'Peepli Live' From Malkangiri!



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“History”, someone said, “is written by victors and occasionally by historians.” But I am into this revisionist assessment exercise of an event that was fuelled by an orchestrated outburst of lies that were voiced as the truth which suffered a roll-back, but with brazenness.

What happened on February 22 evening in Bhubaneswar and Malkangiri in the wake of the announcement, or an hour before that, of the release of two abducted officers from Malkangiri, can be best described as a re-enactment of 'Peepli Live' in Orissa.

Many media channels went overboard and there were repeat Breaking News flashes that the abducted DM, Vineel Krishna and JE Pavitra Majhi, had been released by the Maoists.

We, the ones then waiting for a press briefing at a conference hall in Bhubaneswar, were at a loss while some reporters of a few local channels were seen flitting around and dropping doses of the rumour, adding to the air of confusion. Then, a reporter from a national daily volunteered himself and said with a precise seriousness that the duo in Maoist captivity were about to board the motor-launch after being set fee from the cut-off area. He spoke like Sanjay did in Mahabharat before Dhritarashtra! He, in fact, named some channels which were running the news about the DM's release. I am still in a dilemma as to how that guy could manufacture that lie and greater must be the one who kept him fed on such rubbish.

In the face of such blunt proffering of bluffs from the blue, the ones like me felt battered for missing the chance to... break... While we were seriously analysing the ifs and buts behind the release, a dark and tall guy from a regional channel rushed through the alley, almost grunting "We have been running that they (the DM and the JE) have been released and are already nearing Malkangiri and by nine o' clock they should be at Malkangiri." It was a near prophecy!

Frustrated with the long wait for the interlocutors, who were to brief us, I went out of the hall. But someone said from behind, “Hey hold on, soon it is going to be formally announced by the interlocutors. You can inform your office in advance.” My spirit was already dampened by the cross-fires of rumours and mechanically I started typing the SMS on my mobile to inform my office about the 'release' of the captives so that, before the interlocutors could finish their sentences, I can press the 'send' button and save my skin at least.

However, conventional wisdom prevailed upon me and I refrained from buying the bluffs lacing the air for a while. Few scribes were seen rushing in and out, and some were quizzing the guys from the local channels about the release. Responding to the queries, one of them was found nodding his head vigorously, like an old-timer in the field, dangling his 'logo-ID' and saying something. I failed to overhear what was being said. But he was serious enough to trigger yet another bout of nervousness within me.

Then common sense prevailed over me and I called up the boy at the local bureau and told him to keep track and tell me if any national channel was running any flash about the release.

Thank God, I was relieved a bit when the boy said that no national channel was running the news except one. But a local channel had already committed itself on the release saying that the DM and the JE had reached Chitrakonda, as if the duo was within the range of their eyes.

That bothered many of us. And even after the briefing that within 48 hours the captives were to be released by the Maoists, there was no let up in the rumour mongering. "These people (are) holding the truth back from us but the duo have already been released and are on their way," said one reporter from a local channel.

However, fatigued and battered by the bouts of tyranny of rumours milled out by my own fraternity, I came back to my office where worse was waiting for me. Three national channels, one Hindi and two English - of them one was going live from Malkangiri itself - were claiming that the DM and the JE had been released. And one regional channel was a step ahead anchoring the geographic location of the captive duo, as if the released duo were being chased by their camera teams.

And that was too much for many of us. There was a call from my head office and someone asked, "Have they been released?" They were not ready to take my denial as leading national channels were carrying flashes about the release. Immediately, I called up the Malkangiri Superintendent of Police to find out if they had really been released. The SP's reply was like a straw for me in the flood of lies to hold on to. (He said 'no'.) I called back my office to register my rebuttal yet again regarding the news of the release. And this time with authority.

When I reached home at about 11.00 pm with a heavy head (and heart) and switched on the television set, that was enough to trigger migraine. Mainly two Oriya channels were at logger-heads. Anchor duo in one channel stayed put to the claims assuring the viewers that the DM and the JE would be reaching within an hour or so. And half-an-hour later... Wow! The camera was showing a huge cheering crowd with the reporter trying to bolster the hope of the beleaguered masses of Malkangiri hills waiting for their 'beloved' DM.

By that time all the national channels were running flashes about the release. Yet another screaming call from my office unnerved me: "Should we run the news about the release now?" But I had little choice other than refuting the veracity of all the channels on the ground that I have the SP's version on my side. Still, I rang up one journalist friend from Kolkata who was, perhaps, equally a victim like me of the confounded confusions, to know if she was also running the news about the release of the DM. She said 'no'. There could not have been a better reply to extricate me from the agony of the invading lies on the screens.

While another Oriya channel's camera played on the placard holding people, the anchors from the studio were visibly at a loss, buying time for the DM's arrival (which was never to happen that night) by eulogizing him. If Naveen Patnaik can be described as an unquestionable patrician of Orissa, Vineel Krishna was propped to be the man with the common touch, a personification of rare resolve and courage, who had come to Malkangiri to emancipate the masses from poverty! And so on and on! Video footages showing the DM's visits to many functions were run like a rich documented story of a war hero. He must be a camera savvy officer!

Time was passing by. By midnight the anchors appeared little tired, their eyes less intense, the ferocity in their claims about the release was subdued. "It is a mystery as to what happened to the DM and JE? Where are they? We have concrete information about their release but the government is (holding) back the truth. Why?" was the anchors plea.

The reporters had little to pan the camera on. The crowd had started retreating. The place was nearly empty by 12.30 am (I was told by someone in Malkangiri). Then the repeat telecast of the evening footage with ‘Exclusive’ bands was kept rolling. In fact, it was the TRP monster that blinds one and all to establish new parameters of journalism.

By 2.00 am it was all in the decline. I was happy that my channel was the only one which never committed itself on the news about the release. Someone again called from my office asking me to remain alert in case the DM and the JE really return. I resigned myself to the bed, rather grudgingly, fearing any possible nightmare from the TV. Anyway, when I woke up the next morning, to my relief, I found out I was correct. The DM had not returned and on one of the Oriya channels, the anchors were replaced by a burly astrologer making predictions for the day ahead.