(Published in Sify.com on 5 April, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-the-coup-that-never-was-got-so-critical-news-columns-mefj8bcbieb.html?ref=false)
Let me put it this way. On Tuesday morning, I was worried India had run out of news – former Punjab Cabinet minister Bibi Jagir Kaur, who was convicted for the abduction of her daughter, had been provided with a dish antenna and LCD TV in her jail cell, and was likely watching that story on it; the breaking news of the day was that Vijay Mallya had held a meeting with disgruntled Kingfisher staffers the previous night; and that was followed by live images of a PDP MLA tearing up a bill in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. Wow.
And then Wednesday dawned, screaming “The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt”. Twitter went crazy, as did prime time show producers on the news channels. Arnab Goswami, instead of being angry at some aspect of the IPL, had to choose among the following: raging at the government, raging at the Army, raging at Shekhar Gupta.
So, here’s this article which begins by explaining why they were breaking the news 11 weeks after it happened, listing out how exactly everyone has denied every hypothesis it projects, and winding up on an apologetic note: “These are the bare facts of an unusual set of events. It is too early to answer all the ‘hows, whys and the what-nexts’ of this. Or to say whether it was an avoidable case of neurosis the Indian establishment is — mercifully — not familiar with.” It ends by prophesying the effect of a debate that hadn’t started.
First, everyone was bewildered by the article. What was it trying to say? Why was it so angst-laden? And why had it come out three days after April Fool’s Day?
Then, everyone got excited. Finally, India and Pakistan were beginning to find common points that were unrelated to Bollywood and cricket. We’d figured out a while ago that peace time for India-Pakistan relations boils down to their respective army chiefs fighting with their respective governments. And here, finally, was someone speculating that the government was envisioning a scenario where the Indian army might seize power by marching a couple of units towards Delhi. A pulp crime novel, fostered by the “journalism of courage”!
The article lost me at some point. I wasn’t sure whether it was suggesting that the government shouldn’t be complacent about the apolitical nature of the army, or hinting that the government was wary enough to be borderline neurotic, and was therefore worried that General V K Singh would pull a Musharraf or Zia.
But to me, that article signified a welcome relief from the IPL hysteria, however temporary. Surely, eleven weeks of slaving over a piece that would be of great service to journalism and humanity for a few hours deserves to be lauded. It did spark off a debate, which, though far less lofty than that imagined by the article, was perhaps rather more intellectual than what aspect of the IPL 5 was most traumatising – the harem pants of the cheerleaders, the fact that Pyaar ki Pungi seems to be the band’s anthem, or the fact that IPL 5 exists.
Thanks to the piece from The Indian Express, I had an epiphany – I would rather trawl through multiple arguments on Twitter on what the point of the article was, through a volley of lengthy posts on Facebook from fellow-journalists on Shekhar Gupta’s right to his opinion, and through a bouquet of channels cornering retired generals, than an endless stream of IPL gyaan from all three media outlets.
It also leads us to wonder whether sensationalist journalism has made us thirst for something that is so bizarre, so far-fetched, so pointless, as to push us to ask larger questions, and make us search for deeper motivations than to throw up a headline that would send everyone into a tizzy.