D-day minus one, loads of press interviews lined up, back-to-back. Thankfully, most of the questions are work-related. Why is the bbc sending in a special team to cover the elections? (Because, as the world's biggest democracy votes, our international audience want to follow every twist and turn of the story.) How do I feel about being back in India doing a big story? (Thrilled, hope my Indian background will make a difference when things get complicated.) What do I think will be the result? (Don't want to hazard a guess.) What's the toughest story I've done? (Live coverage of 9/11 attacks; the first couple of hours fell right in the middle of my shift.) The only question that has me stumped is, "What are your strengths?" Funnily, the obvious follow-up question—"What are your weaknesses?"—never comes.
(Nisha Pillai is a newsanchor for the BBC in London.)
At around 11.30 pm, shattered, but still high on adrenaline, I return to the Imperial. When the room service dinner arrives, I can’t switch off. "What do you think of the elections?" I ask Vijay, the waiter. "I don’t know, Ma’am," he replies, anxious to get away; it’s almost midnight after all. "Sonia Gandhi, she’s a foreigner, isn’t she?" I continue. "No, Madam, she is an Indian," he mumbles, trying to edge out of the room. "Well the BJP says she is," I persist. "The BJPis a party of rich people," comes the reply, sharp. And then he wouldn’t stop talking.
Friday morning, another 5 am start. This time all eyes are on the Left Front—will they, won’t they join the government? Sitaram Yechury comes into the studio. No more privatisation of the state jewels, he opines, the stockmarket will have to get used to it. My jaw drops, the markets plummet. Off air I get the distinct impression he really wants to join the government.
Still a huge international appetite for the news from Delhi. My colleagues in the London newsroom keep asking about Sonia, the Italian connection, and the Left spooking the markets. Half-way through the day I find myself repeating Sanjoy’s line from the day before—to a South Indian, Hindi is indeed a foreign language....
By mid-afternoon it is all over bar the shouting. What a triumph for the Election Commission. Forget call centres, election knowhow is what India should be exporting. Hope our American audience takes note. The office is high with the buzz of a good story. And what do you know? The winnings in the BBC’s election sweepstakes are picked up by our receptionist Landrain. She is the only person in an organisation swimming with scribes to have bet on a Congress-led victory. Even my colleague, Sanjeev Srivastava, who had come close to predicting the outcome the previous night, had not put his money on it!
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