Points of Disorder

The inevitable evisceration of Sansad TV

The Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi speaks during a no-confidence motion, against the Narendra Modi government, on 8 August 2023. Sansad TV
01 December, 2023

At 12.45 pm on 8 August, the Lok Sabha was disrupted yet again. The fact that parliamentary proceedings had been stalled was not unusual—but the reason for the disruption was. Around twenty minutes after the Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi began speaking in defence of a no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government, the ticker at the bottom of the Sansad TV feed, which usually shows what is being discussed, abruptly reset and began listing the achievements of various ministries. In effect, those watching the debate were being offered a real-time rebuttal to Gogoi’s speech on behalf of the government.

Opposition MPs noticed the ticker on the giant screens inside the house and protested once Gogoi ended his speech. However, viewers at home might have been confused about what was going on. As is increasingly common with Sansad TV, the protests were not shown and could barely be heard. (This is only true for disruptions caused by the opposition. When members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party took exception to something Gogoi said, their protestations could be seen and heard loud and clear.) For most of the fifteen minutes that the protests continued, all that was visible on screen was the speaker, Om Birla, chastising the opposition. When the shouting grew too loud, Birla promised to take cognisance of the opposition’s concerns, without saying what the concerns actually were.

The live feed was muted for a while, as Birla conferred with an aide. At 12.53 pm, the ticker stopped and the sloganeering subsided, but both soon started again. “Sansad TV [is] BJP TV, sir!” one MP shouted in the background. Birla assured the opposition that he had passed on instructions. “I don’t have the button for this,” he joked. For variety, the camera cut to the minister of parliamentary affairs, Pralhad Joshi, who falsely claimed that similar tickers were always present during such discussions and accused the opposition of being insecure. “Are they afraid of you?” Birla asked Joshi, and laughed. The feed was again muted until the ticker was finally reset, at 12.58 pm, and normal service resumed.

Although it was a minor footnote in the three-day debate, the episode illustrated how the Modi government has learnt to manage the constant disruption of parliamentary proceedings by the opposition—a tactic first employed by the BJP. It also demonstrated how Sansad TV, born out of the merger of two channels that were the best examples of Indian public broadcasting, has become a propaganda arm of the government. The process is emblematic of how the country’s democratic institutions have proven susceptible to state capture. It is easy to condemn the Modi government for what it has done to the vision of bringing parliament to the people, but it is important to recognise that this decline was only possible because Sansad TV’s precursors, Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV, were built on shaky foundations that were slowly eroded by successive governments before Modi’s acolytes hollowed them out.