NDTV Raids: 2 Possibly Baseless Stories and Some Hard Truths
NEW DELHI: Two stories quickly followed the June 5 Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids on the offices and residences of NDTV promoters Radhika and Prannoy Roy. The first traced the timing of the raids to a popular NDTV anchor’s decision to interrupt a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson’s mid-show rant a few days earlier. The second suggested that yoga guru-turned-businessman Baba Ramdev, a figure perceived close to the ruling dispensation, had plans to acquire NDTV, widely considered the lone balanced voice left in the Indian TV news space.
The stories could be baseless - the first may just be a coincidence and the second has been rubbished by both NDTV and Patanjali, Ramdev’s flagship - but the fact that they emerged, gained traction, and seem utterly believable is notable in itself. And say much about how far we have come since the Modi Sarkar was sworn in three years ago.
Interestingly, it wasn’t only BJP detractors who found substance in the stories. Even BJP supporters did. To the former, they served as yet another illustration of how far the current establishment could go against those seen ranged against it; to the latter, they were a reminder of the establishment’s commitment to correcting those in denial of the unfolding, glorious India narrative. Essentially, in today’s India, there can be differences on whether use of muscle of against dissent is warranted but none around whether it should be expected.
What is it in these times that makes it difficult to dismiss the thought that a TV channel can be targeted for a perceived on-air slight to a ruling party spokesperson? The Sangh Parivar’s amorphous structure may give the BJP technical deniability against the antics of gau rakshaks and other foot soldiers but its thin skin and bristling body language have hardly been invisible when it comes to engaging with views and lifestyles different from those it espouses. The list of those who have felt – and are feeling - the pinch is long: artists, butchers, cattle traders, dalits, film makers, lovers, media persons, publishers, researchers, religious minorities, students, teachers, writers. Topping the intolerance is arrogance which sees electoral affirmation not as a renewable license for good governance but a carte blanche for an insidious agenda.
What is it in these times that makes it so difficult to dismiss the thought that an establishment notable can bid for the last TV channel standing? It is no secret that after acquiring a giant footprint in the social media and backing a clutch of Hindutva leaning online news platforms, the Right has steadily and systematically sought to colonize the TV news media (with success too, as the theme and tone of prime time shows in channel after channel on any given day will attest). An emasculated NDTV fits right into plan.
Even a NDTV buyout isn’t an altogether absurd notion. Patanjali’s quick and huge success in the MNC-dominated market space, the number of players seeking market share in the name of Indian-ness, and the backing down of Snapdeal and MakeMyTrip founder Keyur Joshi in the face of boycott threats, have helped the Right realize its economic heft and the possibilities it presents for silencing critical opinion and imposing its own.
The Right’s display of muscle on the streets and in the market place is not a mindless, exhibitionist exercise but an open performance designed to inspire its ilk and intimidate others. Result? The Hindutva fantasies of yesterday – swift, exemplary punishment for beef eaters, an end to Muslim appeasement, respect for its chosen symbols of nationalism, etc.,. – are on their way to becoming the realities of today. The stories that emerged after the NDTV raids could well turn out untrue but their believability alerts to imminent dangers and emboldened fantasies.
The next TV anchor who resists the temptation to skewer a BJP spokesperson mindful of the fragile peace that allows her employer to operate will cede a lot more than an opportunity to question. The next BJP spokesperson who is treated with kid gloves will gain more than airtime. True to the Right’s preferred pattern, the ground would have been prepared by proxy arm twisters and spinmeisters elsewhere but the settlement will happen in the open, during primetime conversations in this instance.