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Farewell parties on TV news channels

Cries of sham, drama, the Khan Market gang — channels had it all in their coverage of rahul’s departure

WHEN Rahul Gandhi formally resigned, it sent our TV news studio warriors into a tizzy. While most Congressmen gave heavy, sad quotes as if someone had died and Bharatiya Janata Party folks were outraged about his letter, our anchors had a bizarre reaction: They went into denial.

“If not Rahul, then who?” they asked. “Why this resignation drama when we all know the Congress cannot survive without the Gandhis!” That is basically the gist of the “debate” shows that beamed out on TV news channels last night. I watched a bunch of them and, boy, people seem to have lost it a wee bit.

Before we get down to news channels, first let’s talk about the sad Congress-men and a few indifferent BJP-men.

The politicians

Salman Khurshid seemed like the saddest person in the universe and tried to make hopeful noises about the continued relevance of the Gandhis. He said, “Rahul Gandhi left the office of party president but he doesn’t cease to be our leader. Sonia Gandhi isn’t president any more but she remains our leader.” That, according to him seems to be the natural order of things.

Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar declared, “Without the Gandhi family, Congress will break. I am of the firm opinion that the Gandhi family unites Congress. And Congress unites India.” How very magnanimous of him.

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh chipped in too. “One electoral defeat cannot define Rahul Gandhi’s leadership abilities. It was not fair for Rahul to hold himself accountable for a collective defeat,” he said.

On the BJP end of things, they took this opportunity to point out how different the two parties were. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said this was a “brand new drama of the grand old party.” Gorakhpur MP Ravi Kishan said, “It is a wise decision and maybe he wants to introspect the reasons behind the defeat of the Congress party.”

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar proudly declared that the BJP is ready for elections. “In BJP, the election and membership timetable is ready. Work has also started. We also have a working president. If nothing is happening in the other party, what can I do?” he wondered.

Times Now

While Times Now outright declared the resignation to be a “sham”, it also pondered whether it truly was a “sham”. You heard that right. Their ticker alternated between between “Rahul Sham Resignation?” and “#Rahul-ShamResignation”.

Our friendly neighbourhood media watchdog Rahul Shivshankar at one point made a sweeping observation in one sentence full of verbal punctuation marks. “Think openly, if you were the boss of a company, you took responsibility of failure, then you resign, would you empower a group, a group that does jee huzoori to you, to choose who succeeds you?” he said. “I am only calling it an abdication, not resignation. Rahul remains patron-in-chief of the Congress. Rahul is the Supreme Leader, viewers, his party functionaries have referred to him as such.”

Rahul Shivshankar and friends also had a big problem with one particular section of Gandhi’s letter. The letter says:

Immediately after resigning, I suggested to my colleagues in the Congress Working Committee CWC) that the way forward would be to entrust a group of people with the task of beginning the search for a new president. I have empowered them to do so and committed my full support to this process and a smooth transition.

Times Now highlighted parts of this particular paragraph and blew them up with particularly cool graphics. Of course. They kept harping on the “I have empowered them to do so” part of the letter and declared the resignation a sham.

A very serious Shivshankar asked, “Has Rahul Gandhi declared himself as supreme commander so that he can run the government by remote control?” Wait. Run the government? What parallel universes are being brought into debates these days? Last time I checked, Narendra Modi was our PM, karta-dharta and incarnation of Vishnu himself. Get with the times, Rahul Shivshankar! Now!

At one point in the debate, Shivshankarlooked into the camera dead seriously and said, “Motilal Vora is as old as the hills.” The panel burst into laughter but RSS was having none of it. “No I’m serious. Just look at him,” he said while an image of a frail 90-year-old Vohra flashed on the screen and the panel kept guffawing. “He’s so experienced. He’s seen so much in life.”

He would do well as a deadpan stand-up comedian. I really hope he gives it a go someday, I’ll pay to watch that.

Republic TV

Republic TV had the simplest hashtag in the history of news hashtags a hashtag we could all be proud of: #RahulOut. So elegant, I tell you.

The moment the news of Gandhi’s resignation came in, the Republic team must’ve assembled like the Avengers and drafted a plan for the Congress-of-the-Future. Arnab must have asked those gathered, rather loudly, “If not Rahul then who?! Tell me! Who? What will happen now? We must tell the Congress what to do next! Make me some graphics telling them about ‘Plan B’.”

You might think this is my overactive imagination talking, but I can’t possibly beat Republic TV in the imagination department.

According to Republic, here is what the Congress’s Plan B is:

Step 1: Appoint a stop-gap interim president for one year

Step 2: Appoint a Gandhi-Vadra family member after that

Step 3: Priyanka Gandhi becomes Prime Minister

Step 4: …

Step 5: PROFIT!!!

Republic sources stated this is “all drama” in the garb of a resignation. Arnab pointed at the running graphic of Motilal Vora and asked, “This man is 90 years old. Is this idea of Congress for new India? Their ‘young’ India?” The panel started laughing, of course.

