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Delhi Diary

We had loo-breaks, kabab-breaks, leg-stretch breaks, otherwise in four- and five-hour sessions we blabbered non-stop

Delhi Diary

An End Worn and Shiny

Is there a bums-on-seats prize? Starting Saturday right through till Tuesday, I sat in one studio close to 30 hours. With Arnab Goswami as the ringmaster at the Noida Times Now headquarters, a group of us self-styled pundits began a marathon poll analysis on the five state elections, especially UP. The extraordinary thing is that we had nothing concrete to debate, except on the morning of March 6 when the actual results came in. We had loo-breaks, kabab-breaks, leg-stretch breaks, otherwise in four- and five-hour sessions we blabbered non-stop. Scenarios (some quite bizarre) were conjured up breathlessly. Mayawati’s record was dissected threadbare. Rahul Gandhi’s performance and ‘what if’ speculations came under vigorous scrutiny. Akhilesh Yadav’s cycle wanderings provoked Freudian interpretation. Hot air, more hot air and even more hot air was generously tossed around, till the TV studio felt almost like a sauna.

What did we have to go on? Exit polls (always a dodgy exercise) constituted our sole ammunition. If a politician from a political party which had not done well according to the exit polls appeared on the screen, he or she in response to our most astute and forensic probing—based on the aforementioned exit polls—would simply say, “I can’t answer because I don’t agree with your exit polls.” A howl would go up from us ‘experts’. “But supposing they are true,” we would hit back. Still, the losing politician would insist on not giving any answers. “We will win 200 seats,” maintained Digvijay Singh on Sunday evening. And so the charade went on.

I hope Arnab sends me a fat cheque for all the quality wind I contributed to the panel discussions. And, of course, to compensate me for the many pairs of trousers whose bottoms got worn out on the Times Now studio chairs.

Party Poopers

When the results did come in, there was immediate doom and gloom in the Congress. Except for Manipur, the party got thrashed. Even in Uttarakhand, where anti-incumbency should have been rampant, it failed to get a majority. Mighty challenges for the longevity of the UPA loom dangerously on the horizon. Will Dr Manmohan Singh’s government last another two years? If it does, you can be sure it will be a day-to-day existence. Thus, one can say good-bye to any reform agenda. Mayawati may offer support, but Mulayam and Mamata together will make life hazardous on a daily basis for UPA-II. Rahul Gandhi’s immediate, not long-term, future is in jeopardy. A reasonably good showing (60 seats?) in UP would have given him the necessary momentum to move into 7 Race Course Road. Now, his ability to galvanise Gen-next, his status as a youth icon, is in doubt. Not only did Rahul prove ineffective in the state, he, Sonia and Priyanka lost most of the pocketborough in the Rae Bareli belt. So, in a sense there is a cloud over the pulling power of the entire Gandhi family. While a revolt against the dynasty can be ruled out, the image of Rahul has taken a big beating. The self-effacing, soft-spoken Akhilesh has come up trumps. Consider his achievement. Just five years ago, the Samajawadi Party was ignominiously booted out. Its record was terrible. How did Akhilesh in five years manage the incredible revival of the SP? He did this, astonishingly, by taking on established and powerful leaders in his father’s party. I think we in the media have consistently underestimated this young man.

Never On A Sunday

Will the Murdoch empire crumble? Or at the very least will Rupert Murdoch be forced to relinquish control over it? The resignation from News Corporation of Rupert’s son James came in the week when the controversial media baron had launched his new Sunday paper, Sun on Sunday, which sold 3.2 million copies of its launch edition. Conspicuous by its absence in the launch number was the famous Page 3 nude. Neither was there much gratuitous sex. All in all, it was quite a sober publication from a publishing house not known for sobriety. Despite the success of Sun on Sunday, shareholders of the company, which makes most of its money from television (Fox) and movies, want Rupert to pay less attention to the newspaper business, which besides getting the firm a bad name, is not very profitable.

Dr Dryasdust

Tunku Varadarajan, elder brother of our own Siddharth Varadarajan, presents this snippet in Newsweek under the heading ‘Most Boring Tweet in History?’ from the new Twitter account of Dr Manmohan Singh: “Proposals by National Commission for Macroeconomics & Health by the High Level Expert Group set up by Planning Commission to roll out soon.” Is this the best the PMO’s Twitter geek, Pankaj Pachauri, can come up with?

Last Week, I Met...

The jovial Lord Meghnad Desai who told me he is writing a shockingly original 70,000-word commentary on the Gita in which another Lord (Krishna) is the villain.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief

E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com

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