other speaker keep their entire point...please don’t fact-check them in between. Let the moderator do that...this is not a TV debate. She does not have the facility to mute or tell the producer to mute you.”
India Today Group vice chairperson Kalli Purie had to intervene in a shouting match between Patra and Kanhaiya Kumar.
While Shah presented a revisionist edition of Covid management at the HT summit, at Agenda Aaj Tak, there was a special on V D Savarkar with historians Vikram Sampath and Chamanlal, and Savarkar’s relative Ranjit Savarkar hailing the Sangh ideologue﹘top BJP leaders often mouth similar statements about the controversial leader.
A muted Bollywood guest list
In the wake of a campaign by sections of the mainstream media against Bollywood personalities, most recently during the controversy around the Aryan Khan drug case, there was a noticeably thin attendance of Bollywood A-listers at the summits this year.
While the Aaj Tak summit has previously seen big names such as Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar, among others, there were few actors who participated this time.
Sara Ali Khan and Ayushmann Khurrana appeared to promote their films. Anchor Gaurav Sawant moderated a on freedom of expression with Ravina Tandon, Ashutosh Rana and Shweta Tripathi as panelists. Kartik Aryan, Kiara Advani and Kriti Sanon also came for the summit.
The Hindustan Times event, on the other hand, hosted just Anil and Janhavi Kapoor.
The opposition, a contention and complexion
Among non-BJP leaders, HT only hosted Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi and Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel (the summit was co-powered by the Chhattisgarh government).
Punjab CM Channi participated in both summits.
The two CMs also attended Agenda Aaj Tak, which also had their Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal for a nearly 50-minute with its few ‘colorful’ moments﹘a three-minute conversation on the AAP chief’s complexion. This was triggered by Channi’s allegation about Kejriwal being a “kaala angrez (dark sahib)”.
Kejriwal had a 50-minute interview at the India Today Group event.
On the various panels part of the Aaj Tak event were Congress’s Kanhaiya Kumar, Hardik Patel and Manish Tiwari, RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi.
However, Amit Malviya of BJP IT cell fame had a bone to pick with the channel for giving Kejriwal the “primetime”. This, despite the channel hosting 16 leaders from Malviya’s party. On Twitter, he alleged that the interviewers “indulged” Kejriwal instead of questioning him about “Delhi’s failures on all fronts”. “Ads can buy interviews too?”
Malviya’s contention apart, the Aaj Tak interview with Kejriwal was a cocktail of bizarre questions and a litmus test of his Punjabiyat or Punjabiness ahead of the Assembly elections in Punjab next year.
“Arvind ji you said Punjab is yours, you love Punjab, whether you lose or win the election. But what is your Punjabiyat,” asked one of the anchors. “You neither consume non-vegetarian food, nor alcohol and you don’t even do bhangra.”
Kejriwal tried hard not to lose the plot to stereotypes as the other anchor, Neha Batham, asked “what is your connection with Punjab, Arvind ji”. “Punjab is either associated with gidda, bhangra or butter chicken, what is your connection?”
Aaj Tak seemed to pit Kejriwal against Channi in separate conversations with the leaders, with anchor Rahul Kanwal trying to use the Delhi CM’s comments to elicit a response from the Punjab CM.
“Did you bring the dhol and bhangra dancers to welcome Kejriwal,” asked Channi. “Bhangra, he knows how to do bhangra?” asked Kanwal.
For Channi, it appeared to be an exercise to cement his image as a “gareeb”, “aam aadmi” and underdog, as he is from the Dalit community. That he “cried” after being appointed as CM prodded both the media houses to make him recall the experience.
There were other pressing questions at the Hindustan Times by political editor Sunnetra Chowdhary. “It was written somewhere that Channi ji keeps himself so busy that he sometimes ends up sleeping in his car itself. Is that true,” she asked. “If you are sleeping in the car, where do your security personnel sleep?”
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