One year since 26/11. Most news channels gave us wall-to-wall coverage of what was happening in Mumbai on that day (from a parade of the newly constituted Force One to ceremonies at the places targeted by terrorists) and also telecast special features and documentaries on the attack.
On NDTV 24x7, Home Minister P Chidambaram appeared in a studio and took questions, while on CNN-IBN he was in the Trident in Mumbai, being interviewed by Rajdeep Sardesai.
The Home Minister was calm and seemed in control, certainly an improvement on his predecessor, who may have looked calm but seemed more in control of his wardrobe than of the events unfolding in Mumbai. In the run-up to the actual day, there were 26/11 related programmes on many channels. Times Now organised a studio discussion where the usual suspects showed up.
There was the usual discussion — what has changed, how everyone feels one year on, and whether the anger of Mumbai’s chattering classes in the aftermath of the attack was a good thing or a bad thing.
It all had a more-of-the-same air about it and it was hard to seem interested for very long especially when every channel did the same kind of show, whether it was Rajdeep talking to Mahesh Bhatt and Rahul Bose or it was Barkha Dutt talking to Mahesh Bhatt on We The People. They are on TV so often that the average viewer may be forgiven for thinking that the real heroes of 26/11 were not Hemant Karkare, Sandeep Unnikrishnan and the rest but Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt.
Most of the documentaries and special features on 26/11 gained their power from fresh footage (mainly from CCTV cameras) and phone intercepts (utterly chilling).
But I think all of us are still too close and too scarred by what happened to go beyond emotion and re-tell the stories with relative detachment. That was left to the foreign channels.
On Discovery, three sets of survivors told their stories with such detail that you almost felt that you were there when it all happened. Certainly many of the details (the terrorists who took one couple hostage at the Oberoi did not even know how to operate the taps in the bathroom), had never come out before.
This documentary was made by an Australian crew which had traveled all over the world to track down the survivors and to record their stories. Would any of our channels be willing to spend that kind of money? I doubt it. But some Indian news channels did make the effort and put together special shows — such as the moving documentary on CNN-IBN on those who lost their loved ones in 26/11: Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s father, chef Rego, Shantanu Saikia.
Meanwhile, can I renew an old complaint? Why do our TV channels bother to invite Pakistani guests who they know will tell blatant lies on camera and will refuse to accept any responsibility or culpability for the Pakistani terrorists who cause such mayhem on 26/11?
On Times Now, a young American accented ‘security analyst’ was so arrogant and so offensive that finally Arnab Goswami had to cut him off on the grounds that he would not allow any disrespect to the victims of 26/11 on its first anniversary.
Another so-called defence expert said that it was our fault that we had let Omar Sheikh out of jail in return for the hostages of IC 814. Nobody on the panel made the point that we were blackmailed into doing so. Pakistan, on the other hand, welcomed Shaikh and his fellow terrorists with open arms when they were set free at Kandahar.
Add this to the lessons of 26/11: Pakistan has learnt nothing from that tragedy.