Bollywood conducted a surgical strike on Indian TV news channels on Thursday. The result was erasing the Line of Control in TV journalism as anchors with high-decibel support from former army veterans, ushered in a Sunny Deol’s dhai kilo ka haath (two and a half kilo arm) moment.
Congratulations, the equivalent of jhappis (hugs) across TV screen windows, were being exchanged liberally. Pakistani guests (wonder why the ‘ban’ on Pakistani artists does not apply to them also because they also are essentially actors in the Indo-Pak theatre of the absurd every other night) were taunted and ridiculed. I guess the money for the TV appearances must be really good enough to swallow the insults.
The 56-inch chest had been cloned across TV studios as anchors and panelists exulted in the feat of brave Indian soldiers wandering into our part of Kashmir, illegally occupied since 1948, only to find Pakistan army soldiers in bed with terrorists. India avenged Uri where 19 Indian soldiers became martyrs, by killing 40 Pakistanis. ‘Kill one, Lose two’ sounding like a pre-Diwali bumper offer.
Indian media has realised that jingoism dressed up as patriotism is the shortest route to TRPs. Viewers are served an adrenalin-pumping Us versus Them buffet spread on the remote. But the real ‘Us’ is every TV channel, with `Them’ referring to the rivals. In the bargain, just about every channel crossed the LoC of what has traditionally defined good journalism, which says whipping up a war cry is a No-No.
What’s in includes over-the-top war mongering, with TV anchors exulting kid-like after winning a video game, having vanquished enemies, firing on all cylinders. Draped in the tricolour, it is a moment tailor-made for television, with the villain clearly identified. And any sceptic on the Indian side, labelled and targeted as a Trojan horse.
The Pakistan defence minister fell prey to the desire for chest-beating on the other side of the Wagah, threatening to drop nukes on India. But the debate in Indian TV studios on the threat reduced it to a joke, making a mockery of it. The machismo of ‘a rattled Pakistan will not exist in its present form’ has been the underlying emotion in all TV debates, without enlightening the country on the costs of war, what it means for those on the border, what it means for India’s economy and the environment should some madcap in Pakistan press the nuclear button. On show on most channels are cardboard debates, amidst the surround sound of four windows shouting at each other at the same time. Kashmir, which is at the heart of the problem, is rarely ever discussed. On show all the time is a ‘tu jaanta nahin main kaun hoon’ (You don’t know who you’re dealing with) like street fight.
News television revels in reducing news to events. Elections and Budgets have hitherto been the ones to bank on, when the advertisers come calling. But a televised war, with tu-tu main-main (bickering) that would inspire Salim-Javed, is what the numbers game is all about. In this festival season, expect advertisers to put their money where the barrel of the gun is. War on poverty, drought, casteism et al pale in comparison to this noisy rhetoric that revels in a jaw for a tooth.
This is what must be called a dental surgical strike deep inside Pakistan’s cavity to clear the terror plaque.
But in a sense, TV channels had recognised the mood of the country. That citizens were angry at the ‘Hum ninda karte hain’ (We condemn it) template of the Indian government’s response each time Pakistan-trained terrorists hit India. That the anger this time mirrored and matched the post-Nirbhaya outrage.
Naturally, TV channels decided to dish out news in the manner of a soap opera, far more gripping than the stuff Balaji Telefilms put on entertainment channels. TV journalism is no longer about only information. It is info-tainment, the news equivalent of the IPL. Hashtags of the variety of #IndiaStrikesBack, #IndiaGivesItBack, the cheerleaders on the ticker.
Jokes circulating on Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp are often an indicator of the mood in urban India. On Thursday, jokes on Whatsapp recalled actor Rajkumar’s epic lines from Saudagar: Hum tumhe maarenge aur zaroor maarenge, lekin wo bandook bhi hamari hogi, goli bhi hamari hogi aur waqt bhi hamara hoga (We will definitely strike you hard, but the weapon, bullet and time of that strike will be our choice). Others advised Pakistan not to bother sending fidayeens across the LoC to get killed as Indian Army had started doing ‘home delivery’. I thought this was retribution for banning MS Dhoni’s biopic in Pakistan as those across the LoC suffered the brunt of helicopter shots.
The sports arena was not immune to the jingoism either. Indian hockey captain PR Sreejesh vowed to defeat Pakistan when the two teams met at the Asian Champions Trophy. In Dhaka, the under-18 Indian hockey team defeated Pakistan 3-1 prompting even Home minister Rajnath Singh to tweet that the victory was made possible with ‘surgical precision’. And at the Eden Gardens, if India defeats New Zealand, it will end up dethroning Pakistan as the Number one Test team. India may be trying to isolate Pakistan internationally but the mind space of its population seems entirely Pakistan-focused.
The Director General of Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) also came in for shelling. Gen Asim Bajwa’s Facebook page was attacked by the Kerala cyber army as they trolled him with comments written in Malayalam.
As I write this, I hear a media organisation has cancelled the leave of all employees. This message that went out, will give you an idea of what to expect in the days to come.
‘All reporter/assignment offs and leaves cancelled for the next two weeks. All hands on board. 24-7. Our level of alertness must match that of the Indian army. Every story on this big development must break first on our channels. Jai Hind.’
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