Out of Breath

Two issues vied for attention this week, one which may see Parliament TV winning entertainment awards, and one raised by a report from Raipur which revealed that a couple of news channels had made a commitment to the Chhattisgarh government to play up its good side. That's not absolutely shocking; central India has been the happy hunting ground of paid news-wallahs. What's shocking is that neither the state government nor the news channels seem to understand that what they did was wrong. Unlike Zee, which put up a spirited defence of the indefensible last week, these channels did not issue denials on their websites and other outlets. An impassive silence is even more thought-provoking than implausible denial.

But the big story of the week was the long goodbye to FDI in retail. In Parliament, there was entertaining talk of aloos and laukis and the remarkable prophecy that we shall become a nation of salesboys and salesgirls. Shall we never grow up and become shopmen and shopwomen? It was reminiscent of colonials who insisted on calling grown Indian men 'boys'.

The Indian coverage of Parliament has been as lively as that of a cricket match. Even now, Web links to the debates are being swapped in social media. The sheer volume is enough to put you off the issue for ever, and besides, the positions on the question are too polarised to be taken seriously. Depending on who is on the TV screen — and who is in the anchor's seat — FDI in retail will either beggar all farmers, small traders and shopkeepers, or be revealed to be the magic potion which will rouse India out of the slough of despond that UPA II's tenure has become. These outcomes are spoken of loudly and breathlessly, as if they will happen instantly, maybe even by Monday morning.

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