TV transforms Assam's election experience

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Media Practice | 18/03/2011
Today, television has brought elections closer home. And common people are giving vent to their pent-up feelings and frustrations on the various shows on television.
Candidates are no longer mere smiling photographs on banners and posters. They are live characters on TV, says TERESA REHMAN

A news capsule on the satellite channel DY365 goes like this. They show a woman in her domestic setting. There is music in the backdrop. The anchor asks, “Do you know this lady? She was an ordinary lady looking after her house. She even objected to her husband leaving his job as a civil servant and joining politics. But today, she is herself in the electoral fray.” More music.

Then the anchor answers, “She is none other than Monika Bora, tainted Congress leader Ripun Bora’s wife.” Then they go into the history of Ripun Bora, the civil servant turned politician who was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for trying to bribe an official in connection with a murder case of Daniel Topno, a tea tribe leader. He was suspended from the party but the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) revoked his suspension just one and a half month before the polls.

The anchor then questions, “Will this lady vacate her seat in case her husband would want to contest? Would she have been happier if her husband got the ticket instead of her? The camera pans on the woman who seems perturbed by the questions. She murmurs, “Well, of course. I would be happier if my husband got a clean chit and got a ticket himself.” The anchor then states, “Well, this homemaker has been going to her in-laws house for a long time. But this time, she will go as a candidate to her constituency.”

This is just one instance of tangy television reporting as the state goes to the polls next month. With the Election Commission announcing a two-phase Assembly election for Assam, on April 4 and April 11 respectively, mundane election reporting has become a dramatic and sprightly affair with frenzied political activities taking place in full media glare. The satellite channels aired from Guwahati are in a tizzy,  trying to get those little nuggets of information that would keep the readers glued to their television sets.

The channels have come up with interesting taglines -- “Not inside a studio but we are there in every constituency”, “From the voter’s home to a candidate’s mind”. From multihued profiles of candidates and their constituencies to heated debates on who would form the next government, to disgruntled candidates airing their grievances and even sting operations on the misdeeds of politicians – it’s a stimulating medley that is being televised. Political analysts and veteran journalists engage in heated poll-related debates.

The nascent television boom in the state has made elections an exhilarating experience. There was a time when denizens of remote villages sent one or two representatives to the district headquarter to find out who had been given a ticket to contest elections in their constituency. They used to eagerly wait in the village square to get the news and then have raucous discussions. But today, television is giving them a minute by minute account of the entire process – right from the screening process to the final ticket allotment.

Today, television has brought elections closer home. And common people are giving vent to their pent-up feelings and frustrations on the various shows on television. These voices of the masses had always been eclipsed in the whole election hungama. One such angry villager rues in front of the television screen, “Since independence, we did not get a single MLA who loved his constituency. But we have had enough of this. Now, we have seen on television how money for the different development schemes have been usurped by the politicians. We want a change now.”

The candidates too have been able to cut across geographical barriers with the people in their constituency. They are no longer mere ‘smiling photographs’ on banners and posters. They are live characters on TV, actively voicing their opinions and engaging in mud-slinging their opponents on the small screen.

Another phenomenon which has gained popularity is ‘Tandav Pratibadh’ or violent live protests. these are the most striking scenes on television today. Live telecast of ransacking of party offices and ripping apart party banners in various parts of Assam by peeved party workers seems to have a ripple effect and being replicated in various parts of the state. Of course, the television camera has a ubiquitous presence whenever there are such protests.

It was interesting to note how these channels covered how Trinamool Congress roped in disgruntled ticket seekers from major political parties like the Congress and the AGP. They showed how just few days ago, the party office was vacated by the landlord due to non-payment of rent. But now this party was the refuge of veteran big-time politicians who were denied tickets by their respective parties.

Moreover, one person who manages raise the TRP of the channels is farmer rights activist Akhil Gogoi of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, who has launched a crusade against the incumbent Congress government. He has been holding regular press meets against the Tarun Gogoi government. In his latest press meet, he appealed to the voters out the corrupt Congress government. He made 50 ‘maha’ or major allegations of corruption against the government, the inputs for which they have acquired by using the Right to Information Act.

All the news channel seems to have its own agenda. With the channel Newslive adopting a distinct pro-Congress stand, the channel DY365 is playing the role of a constructive opposition. NETV, on the other hand is taking a moderate stand. And now even petty workers of political parties know which channel to contact when they have to air their news. And till the elections get over, viewers in remote parts of the state will wait with baited breath for any kind of ‘breaking news’.



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