The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is doing something unsettling to the media in the capital city. It is making some of us discover just how pro-establishment our own instincts are. The primacy of law and order, the need to maintain the sanctity of Republic Day rituals, the framing of the confrontation adopted by AAP this week as anarchy versus governance—all of this has been unquestioningly subscribed to by both the TV anchor fraternity and the English newspaper edit writers.
And of course, there has been the framing of the outcome. A face-saving formula, channel after channel chortled. Kejriwal agreed to just sending them on leave! But surely so did the Centre feel pushed to offer a compromise solution? The Prime Minister and Delhi’s lieutenant governor conferred to find a way out, we were told. They did not want AAP to rain on this year’s parade.
If we did not have conveniently short memories, we might remember that Anna Hazare’s fast exerted similar pressure in 2011. There was that emergency session of Parliament, there were ups and downs, but today a Lokpal Bill has been passed. Yes, Sheila Dikshit sought more powers over the Delhi police for 15 years and failed. Just like the Lokpal idea was pursued for many years and got nowhere.
The Aam Aadmi Party is not about business as usual, that much should be clear by now. It was founded almost exactly one year and two months ago, but the CNN IBN poll running through all of this week is already projecting for it 4% of the national vote in the coming elections. Clearly some of its methods strike a chord with the larger public, whether the media approves of them or not.
Nor is their conduct going to be the sort of stuff we are used to. But try judging it from the worm’s eye perspective that the media tribe simply does not have. How did you come here, mike-wielding reporters asked people through the days at various points in the city. Weren’t you terribly inconvenienced by the metro closures? The answers, I could not help noticing, were not as angry as the reporters hoped for.
As for media indignation over the midnight raids which led to the sit-in, how many of the journalists going on about vigilante ministers forcing the police to raid without warrants have looked at the minutiae of the laws involved? Sections of the Delhi Police Act, the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act all have provisions to this effect.
In the final analysis, a sense of proportion was missing. As a guest on Ravish Kumar’s show on NDTV India asked, was Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti’s behaviour more anarchical than the pulling down of the Babri Masjid?
To use a word we heard during the Tarun Tejpal episode, it was interesting to study the media’s tonality. It’s not just the English news channels which seemed to prefer what passes for governance to what they see as anarchy. Rajat Sharma’s channel India TV was combative on Tuesday morning. Kejriwal ka jhut ka express patri se uttara (Kejriwal’s lies have been derailed). It sought to expose the lies through bits of footage: He says no food has been allowed in? Here, see he’s eating. He says no loos for his protesters? Here see the loos are open and accessible. He says no water for people to drink? Here, there are water tankers.
IBN 7 (where AAP recruit Ashutosh used to work) polled its viewers: Is it right for them to sit on dharna like this? News 24 took umbrage at Kejriwal’s colloquial form of address for a home minister in his 70s. Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News read out from the Constitution to tell us why Delhi police had to be under the Centre. He also showed footage of all the rowdy things AAP supporters squatting in Lutyens Delhi were doing.
I love the final crop of judgements, indignant and triumphant at the same time: “Lot of anger.. these people are acting like loonies, how can they govern?” “Does Kejriwal have egg all over his face?” Both from Rahul Kanwal on Headlines Today. “Arvind Kejriwal was waging a war against the Republic of India!” From who else but Arnab Goswami on Times Now? Is it a healthy precedent for democracy or a dangerous precedent?” This from Barkha Dutt. What is, Prashant Bhushan wanted to know. Sitting on a dharna?
Not that the newspapers next morning were much different: Beating retreat before R-Day, Kejriwal declares face-saver a ‘great victory’, said The Times of India. It added that a bad press had contributed to the Delhi chief minister calling off his dharna.
In an inside page though, a five column story described how the middle class was still supportive of AAP’s actions. And a much shorter story alongside told of working class folk bringing their petitions to the chief minister as he sat in his Wagon R and cleared papers. Why does this “anarchic” form of governance bother the press more than it does the people?
Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch websitethehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.