Saturday, 11 August 2012

Ramdev wants 'big decision' from govt

Ramdev wants 'big decision' from govt
Clean Media Correspondent
New Delhi, August 10 (CMC) Yet again, agitation is the flavour in favour. On Friday last week, former Army chief V K Singh broke Anna Hazare’s fast with a flanking attack, armed with coconut water — well, he was beside Hazare on the dais. Then Arvind Kejriwal sounded the tocsin for electoral politics. He sang a song to mark the transition. An endless, keening, off-key song. It came with a statutory warning: Kejriwal had declared that he could not sing but was determined to do so. With so much entertainment free to air, TV anchors didn’t have to do much except to keep the cameras rolling. But what the hell? The agitation was clearly over and this was a long, long, day-long goodbye to all the free programming it had provided for over a year.

In terms of dramatic potential, bringing back a bit of bronze from London is a piffle compared to Ramdev’s project to retrieve solid gold from Zurich. So after a brief dalliance with the Olympics, news television swung eagerly towards him as he launched his token fast at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds on Thursday. But it was like a remake with a new cast, or perhaps with Ramdev playing Hazare. Thursday’s coverage began with the mandatory token genuflections at Rajghat. Ramdev wore a grimace intended to convey solemnity. Regretfully, one recalled Hazare’s lively sprint across the green with overweight policemen thundering in pursuit. That was such fun.

Two channels had rocket-assisted Team Anna’s takeoff and handed it limitless lifelines as its energy flagged — Times Now and CNN-IBN. They had even been short with critics of the movement, who pointed out that the ends did not justify the means. These were the channels to watch as Ramdev launched Ramlila II, hoping to leave behind the ignominy of his first agitation, the Ravanlila from which he had fled in a salwar-kameez.

But less than ten minutes into prime time talktime, I was neglecting Rajdeep Sardesai’s show in favour of Arnab Goswami’s. In a rare reversal of the order of nature, Goswami was on the mat and being held down by Madhu Trehan and Suhel Seth, though Trehan admitted that she felt uneasy about being totally on Seth’s side. Very unnatural, we agree. Should see a doctor immediately. But equally unnatural was the spectacle of Goswami standing up for the right to protest and not be censored. And quite unusually, Ved Pratap Vaidik, Team Baba’s designated defender, did not have to speak unless spoken to. His designated attackers were too busy attacking each other.

Trehan accused Goswami of pumping Ramdev — and Anna Hazare before him — with the oxygen of publicity, and he was guilty as charged. These movements could not have prospered without wall to wall TV coverage. Now that Anna has copped out, news on Ramdev runs 24x7, in video or on the ticker. Though, as Mani Shankar Aiyer pointed out, the numbers he has marshalled represent only a fraction of one parliamentary constituency.

Goswami protested that he cannot censor news. But Trehan’s question really was: should TV publicise movements to the extent that it works as a force-multiplier? The electoral ambitions of these movements is obvious after the Hazare camp’s decision to contest. Now, it is pointless to ask if Ramdev, too, will contest. The larger question is whether he is accumulating vote banks to be harvested by third parties. This has happened before, when the BJP invented the Sangh Parivar and deployed baba power to foreground Ram Janmabhoomi over all competing national issues. It is devious politics and TV news should not patronise it on the pretext of rejecting censorship.

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