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Chandu Nair
When Hysteria Ruled

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It was like a king returning from vanvas or exile, to a kingdom that renounced him as a prince. At least, that’s what it might have looked like to a new visitor to India uninitiated to the country’s politics, looking at India’s news TV and large sections of the print media. The first two, maybe three days of India PM, Narendra Modi’s visit to the US saw the English TV channels, generally a noisy lot, rack it up a few notches to turn hysterical.

The coverage of Modi’s US trip has been relentless, the tone bordering on hysterically adulatory, and as for the substance, when you like cotton candy, what’s wrong with it?

There has been virtually non-stop coverage by the news channels with hashtags like #ModiinAmerica, #ModiinUS, #NaMosteAmerica and #Namorica, each desperate to also etch their presence on social media. With all the big guns of Indian news TV– NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, Rahul Kanwal from Headlines Today, Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN IBN, Arnab Goswami, Navika Kumar and Maroof Raza from Times Now— stationed in the US, shadowing the PM, other domestic developments were virtually blacked out. Even Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalitha’s conviction in a corruption case was quickly relegated to the status of a footnote.

It was interesting, and occasionally hilarious, to see the star news anchors trying to look like they fit right into the Big Apple on the one side, mostly suited booted and looking suitably serious, while also being truly Indian in these times of inclusive nationalism, for e.g., learning a garba step or two, wearing saffron outfits while covering the Madison Square Garden (MSG) event and minding their kem chos and maja mas.

Luckily, a serious dose of good sense seemed to have got into them post the MSG kitschy extravaganza (not to mention the needless sideshow of an over-the-hill TV broadcaster getting into fisticuffs). So Monday onwards, all the weekend revelry was put to bed, and it was down to more sober, business like coverage.  It was like NYC was for fun and Washington was the more serious stuff. On the print and digital side, a few virtually wrote off the entire trip even before it got going. R Jagannathan of First Post, who had clearly shown his preference for Modi during the elections, declared, “Modi will largely be wasting his time in the US,”  while others cautioned against the obsession with America.

Modi has made a definitive statement with his debut as PM on the American stage. Apart from the ecstatic reception that he got from the overseas Indian community in front of whom a visibly confident Modi put up a stellar show of his oratory skills, he managed to convey an impression to the American audiences too that he was in charge, was confident of himself, and that he meant business.

In a coup of sorts, he and Obama also penned a joint editorial in The Washington Post. The media in the US gradually increased their coverage of the Indian PM’s visit but in a more muted, restrained way. One UK-based publication though could not restrain itself from displaying its inherent bias! A quick comparison leads one to the unhappy conclusion that our media tends to over-emphasise individuals over issues, incidents over implications, and the immediate over the important.

The Indo-US relationship has been tempestuous, marked by large bouts of mutual distrust and suspicion and occasional highs. Will this first visit by the newly installed Indian PM and his confabulations with a President nearing the end of his second term be the harbinger of changed ties? Listening to TV channels and reading  media reports does not give us a definitive answer.

The answer, dear reader, is blowin in the wind.