When Doordarshan was reduced to speak only 'his master's (Modi) voice'

The PM's latest discourse 'Vikaswaad vs virodhwaad' is problematic because he is questioning the right to dissent.

 |  6-minute read |   29-05-2016
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The mega event has left me with a micro thought - "mera desh (naheen) badal raha hai (my country is not changing)".

Throughout the six-and-a-half hour show, the audio quality was poor and no one fixed it. In several non-Delhi locations, the lighting was rank bad and anchors were partially silhouetted.

Earpiece wires dangled loosely on the nape of anchors to stage a peepshow. The teleprompter got jammed frequently as Doordarshan machines do and the run down order collapsed towards the end because "he" was coming shortly. Madhavan may be a good actor but TV anchoring was not his forte. Neelum Sharma, the DD anchor had him for an evening snack and returned for dinner.

Also read: I am depressed Modi and Amit Shah are running this country

Doordarshan has not changed. The anchor in Ahmedabad, while completing the segment, announced that after the break, viewers would be taken to Meghalaya. I thought we will see live coverage of an Uttarakhand-style operation. She meant Guwahati! But isn't it in Meghalaya?

Doordarshan's problem is that there have been no structural changes since the time the public broadcaster was the only player in the field. "Ek Nayi Subah" began in blistering afternoon heat and ended an hour before midnight. It was produced by Doordarshan National in partnership with National Films Development Corporation and engaged an event management company to line up ministers and other guests.

Since everything is reduced to an "event" in the Narendra Modi era - and everyone takes cue from the boss - Doordarshan News which is surely more "competent" to mount a pure news programme, was kept out.

Though DD News has greater capacity for producing such programmes - recall day-long programmes mounted on election results days - only their anchors were picked and programming staff kept at bay.

Also read: Two years of Modi government are riddled with contradictions

There is a history of clashes between DD National and DD News on controls and terrain. It is ironical that when "change" was the theme of the programme, the government organisation which produced and telecast it has not changed.

modi-embed-111_053016062712.jpg The programme projected those claims and list of achievements with which the Modi regime will return to the people in 2019. 

In the course of the evening, the show travelled to many states to show that they too have progressed. But these were only BJP-ruled states and in true HMV style, ministers and "experts" began by paying verbal obeisance to the prime minister and ended with a paean to the state chief minister.

Even in Delhi, every minister began and ended their replies with "PM Modiji ke netritwa mein..." Hadn't M Venkaiah Naidu said something about Modi being god's gift to the nation?

Also read: Are Modi and Amit Shah blind to the corruption within BJP?

Because sycophancy is the necessity, there was a need to produce the programme because pedestrian - and pre-decided - questions could be put to ministers who would wax eloquent for a few minutes.

Unlike day-long conventions organised by TV channels or one-on-one interviews which ministers have given to almost every significant news channel and newspaper, the interactions reminded of the pre-glasnost era in the Soviet media. No supplementary questions and definitely no interjecting. And what happened to the audience? They weren't asked to pose questions. So why have them?

DD had awkward ministerial combinations. Barring the anchors, there was nothing common between Maneka Gandhi, Kiren Rijuju, JP Nadda and Harsimrat Kaur, yet they were together. And with them Raveena Tandon! Why? Because every regime has its set of favourite actors? Similarly every ministerial combination was either odd or out of place.

All eyes were on Amitabh Bachchan for the controversy his presence generated. But the Big B on the KBC set, and on a DD platform are entirely different propositions. He is a good entertainer but not a good publicist. "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" is a very good initiative of Modi and an extension of Shala Praveshotsav and Kanya Kelavani programmes he initiated in Gujarat.

But as experience from Gujarat revealed, there are several other components than running schools and mass awareness building campaigns.

It was difficult to understand the logic in deciding the "cultural" breaks in the programme. The iconic "Choti Si Asha" can still be understood but Kalbeliya dancers and Shillong Choir?

However, the icing on the cake was "Hum Honge Kamyab", the Hindi rendering of the everlasting "We Shall Overcome".

I wonder how the apparatchik in Nagpur would have reacted to the anthem of the civil rights movement which began in church pews and protest lines. Clearly, the person who okayed this song did not know its unsuitability for the occasion - you simply don't sing a protest song at a celebratory event.

The American Library of Congress situated in Capitol Hill (the ultimate "destination" for people in this regime) says that the song was "sung on protest marches and in sit-ins, through clouds of tear gas and under rows of police batons, and it brought courage and comfort to bruised, frightened activists as they waited in jail cells, wondering if they would survive the night... the song has circled the globe and has been embraced by civil rights and pro-democracy movements in dozens of nations worldwide."

This is what happens when you do not have a sense of history.

Almost all packages expectedly presented positives in a manner that suggested nothing had been done in India prior to May 26, 2014.

True that Surat was adjudged the cleanest railway station this year but cleanliness and Surat have a long partnership dating to the 1990s when the city was hit by the plague epidemic.

The city and its remarkable municipal commissioner SR Rao cleaned up the city within months and the city was listed as the second cleanest city by 1996. So, can Surat railway station's achievement be listed as a gain of Swachh Bharat?

Politically, the programme was significant as it projected those claims and list of achievements with which the Modi regime would return to the people in 2019.

Girl child education, Swachh Bharat, construction of toilets in schools and homes, Jan Dhan Yojana, Digital India, rural electrification, soil health card, Make in India, Skill India are some of the major issues which will be high on the campaign manifesto as achievements of the Modi sarkar.

Significantly, while Arun Jaitley waxed eloquent on how the good monsoon will act like Aladdin's lamp and banish rural distress, other high profile ministers holding portfolios of national importance, namely Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Manohar Parrikar were missing.

The programme had to end with Modi and if he is there, can we avoid a speech?

His latest discourse is "Vikaswaad versus virodhwaad". It is a nice jumla but politically problematic because Modi is questioning the right to dissent.

On a platform where just a while ago, a young man sang the protest anthem, this indeed is ironical and out of step.

But then this was Modi's bash and he was entitled to say anything he wished to.


Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay @nilanjanudwin

Writer and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984 and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times.

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