Monday, Nov 28, 2022

Telescope: When Rahul did a Modi

The role reversal relegated the rains in Tamil Nadu, which deserved more coverage

Indian Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi, left, with his party colleagues leaves after attending parliamentary party meeting, at the parliament house, in New Delhi, India, Friday, 27 Nov. 2015. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup) Indian Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi, left, with his party colleagues leaves after attending parliamentary party meeting, at the parliament house, in New Delhi, India. (Source: AP)

Torrential rainfall in Tamil Nadu, international climate change conference in Paris, debates on the Indian Constitution and the climate of “intolerance” lower tempers and the temperature in Parliament.

In terms of television, the incessant rains in Tamil Nadu were the most compelling, if saddening, to watch. It combines visuals of flooding with the impact of the floods on life, creating a human interest story that is difficult to ignore: Next time it could happen to you.

Tuesday/ Wednesday mornings — there is far more reporting in the early half of the day — we watched reporters struggle under umbrellas to try to convey the sheer scope of the damage wrought by the downpour; but this is a visual story told best by the cameramen through the eyes of their camera lenses. We saw the water wash away all human endeavour that came in its way. In the evening, news channels like NDTV 24×7 discussed Chennai’s planning and infrastructure.

But, in the words of the poet Robert Burns, in an entirely different and unrelated context, “the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry”.

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Indian TV is accustomed to natural disasters: In the last few years, it has brought you rain and floods in Uttarakhand and Kashmir, and the earthquake in Nepal this April, to say nothing of the tsunami in 2004. And so, the unrelenting rains in Tamil Nadu — mostly Chennai — didn’t present a challenge.

One complaint: The coverage should have been more extensive. The earlier disasters received almost non-stop coverage, so much so that there was criticism that since the earthquake in Nepal was not in India, why was there such fulsome coverage? Tamil Nadu deserved more.

Perhaps it lost out to another television spectacle, one which carried a great deal of human drama of another kind — however pheku it might have been. It’s one that many prefer — after all, how long can you show or watch the rain?


You could watch Parliament because it’s not very often that you see it conduct itself in a manner that does justice to the stature of the building it resides within. The debates on the Constitution since last Thursday, and on intolerance this week, were civil, no walk-outs until the very end on Tuesday when the Congress didn’t like to listen to Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Everyone listened to the prime minister on Friday in the Lok Sabha and Tuesday in the Rajya Sabha. And everyone wants to hear what Rahul Gandhi has to say for himself — quite a bit these days, as it happens. And as it happened, on Tuesday Modi and Rahul chose to speak at the same time — in different Houses. What did we learn?

Well, since we saw him last — in Parliament and on the campaign trail in Bihar — the PM has toned down his rhetoric. And exercised stern control over his index finger — he’s not wagging it as much. He sounded much more statesmanlike on both occasions as a result.


Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, has grown more aggressive and loquacious. Since April — after his long absence, and if you watched India Today last week, you’ll know he was in different parts of Southeast Asia during that time — he’s developed a love of words. Did you hear him last week deliver a speech at Mount Carmel College, Bangalore that, contrary to #RahulStumped (Times Now), was well received by the students and far better argued than anything he has said in a long while?

On Tuesday, #RahulStrikes (Times Now) saw him take aim and fire at everyone from the PM downwards — especially General V.K. Singh. For the moment at least, the roles seem to have been reversed: Modi is mild while Rahul is roaring, or rarin’, to go. Climate change is not easy for TV. It  “has the visuals — melting glaciers, arid forests, polluted cities (that’s easy, just show Delhi) — the kind of thing Discovery Channel does so well. However, for reporters to actually explain emission reductions, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), is no easy task, and best left to the likes of David Attenborough, who was delightful in conversation with Christiane Amanpour (CNN).

CNN-IBN, NewsNation and many other channels tried to demystify the climate change conference in Paris, but they were mighty pleased to be diverted by the “120-second” (or was it 160 seconds?) meeting between PM Modi and Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif.

From early Monday evening well into Tuesday, we watched the two sit knee to knee, and tried to read the body language, hand gestures and their lips. Monday evening, experts read what they could into them: The best was Pakistan’s Tariq Pirzada (ABP). He said it was clear that Modi had come to his senses.

Now where on earth did he read that?

First published on: 03-12-2015 at 12:10:41 am
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