Live telecast of Modi road shows prohibited! Course correction by Zee News?

Hindi media insider portal Bhadas4Media reported the ban on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah road shows, clarified it does not extend to UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath

It is hard to fathom how Zee News and its ilk will deal with BJP rallies that feature local leaders like UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath alongside Narendra Modi or Amit Shah (photo courtesy @chatriya97/X)
It is hard to fathom how Zee News and its ilk will deal with BJP rallies that feature local leaders like UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath alongside Narendra Modi or Amit Shah (photo courtesy @chatriya97/X)

AJ Prabal

Reports that the Zee News Network has prohibited live telecast of road shows by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has triggered wild speculation on Monday, 6 May.

The portal Bhadas4media—which tracks the movement of journalists, hiring and firing within the media and other industry gossip—has claimed that the all-powerful CEO of the network, allegedly close to the ruling party and the Modi government, has been shown the door, along with several prominent anchors. The website named Deepak Chaurasia, a prominent Hindi language anchor, among them.

Live coverage of road shows and election rallies by the Prime Minister, the union home minister and other prominent BJP leaders—'balanced' by the exclusion of leaders from the opposition parties, both national and local—has been a common feature of the largely pro-government TV channels in recent years. It gave the BJP an unfair advantage over the opposition and made a mockery of the 'level playing field'.

However, the Election Commission of India has ignored such anomalies. People have been led to believe that the live telecasts are paid for by the ruling party.

The Bhadas4media report is therefore being seen as a tectonic shift, even more so because the Zee network—with a viewership in 55 countries, with programmes and channels in 10 different languages—has in the past led the pack of TV channels promoting the ruling party and the government’s propaganda.

Speculation was also fuelled by several social media posts by Subhash Chandra, the owner and promoter of the Zee network.

In one of them, Chandra mentions that he had just watched the play ‘Mere Ram’ and approvingly quotes a dialogue delivered by a dying Ravana acknowledging that while he, the demon king, had the arrogance of knowledge, Lord Ram had knowledge of arrogance (Mujhe gjnan ka ahankar thha par Ram ko ahankar ka gjnan thha).

Did he have anyone in power in mind?

Chandra had earlier on Saturday, 4 May, lamented India’s low (159th place among 180 countries) ranking in the Press Freedom Index in a video message, a rare critical reference to the muzzling of the media by the Modi government.

It predictably sparked off intense speculation. Had he fallen out of favour? Was the channel being pressurised by the government for some reason, or had the channel sensed a change in the public mood in favour of the opposition?

While some veteran journalists have been quick to interpret it as an indication that the electoral winds are shifting to a new corner and others pointed out that newspapers have also started giving front-page space to the opposition, it would be entirely premature to jump to any conclusions, of course.

Commentators, however, have pointed to the Zee’s Bengali news channel being among the very few to show the sting video where a local BJP functionary was heard boasting of how they staged the fake rape narrative on the island of Sandeshkhali, a major election plank for the saffron party in West Bengal.

First Bihar, now Maharashtra

'Where will your vote trigger celebrations? In India or in Pakistan?'

The BJP advertisement in Marathi, presumably cleared by the Election Commission and obviously approved by the BJP leadership, raised eyebrows but did not cause any surprise.

Union home minister Amit Shah had said as much during the Bihar assembly election in 2015, declaring that there would be 'Diwali' in Pakistan if the opposition won the elections.

The Mahagathbandhan in Bihar did win the election despite the dire warning. It remains to be seen if the following advertisement does the trick in Maharashtra this time.

The Prime Minister himself, addressing election rallies in Gujarat last week (as recently as 4 May), claimed that Pakistan wanted to see Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister.

While some people frowned on Modi’s use of the familiar, tired trope, they also felt that it indicated the prime minister's and the BJP’s desperation.

The Election Commission as usual maintained a studied silence over this other advertisement, a first even for the BJP. However, cartoonists are having a field day, with Manjul first off the block:

Some people pointed out that in a book jointly written by the former spy chiefs of India and Pakistan, it was recorded that Pakistan favoured Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.

Social media user Rajendra Kumbhat from Gujarat quipped, 'Something tells me that, very soon the newspaper will receive notice from the Election Commission to explain why Narendra Modi’s picture is not there in this advertisement? This indeed is a grave violation of the Model Code of Conduct!'

No show in Manipur

Speaking of rallies and road shows, the Prime Minister’s failure to visit the troubled state of Manipur even once during the last one year has become an election issue in other states as well.

Ever since the general election for the Lok Sabha was announced on 15 March 2024, the Prime Minister has visited Maharashtra 12 times, recorded Girish Kuber in the Indian Express.

Rajya Sabha member Jawhar Sircar claimed in a post that during the past one year Modi had visited Gujarat also 12 times and went on 14 visits abroad.

He also made, during this period, as many as 162 visits to various other states, according to Sircar’s calculation, but he did not find time to visit the troubled state of Manipur even once.

This failure has been connected to the Prime Minister's commitment to nari shakti and matru shakti by many a commentator. Others have compared his concern over Manipur to his anxiety over the Congress’ purported plans to snatch Hindu women’s mangalsutras.

Modi's stony silence on the Prajwal Revanna sex tapes—about which he clearly knew beforehand, even as went ahead to endorse Revanna as the JD(S) candidate from Hassan in Karnataka, going as far as to say that each vote to Revanna would strengthen Modi himself—is turning out to be embarrassing for the BJP too.

Will the women be picking up broomsticks to sweep out the BJP in more than one state, now? It's a valid hypothesis.

And finally... where are our Smart Cities?

A vocal critic of the BJP, Kannada actor, activist and film personality Prakash Raj stumped an interviewer recently in discussing another of the PM's promises, another 'Modi ka guarantee'.

Asked why he criticised the BJP so much, he replied: “Well, they had promised 100 smart cities when they came to power in 2014. Now that 10 years have gone by, please show me 10 smart cities… or at least show me one.”

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