Out of Control

As the Delhi rape story winds down, another week brings a story of violations of another sort. Now that a gruesome military atrocity has got airtime on the national news, it turns out that ceasefire violations at the Line of Control are routine. Arunoday Mukharji of CNN-IBN reported a tally of 72 last year. Srinjoy Chowdhury of Times Now trumped him with 117. "One every three days on average," he concluded witheringly, and the news anchor slid into an inflamed rant about hobnobbing with the Pakistanis at the highest level while their soldiers murder and torture ours.

The LoC story triggered an arm's-length race between leading English channels. "Believe it or not, we are just 20 km from Pakistan," said Arunoday Mukharji, almost on location. Well, believe it or not, zillions of Indian tourists have been much closer to Pakistan. Set aside the hordes who have visited Wagah to marvel at the competitive frog-marching and cancan-kicking and candle-lighting. Even discounting them, millions have travelled border-wards on the backs of fractious camels at the dunes of Sam Dhani, near Jaisalmer.

Camel-drivers wave dramatically in the general direction of the border, which is always just beyond the furthest visible dunes. Mukharji had an even more dramatic backdrop ó a mountain range in whose lee the LoC lay, he said, with the Pir Panjal shimmering like Shangri La in the distance. But he dropped anchor at that point, which was the honourable thing to do.

Meanwhile, Times Now had intrepidly infiltrated its reporter Pradeep into the heat of battle. He had gone right down to the barbed wire. Steely spaghetti looped across the screen. An icon on the screen read, "KG Sector, Poonch", while the anchor announced a "first-hand account of the situation at ground zero." The footage, shot at night, was prominently timestamped. It was as if the channel anticipated that its coverage would be questioned and was packing the screen with alibis.

Look, I could be wrong. I'm just the guy who watches television out here. But there was a lively gun-battle in progress in Times Now's coverage. Pakistani troops "resorted to unprovoked firing to facilitate infiltration of terrorists," the voice-over from the studio in Delhi reported, in the dreadful bureaucratese reserved for these incidents. It was met by very visible SLR and machine gunfire from our side, where the jawans were reported to have made an ambush. It was visible because the ambush was brightly illuminated by TV lights.

Is it just me, or do you also find it difficult to understand why a military commander would compromise his own ambush and endanger his troops by lighting them up? Can troops on the LoC be illuminated late at night without inviting serious consequences? The footage does serve a useful purpose, capturing gunfire from across the border on camera for the first time. Part of it bears the green cast of an image intensifier. That is credible, but the parts where the camera's light is on, at what is reported to be "ground zero", looks like an exaggeration. Who would take such a risk?

The magnitude of the LoC story was brought home by Arnab Goswami. "Pakistan is showing the most unnecessary aggression once again," he said, and reeled off more words beginning with un-, such as 'unacceptable'. And then his passion soared. "It is showing the most crudal ó excuse me, crude and brutal ó behaviour ever!"

Expectedly, Times Now has been ranting somewhat since then, asking for blood and guts diplomacy. But that's all right. Once, a serving home minister had even recommended hot pursuit. On the LoC, crudal is normal. [email protected]

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