« Back to articlePrint this article

Sai's Take: Masood over Maoism

Last updated on: May 03, 2019 09:23 IST

'As casualties go, Maoism has been exacting a heavy price, and with a sickening regularity.'
'Yet, it is the other threat that hog all the limelight, the headlines and the TV studio debates,' says Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

Mangled remains of a police vehicle, carrying 16 security personnel that was blasted by Maoists, in Gadchiroli, May 1, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

IMAGE: Mangled remains of a police vehicle, carrying 16 security personnel that was blasted by Maoists, in Gadchiroli, May 1, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

Prime Time news, or news that airs at 9 pm every night, can actually be reduced to a battle of hashtags.

So between Times Now's #ModiCornersMasood and Republic TV's #ModiCrushesPak, the entire coverage of the Chinese acquiescence to the UN ban on the Jaish e Mohammed terrorist can be told.

So where does it leave those like NDTV 24x7 that try and eschew taking a stand in the highest standards of journalism? In a different boat from the two other TV stations mentioned above.

But what do you when the pool of invitees one can have on a show is not that large? You have two spokespersons of the two major political parties, then a neutral academic, plus a couple of domain experts and the show is set.

So most often, you will find the same faces on different shows when you flip the channels, making you wonder at the scheduling wizardry, and the logistical nightmare, that must go into TV debates.

And Wednesday night was no different, either, with India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin the most sought after studio voice.


So Times Now did one better, cutting immediately over to Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi's first comments on the Masood Azhar ban, something his government had been working on assiduously with China with multiple engagements over time.

Naturally, Modi had the first dibs. 'Der aayi durast aayi,' he told a rally somewhere, better late than never. 'Yeh hai nayi Bharat.'

For a government caught on the wrong foot over many issues bang in the middle of electioneering -- from the single-minded pursuit of Rahul Gandhi on flimsy charges, to violations of the model code of conduct -- the Chinese action has come as a shot in the arm.

National security, which has been highlighted by the government as one of its achievements in the election campaign, is now sure to get a shriller focus in the days to come, but is it a bread-and-butter issue that can swing the vote decisively in the three remaining phases of polling?

After all, the Congress's own record in pursuing international terrorists ensconced in Pakistan had not been all that bad. In the wake of the 26/11 terror strikes, the Manmohan Singh government did get Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist Muhammed Saeed blacklisted promptly, a fact that Gaurav Vallabh kept highlighting on CNN-News18.

And we all know that despite the all-round condemnation of allowing such a terror strike to happen, the government of the day did get the voters's thumbs up in the elections that followed, despite the BJP's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani, in league with his chief campaign manager Narendra Damodardas Modi, harping on national security as the administration's Achilles heel.

India Today TV laid down the guidelines clearly, that there would be no politics over the ban which was in the national interest, and the Congress spokesperson agreed, but couldn't help ask if we are all going to sit there and gloat when there has been a Naxalite attack in Maharashtra claiming 15 security personnel, at which point the BJP's Shazia Ilmi broke the self-imposed bar, asking if this was what the no-politics-over-Masood-Azhar meant.

If anything, the politicisation of the UN ban should get a boost now, as the BJP and Congress assess the likely impact of the move on the elections and fashion a response.

Sai's Take

Wednesday night TV also showed up how the smartphone can show up the smartness or otherwise of arguments.

Journalist Praveen Swami, who has made a career focusing on counter-terrorism, made a valid point on Bhupendra Chaubey's show on CNN-News18, when he pointed out that the ban on Azhar actually made no mention of Kashmir, or Pulwama terror attack, but had more to do with international terror, being affiliates of Al Qaeda, because that was how the UN resolution was worded, when the Congress's Gaurav Vallabh intervened to say the Manmohan Singh government had managed to name the Mumbai terror attacks in the UN resolution banning Saeed.

Now Swami knows his facts, even if you argue over his interpretations. And promptly fished out his phone, and told Vallabh that here's the Google link to the UN resolution on Saeed, there is no mention of Mumbai terror attacks in it.

To which Vallabh feebly responded that he too had the page open on his phone, Swami was right, but tell us, why did it take so long for the Modi government to get Azhar banned when the Singh government could get Saeed banned within weeks of 26/11?

At which point Chaubey intervened to move the discussion back on track.

The interesting part -- if that is the term, actually -- was that during prime time the TV channels were all focused on the Masood Azhar ban, barring Mirror Now where Faye D'Souza was discussing the rights and wrongs of banning the face veil in the wake of the Shiv Sena's demand.

The Naxalite attack in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, in which 16 personnel were killed, was more of a footnote, and compensated with special bulletins at 10 pm.

Which, in a sense, reflects the official thinking on the twin threats facing India.

While Maoism is the clear and present danger, with roots and causes both lying within the country and hence capable of being solved through a combination of tactics, the jihadi danger is one that looms over the country's borders, notably localised to one State.

As casualties go, Maoism has been exacting a heavy price, and with a sickening regularity.

Yet, it is the other threat and its ramifications that hog all the limelight, the headlines and the TV studio debates.

And now, even the election campaign, it seems.