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Elections, dramas and the newsreels

india Updated: May 16, 2009 01:55 IST
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By the time you read this, the election results will be out and the suspense will be over. But at the time of writing this
column, the votes still haven’t been counted and the plot is not just thickening, it’s positively curdling. Every breath a politician takes is fraught with possibilities. If he/she decides to actually speak to someone, it’s nothing short of a major political development.

As for a visit? Specially if it’s a visit where the visitor crouches in the front seat of a car, ineffectually trying to cover his face with his hand (as former Karnataka chief minister H D Kumara-swamy did when he drove into 10 Janpath)? Goodness, that’s the equivalent of cloak-and-dagger palace intrigue of the deepest kind (think medieval times, when disguised emissaries would steal into the enemy camp with secret missives). And god forbid, if anyone decides to have a full-fledged meeting… well, that’s nothing short of Breaking News. Don’t believe me? Here’s Arnab Goswami on Times Now, dramatically announcing “The NDA is going to have an emergency meeting!” as if he were announcing the top secret gathering of some top secret organisation at a top secret destination. Sinister images leapt into my fevered imagination — a group of masked people sitting in a dimly lit room having top secret conversations: “Did you speak to Jayalalitha?” whispers one member. “Yes, we have also sent feelers to Naidu,” whispers another. “But we have to prevent UPA from getting 272,” whispers a third. In the end, they take an oath of blood to this effect (to prevent the UPA from getting 272) and then melt away into the night.

While on Times Now, I was also startled to discover on Tuesday that the Breaking News of the day was “We first broke the story 24 hours ago!” This flashed on screen several times, but Times Now seems convinced their viewers can’t read because Arnab and the correspondent of the moment told us the same thing again — and many, many times: “We told you first!”/”We first broke this story on Monday!” All they really did was break the eardrums and patience of their viewers. And what was this sensational, shocking, amazing story they broke? It was so sensational I’ve promptly forgotten. Oh yes, now I remember. Somebody in the Congress had a top secret conversation with Mayawati.

Wish the channel had given a detailed account of what each party said in the conversation, because in the absence of that, my fevered imagination has taken over once again. Congress emissary in an urgent whisper: “When in heaven’s name will you stop building statues of yourself and Kanshi Ram in Uttar Pradesh? At the rate you’re going, all the stone quarries in the entire country will have no stones left to quarry!” Mayawati’s response (not an urgent whisper, but a loud shout that could be heard all the way to the Antarctica: “Put him in jail! And build a few thousand more statues while you’re at it!”)

But after watching all the non-stop debates on all the news channels (one evening, Times Now had about 20 people in the studio, all of them speaking at the same time), I figured out that there were three statements that everyone, regardless of their political affiliations, made; or rather chanted, like a mantra. The first: “Let’s wait till the 16th.” The second: “All options are open.” And the third: “We’re going to do very well. You will be surprised, no, shocked, when you see the results.” Kapil Sibal added a fifth and sixth and seventh and… when he read out (from his mobile phone) a naughty poem about the elections which was full of words like ‘coquettes’ and ‘infidelity.’

Arnab Goswami was so overcome with emotion he half-rose from his chair, exclaiming, “I feel like hugging you!” I was relieved to see that he did nothing of the sort; the prospect of seeing Arnab embracing Kapil Sibal on national television is completely alarming.

And finally. I hope you’re having fun watching news on TV. And I’m so thankful that there will be some real news for channels to report. But Breaking News about conversations and meetings will continue. I’m going to read a book about Zen and the Art of TV Watching to help me get through the next few days.