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Sai's Take: Ah, that's what Cong manifesto says!

By Saisuresh Sivaswamy
April 03, 2019 17:38 IST
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'The Congress has finally drawn a line in the sand over its pro-poor credentials.'
'The rich better watch out.'
What Saisuresh Sivaswamy learnt about the election from television and the newspapers.
A must read column, folks!

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the release of the party's election manifesto. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the release of the party's election manifesto. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo

Field report

Nothing shows up the crisis afflicting the news industry, especially the electronic medium, like the Prime Time coverage on TV.

Squeezed out by tightening budgets for coverage, staff layoffs, declining revenues and excessive management control over editorial independence, Prime Time now means a grand studio show, a few talking heads (expanded to double figures in case of Republic TV because, hey, more the merrier), and an anchor with a social media presence.

So it was very refreshing to see CNN-News18's Bhupendra Choubey doing a live show on Tuesday night from the dustbowl (sorry, Rahul Gandhi) of Amethi, speaking to the constituents about the sitting MP's chances at the hustings (not very bright, it seemed), especially in the wake of the Congress's manifesto which the other networks were busy focusing on.

What the responses showed that there was no overwhelming public support for either the incumbent, or the high-decibel challenger.


Chidu the defender

Rajdeep Sardesai on India Today TV had P Chidambaram defending the Congress manifeso's provisions, especially those targeted by the BJP, like scrapping sedition, withdrawing AFSPA etc.

Rajdeep, an old school journalist with a hefty stint in the print medium, perhaps because of this, stands out from his peers. While some may tick him off for his combative (but not abrasive) style, he takes it on the chin and moves on.

Like on Tuesday night when PC kept asking to be allowed to speak. The provision governing sedition, he said, could go as there were already other laws in practice that tackled the issue and there was no need for a special law on the subject.

When Rajdeep quizzed him about the difficulty of identifying 5 crore poor for the NYAY scheme, Chidambaram retorted by saying this government says 10 crore poor will be covered under the Ayushman Bharat scheme you quietly accepted the process of identifying them, but are questioning us on how we will identify the 5 crore poor?

Chidambaram also contrasted the silence over haircuts to debt-ridden companies running into thousands of crores with questions over resource allocation for a pro-poor scheme.

About the fears of extra taxation to raise funds for NYAY or cancelling existing subsidies, PC was clear that the middle class will not be burdened more nor will existing subsidies targeting the poor will be touched.

With this, the Congress has finally drawn a line in the sand over its pro-poor credentials. The rich better watch out, though!


And PC returns to NDTV

So is the Congress manifesto a game-changer? Well, it certainly kept the party's announcements in discussion across all channels, a change from the time it usually gets castigated for being antinational/anti-Hindu/pro-secesssionist.

From Nidhi on the left to Arnab to the far, far fight, the manifesto's provisions were being discussed threadbare, with party spokespersons weighing in.

But Nidhi had stolen a march over other stations by getting Chidambaram to speak on the manifesto earlier in the day, the former finance minister returning to the TV station after what seemed like ages, telling her that the document needs to be seen with an 'economic mind and moral heart'.

Republic TV saw a lively as always debate on the manifesto, with various nameless people being vociferous in their agreement/disagreement. But Sushant Sareen, senior fellow at ORF, stood out, saying the Congress manifesto was drawn up by jholawallahs, a point he subsequently made on Twitter, too.

His stand being just a step from what the government's man for all seasons Arun Jaitley said earlier in the day, about the manifesto having the signs of the Congress's friends in the tukde-tukde gang.


Spokes in the wheel

Faye D'Souza on Mirror Now runs a moderate debate, unlike the Times group's other stable mate with perpetually outraged Prime Time anchors, but the Tuesday night discussion took me to the world of party spokespersons deputed to various studios.

I think overall the Congress has chosen its defenders well, like Pawan Khera, Dr Shama Mohammed, Muhammad Khan and others who come across as reasonable, don't hyperventilate and manage to get their point across without bellowing from the pulpit.

Alas, the same however cannot be said of the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose voices often come across as boorish (I am not taking any names here) and intrusive and who will feel more at home on Arnab's popular channel than elsewhere. In fact, one of them seems to have been perpetually deputed there.

But Tuesday night clearly wasn't Shama Mohammed's best outing. As she spoke of the single rate of GST announced in the manifesto, and petrol, diesel and cigarettes too coming under the ambit of GST, when Faye asked her if it would mean that their prices would crash since there will only be one tax on them, she wasn't able to articulate clearly what the new setup will be.

Maybe she clarified it later, but I had by then moved on to News 24 where the owner Anuradha Prasad, Congress leader Rajiv Shukla's wife and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's younger sister, was interviewing Jayaprada, now of the BJP.


Jaya ho!

Every time I see Jayaprada the politician, I am reminded of K Vishwanath's classic Sagara Sangamam which remains evergreen in my mind even today, 35 years after its release, and marvel at her effortless transformation from the world of celluloid to the heat and dust of politics.

The BJP candidate from Rampur in UP, where her baiter Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party is the main contender, entered Parliament in the same year as Rahul Gandhi, and used to an ardent critic of the party she has now joined.

However, unlike others in the BJP for who criticism of the Gandhi family is second nature, Jayaprada actually steered clear of badmouthing Rahul and Priyanka.

However, when Anuradha Prasad asked if the duo had her best wishes, she glossed over the question, party ideology clearly trumping personal likes, saying that Priyanka's entry into politics had come too late.


Reign of the Modishirts

Sankarshan Thakur, the journalist with the silken phrase and caustic pen, writes in The Telegraph, Kolkata, of the 'reign of an unchallenged overlordship'.

'The underpinnings of Modi's core constituency, or the constituency he has nursed, are deeply cultist and undemocratic -- it wants no questioning or contradiction, it wants no opposition, it seeks to secure a mindless submission,' Sankararshan writes.

'This has meant a pronounced othering that goes far beyond the traditional and usual suspects in the Moditva playbook: India's Muslims. Anybody that will not subscribe and submit to the Modi worldview -- prejudiced, petty, pernicious, exclusivist, loutish and analphabetic as it is -- is liable to be ruthlessly othered as anti-national or worse. It remains a fortune for India that the so othered by the Modishirts are far more in number.'

'But there are critical ways in which the Modishirts are able to seize the advantage. They are vociferous, while the othered are often not even vocal. Their zeal and resources for bigotry and fakery are far greater; opposing narratives have often seemed bewildered and breathless in comparison,' Sankarshan says in a stinging denunciation.


Sai's Take

The orphaned Tamils

Few Tamils alive can remember an election like this, without the two towering personalities who have dominated the last 40 years of electoral politics in the state.

The deaths in quick succession of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and arch-rival M Karunanidhi have left the denizens of the state feeling bereft, and their parties in a worse condition.

Between the ruling AIADMK and the Opposition DMK, the latter may have a slight edge, thanks to M K Stalin who has taken over from his father as the head of the DMK, thus ensuring a semblance of continuity.

'Having lost both J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi in quick succession over the last couple of years, the electoral skies look suddenly blank. "There is a sun and some assorted satellites," quips a longtime watcher of Tamil politics,' reports E P Unny in the Indian Express from the interiors of Tamil Nadu.

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy /