“Karnataka ka king kaun?” was the question Aaj Tak posed before its exit poll results on Saturday evening. Midday Wednesday, we were still awaiting the answer to that “Rs 100-crore” question, after the BJP fell short of a simple majority and the JD(S)-Congress staked claim to office.
In what it called the “biggest news break of the day”, News X said the Karnataka governor would call upon the BJP to form the government, even as JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy (“HDK”) went to town and the press with allegations of the BJP trying to “black money” bribe his MLAs.
That got news channels onto their high horse: “Horse trading, bribery, poaching,” proclaimed Mirror Now with hold-your-nose distaste, “power tussle gets dirtier”.
TV news channels raced about in search of “missing” Congress and JD(S) MLAs; they reported on the “allies” resorting to “resort politics” (as most called it), to keep their flock away from “cash and cabinet”, allegedly offered by the preying BJP (Times Now). And everyone was holding a press conference: First BJP’s Yeddyurappa, with Kumaraswamy’s immediate rejoinder; then BJP’s Prakash Javadekar followed by Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad’s reply. Who’s next? Don’t go away.
Ah, but was there a twist in the tale? Republic thought so: It had caught BJP’s Javadekar leaving in a car, the hotel where Kumaraswamy was holed up earlier on Wednesday. Was this “operation double dating” even as the JD(S) floated allegations on “Operation Kamal Take2”?
Who knows and who cares? Everybody. This was/is a “political thriller” (News X, Republic), all the more spellbinding because it was totally unexpected.
On Tuesday morning, the assembly election results pointed to a “saffron storm” (NDTV 24×7) as “Modi leher” (Zee Hindustan) “sweeps” through Karnataka (News X) and sees “Rahul fail” (Aaj Tak). “Lingayat lollipop backfires” for CM Siddaramaiah, concluded NDTV 24×7, a headline which makes nonsense of the English language but complete sense to Indians.
By Tuesday lunchtime, very pleased-looking BJP leaders like Nirmala Sitharaman, Ravi Shankar Prasad gave eager TV news channels as much time as they wanted, to celebrate the party’s victory in the South and, deliver funereal orations on the demise of the Congress as a national party.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the Congress and JD(S), reminding us that there are no permanent foes (or friends) in politics, joined hands, and the narrative shifted. Suddenly, the BJP’s famous victory was all but forgotten in the “grab for power” (Times Now).
Now, India Today’s “war-Nataka” had been well and truly declared, and for over 36 hours we witnessed the “dance of democracy” (Nalin Kohli), “democracy for sale?” (NDTV 24×7) as the two sides traded insults, charges and perhaps even MLAs.
As if that wasn’t exciting enough, TV news broadcast the latest developments in this stoop-to conquer battle — who could fall lower, you just had to know. TV news obliged: It’s been news, news and more news — when, last, did that happen on TV?
How will this minute-by-minute tussle on live TV impact public opinion? Which political persuasion stands to gain from it? For those answers, we may have to wait until the 2019 Lok Sabha election results.
Television news and vote counting day love and depend on each other for their success: One without the other is like the BJP without the Congress (!). And so Tuesday, all news anchors and their experts were in their studios a few hours before counting, to repeat all the wisdom they had already shared with us on Saturday after the exit polls suggested an indecisive verdict.
Once the first leads and postal votes were in after 8 am, Tuesday, it was like socks in a clothes dryer, where no two socks match: Each channel had a different figure for the three main contending parties almost up to noon. So next time, remember to stick to one channel.
By 9.15 am, ABP’s reporters, whose tongues ran away with them like Formula One cars, virtually called the election for the BJP — “only 14 seats away from a majority” — which, of course, never materialised. India TV, like many others, referred to “results” when the figures referred to “leads”. Modi and Shah were complimented; Rahul excoriated — one guest on WION said the Congress had done well in Karnataka, Rahul was the “major liability”.
Exit polls: Perhaps, because they had only an hour to release their findings, also disagreed, with ABP and News X being more right than wrong, and Republic spot on. And, is it mathematically possible to have “a poll of polls”, a practice popularised by NDTV? What of Times Now which conducted not one but two “Double Dhamaka” polls?
Meanwhile, at Governor Vala’s residence…
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