One brave panelist brought the discussion back to Rahul and pointed out that he has resigned, “Why are we talking so much about him? He’s made his decision.” Arnab would have none of it because, obviously, this is all drama—according to sources. He wondered, “Has he resigned? You know how things work in Congress. He’s blamed the people in his resignation letter.” His voice dripping with sarcasm, he said, “It’s a ballad of self-praise. In the letter Rahul said: ‘You people are so bad. I’m so good. I am the hero, Modi is the villain.’ You know what he is? He’s just a pathetic self-serving delusionist.”

Mic drop moment right there.

Arnab’s goal throughout the “debate” was to get his guests to say how shameful the letter was. I mean, how dare Rahul Gandhi suggest that the institutions in this country don’t work? How dare he accuse Narendra Modi of stealing the mandate? Who does he think he is? Loser.

He was also quite worried about the Khan Market gang. “Khan
Market gang were the investors in a ponzi scheme called Gandhi-Vadra family,” he observed. “Now what will happen to the Khan Market Gang?” Yes Arnab, what will happen to the people who shop at FabIndia and chill at Big Chill. Poor elite rich people. Sad.

The funniest bit in the whole thing was when the panelists and Arnab went into existential crisis mode. “What will happen to television anchors who have lost their favourite whipping boy?” asked a panelist. Arnab asked what whipping boy, it’s the BJP which should be worried. BJP panelist Gaurav Bhatia helpfully jumped in, “Rahul Gandhi has been a great help for BJP as well. I’m pained. He had campaigned for us.” Then Bhatia randomly burst into a song, “Kaate nahi kat-te ye din ye raat, kehni hai tumse ye dil ki baat, lo aaj main kehta hun … I hate you. I hate you.”

NDTV

Nidhi Razdan of NDTV had a chat with senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi who was like, “We have to regroup. It’s sad but we now have to rebuild.”

“Why is it sad?” asked Nidhi. “Is it time to think beyond the Gandhi family?”

A very morose-looking Singhvi responded, “I am yet to see a more reformist zeal in a leader than in Rahul Gandhi. He worked the hardest of all of us. He is right to have demanded a complete restructuring of the Congress. No right-minded Congressman would oppose that. He’s making an example, his letter has a lot of prose and poetry.”

Prose and poetry? Okay then. Tell that to Anand Ranganathan who, on Times Now and Republic both, started by declaring, “This letter has been written by an anarchist!” Ah, but they can’t. This is NDTV where drama is kept to a minimum.

Nidhi poked Singhvi a bit more and asked, “Is there a section within the Congress which felt that the campaign was focusing on the wrong things?” To which he responded, “No. Some people differed but 99 to 98 per cent of us followed the party line.”

Don’t know about you, but I spotted an utterly depressed Singhvi. His face here seems to be telling the world about the hopelessness of it all.

Zee News

The clear winner in the insanity competition was Zee News. The tickers screamed, “Will Rahul run the Congress with a remote?”, “Historic loss but still attacking the mandate?” and “Rahul’s shortcomings: He gives up too easily”.

Factual deep-diver Sudhir Chaudhary asked some really, really delicate questions: “Can Rahul not digest Modi’s win? Are they insulting the majority decision by doing this resignation drama?” He was, of course, pointing to sections of the letter where Rahul went all emo about standing alone against the world, standing tall to protect the idea of India and all that.

“Every Congress leader wants Rahul to resign,” declared Sudhir, pulling this poignant analysis out of his … hat. “But the leaders also say they don’t want Rahul to resign. Nobody from the Opposition or Congress is able to understand what reaction to give to Rahul’s resignation.”

Sudhir was also terribly worried about the BJP. “The BJP will be hurt because of his resignation. After RG’s resignation, BJP’s leaders are also worrying about the Congress.”

Sudhir had the most interesting theories on the future leader of the Congress. “Sushil Shinde and Gehlot’s names are being considered by CWC. Remote control will stay with Gandhis. 10 Janpath will become like a mandir,” he analysed, clearly unable to give up the opportunity to bring a mandir into the conversation.

“Whoever becomes leader will have to go ‘maatha tek’ on 10 Janpath. Rahul Gandhi will not have to work hard now. He can sit in Delhi, he can go on a vacation outside India, he won’t have to take tension and roam around in the heat,” said a very concerned Sudhir. “If Congress wins, Gandhi family will get credit. If they lose, the new leader will take the brickbats.”

Then he went on to bash “designer” Congress-supporting journalists, made fun of the dude who tried to hang himself in front of Rahul Gandhi’s house, and showed a sad, sad Salman Khurshid with a ticker that read: “Afzal lovers and Tukde Tukde gang are sad today!”

A truly great analysis there, Sudhirji.

In all of this, the one thing that stood out stark naked in the Delhi heat was the absence of Congress representatives on any of these debates. There were “sympathisers” but no real responses from Congress other than depressing quotes from depressed leaders. The coverage of Rahul’s resignation can perhaps be described with just one picture which Republic was kind enough to engineer.

“Just Drama” or “Not Drama”, that is the question.

www.newslaundry.com