Mumbai Mahabharat dominated TV news, edging out coronavirus surge

File photo of Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray | Twitter
File photo of Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray | Twitter

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Nothing but nothing can beat ‘Mahabharat’ (NDTV India) in Maharashtra.

After the weekend “letter bomb” of former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, ‘exploded’, news channels were so preoccupied by the shell-shocked Maha Vikas Aghadi government that they had little interest in other blow-ups across the country.

But who could have resisted the filmi details that emerged from Mumbai — ABP News compared ‘VazeGate’ to the 2000 Sanjay Dutt starrer Kurukshetra?

Look at their discoveries, courtesy whichever agency or political party is leaking the information to them: encounter specialist cop Sachin Waze, apparently, luxuriated in a five-star hotel, Trident (Republic TV) where he, allegedly, planned the murder of the Scorpio owner Mansukh Hiren (Zee News) and was joined by a ‘mystery woman’ (CNN News 18) who checked into the same hotel on identical dates. Waze’s ‘vasooli’ diary, apparently, reveals a secret coding for the ‘hafta’ he was collecting for Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, as claimed by former Mumbai police commissioner Param Bir Singh in his letter. The diary entries included coded numbers of bar and restaurant owners, sex clubs, hookah parlours, including one code-named ‘Heaven’ (ABP News); at least six cars, at last count, in all probability driven by Vaze, including a sleek Volvo (News 24)…“Sab kuch golmaal hai,” intoned the ABP News anchor, Tuesday.

Zee News went one better and called it “Gangs of Vazipur”. But as so often happens, when it comes to scripting the best conspiracy theories, Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami is second to none. On Monday, he alleged that Vaze, “glorified by Lutyens’ media”, was reporting to a media group.

Any idea what on earth all of this means?

Also read: Masks, Mercedes and Mamata — Three mysteries TV news channels couldn’t solve this week

Cracking the ‘Vasooli Kand’

Equally baffling is the information being obtained by the news channels about the other part of the Vasooli Kaand (Aaj Tak) or ‘Bombs, Cops, Antilia’ as Times Now put it. Since Saturday, when Param Bir Singh’s letter became public, home minister Anil Deshmukh has been the villain of the show. And with each passing day, his villainy appears to be multiplying: on the weekend, we were regaled with allegations about his demand for Rs 100 crore ‘hafta’ from police officers, including Vaze, by the news channels and the BJP.

That set off a series of press conferences: Sharad Pawar vs Devendra Fadnavis saw the NCP leader first observe that there was something fishy about the ‘hafta’ issue and the next day defend his party colleague Deshmukh, while the former Maharashtra CM went for the kill.

This led to the ‘Quarantine Mystery’ (Republic TV).

Pawar’s claims about Deshmukh’s stay at a Nagpur hospital on the dates Vaze allegedly met him at his home were challenged by Fadnavis. On Times Now, academic Ananth Ranganathan delightfully referred to the BJP leader as “Fadnavis Bureau of Investigation” after the latter’s claims to have unearthed police records and a ‘Transfer Racket’ (Times Now) of officers, run by none other than Deshmukh. Murkier and murkier became the plot…

And angrier and angrier became the news channels and their anchors.

“Indefensible”, said CNN News 18’s Zakka Jacob in a disapproving tone; “I don’t understand (the Maharashtra) government not ordering a probe,” said a perplexed Tanvi Shukla on Mirror Now. “I am amazed at how Sharad Pawar has done a U-turn on his views…,” observed India TV’s Rajat Sharma. ‘Aghadi lose moral right to rule?’ asked Times Now.

“How did Gangs of Vazipur invade the police force?’’ asked Aman Sharma on Zee News.

Also read: TV played Bengal blockbuster ‘Parivartan’, starring Modi, Mamata and Mithun

Avoid press, invite criticism

Much of this criticism could have been avoided with a better media communication by the Maharashtra government. It was yet again left to the grand old man in the MVA coalition to bat for his government and party colleague — Deshmukh. No government minister has come forward, so far, instead spokespersons or Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut to firefight.

It would have been far wiser if the home minister himself had appeared on television, at a press conference, like Pawar did, and answered questions. It would have conveyed that he and the government were trying for transparency.

Even more effective would have been for CM Uddhav Thackeray to make a televised statement. Instead, he has chosen silence, never a strong weapon. Last year, on several occasions, the chief minister appeared on television, explaining his government’s actions on coronavirus management, including when migrant labourers had gathered in worrying numbers outside the Bandra railway station in April 2020 which had created a furore in the media.

In his television address, Thackeray had put himself out there and spoken calmly to the public. It helped defuse a ticking bomb. Had he done the same after the Parma Bir Singh ‘letter bomb’, it would have helped him rise above the din and gain sympathy and understanding for his government.

As it is, the Maha mess gets messier each day, the ‘political potboiler’ simmers menacingly for his government and the BJP successfully controls the media narrative.

Also read: Between Rahul Gandhi in Kerala and Modi in AIIMS, TV saw the battle of biceps

Mumbai maximum, India minimum

With such scandalous developments emerging daily from Mumbai, other important news stories were almost forgotten.

Like protesting MLAs being dragged by their hair and feet, assaulted by security personnel in the Bihar Assembly, Tuesday, after a contentious Police Bill was passed by the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government. The only reason it made some white noise is because the footage that captured police brutality on display just couldn’t be ignored.

And what about the coronavirus that has also erupted with devastating results? Well, again, the numbers climbed so steeply and rapidly that they left everyone, including news reporters, gasping — “Don’t show me your face”, pleaded CNN News 18. “Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” demanded an angry Zee News reporter of a cluster of unmasked men in a Mumbai market. “Corono, corono, there’s no such thing here,” replied one, dismissively.

Views are personal. 

Edited by Anurag Chaubey

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