History will judge the just-concluded elections as republican India’s first intensively televised elections. Never have close to four hundred news networks (they equal the number of entertainment networks, such is the saleability of “news” in our culture) in a bewildering variety of languages and dialects communicated political messages from an equally bewildering array of politicians and political actors across the country. But, equally, never have so many news networks dished out the same fare: Narendra Modi. The Narendra Modi persona, for good or for bad has been largely a television media construction, amplified by saturation-point coverage of the leader, spread out over more than six months—staggering and almost unprecedented, even by global standards. Only Barack Obama’s campaign, which officially began in April 2011, for a second term in 2012, eclipses it.
But what remains opaque is the cost of this media blitz. What was the trade-off between Modi and television networks? Was it the phantom of television rating points? Or was it a matter of ideology? There are no clear answers to these questions. Several factors appeared to have played a part to varying degrees.
At a seminar in Gujarat last year, Rajat Sharma, the owner-editor of India TV, said, “The TRP of our news channel increases by more than 60 percent when Narendra Modi is there on TV.” Modi’s interview with Sharma’s India TV in April this year “garnered the highest number of eyeballs in the Indian news television genre,” according to the channel’s website, which doesn’t provide a clear frame of reference for the claim. The extent of the channel’s focus on Modi should come as no surprise, then, considering similar TRP-chasing was on show by channels during other high-profile media events, such as the Anna Hazare led anti-graft movement in Delhi in 2011, which was covered to saturation point.