It’s getting clear that the news media, especially print, is falling out of love with Anna Hazare and his team.
A glance at this morning’s papers in Mumbai tells the story.
The Hindustan Times is the only paper to give the story weight; it’s the lead story on the front page. The Times of India has a front page pointer to a page 13 story with the headline “Tepid start to Team Anna fast against graft,” and a sub-head which says “Students, Delhiites give it a miss.” Mumbai Mirrror makes no reference whatsoever to the fast. Indian Express has a front page pointer to a page 2 story, with the headline “Team Anna begins fast, attacks Pranab.” Asian Age has a front page pointer to a page 5 story, with the headline “Anna Hazare, team begin fast on a disruptive note. The Economic Times has a page 2 story headlined “Anna circus returns.”
Only Hindustan Times sees the issue important enough to give the story front page play and with a headline that says “Team Anna slams Prez Pranab”. The copy, too, sees the fast positively. “Team Anna on Wednesday launched a fresh agitation against top UPA ministers and new President Pranab Mukherjee amid signs on the ground that its anti-corruption movement was spreading beyond the middle class and striking a chord in rural India. At the Capital’s Jantar Mantar, where Anna Hazare’s associates Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Gopal Rai kicked off an indefinite fast in the social activist’s presence, villagers from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan kept pouring in through the day.”
If HT sees the glass as half full, in the context of the growing rural following, the other papers see it as half empty, pointing to an urban and youth disenchantment.
By and large, it seems the story is losing legs – and the major newspapers do not see merit in giving it more than the passing attention it has received during the past few days.
Compare this with last year, when the Anna Hazare story dominated the front pages, sometimes with multiple stories. Journalists were lapping up all that was thrown at them. The main act, the Kiran Bedi cameo, the ramblings of Om Puri, and so on. These kept the story alive and fresh.
What Team Anna sorely needs is an item number – as first conceptualised by Bollywood. “An item number or an item song, says a Wikipedia tab in Indian cinema, is a musical performance that has little to do with the film in which it appears, but is presented to showcase beautiful dancing women in revealing clothes, to lend support to the marketability of the film.”
Team Anna needs some device which might have little or nothing to do with the movement, but will lend support to the marketability and media-friendliness.
Last year, for example, there was an announcement by superstar Rajinikanth saying he supports Anna and his cause. “ I am merely one of many who support Mr Hazare and have come to appreciate that this upright 72-year-old man is willing to sacrifice his life in the fight against corruption,” said Aamir Khan in a letter to the Prime Minister. The media-friendliness increased when Usha Uthup crooned in support, when Kabir Bedi and Pooja Bedi spoke out for him, when John Abraham broke a dahi handi to demonstrate his solidarity.
This year, as urban India seems to have lost enthusiasm for Team Anna, so have the celebrities, it seems. It is these celebrities – these item numbers – who forced news outlets into paying uninterrupted attention as the proceedings at Jantar Mantar or Ramlila grounds flagged.
This year, without new things to say and without the item numbers, the Anna Circus is uninteresting to the urban middle class and urban youth.
The agitation needs to become a circus again. And if the main star cast cannot be do the job, get some item numbers. Quickly.