VARANASI: The Ganga flows quietly past the Assi Ghat, shimmering under the floodlights, as tourists and locals sip tea and gaze over the river. Not far away, a profusely sweating TV anchor tries to keep the peace between four netas and their supporters as two dozen policemen watch, some carrying AK-47s.
As full-throated slogans rise in support of Modi, Maya and Akhilesh, the anchor makes for a hasty break. ''Ek Chota sa break letey hain, baaki sawaal ke jawab break ke baad,'' declares the Sahara TV anchor, Prabudh Singh, and makes a hapless appeal for order.
The riverfront Assi Ghat has been an irresistible locale for TV producers in this poll season, and with the fever at its peak, anchors of poll discussions are a frazzled lot as they go about conducting their ‘Chunaavi Dangal 2017' shows. They’ve been abused, roughed up and have had their clothes torn by discussion participants too keen on making a point.
“Even if you are completely neutral, they lose their cool. This is the case everywhere in UP, but here in Banaras, log suntey hi nahin,” complains Prabudh Singh after winding up his show.
The shows are rather aptly named. Almost all Hindi TV channels have named their Assi Ghat shows Dangal this or that -- Dangal 2017, Sab se Bada Dangal and so on. It means ‘wrestling competition’ and references the recent Amir Khan starrer Dangal. This was Prabudh Singh’s 28th Dangal across UP in the past one month.
''It’s been tense,” he said.
“People become violent, raise slogans when a rival candidate is answering a question, or they turn upon the anchor. I’ve begun to position my people in the audience so they can come to my rescue if necessary,'' Prabudh Singh said.
After the show, anchors are under instruction to quickly get into the car and get back to the hotel.
An award-winning woman anchor of a Hindi TV channel found herself the target of mob fury during a Dangal at Assi Ghat when a riot broke out mid-show and her clothes were torn. A few days ago, a well-known male anchor was attacked when his questions seemed biased to the audience.
“Even one word wrongly used by the anchor is enough to create a ruckus on the set. The anchor has to think quickly, use language wisely, tackle the crowd and the contestants simultaneously. Sometimes, people argue if they are not given time to ask their question,'' said the anchor of a local TV.
Interestingly, the crowd comes well prepared to corner the candidates of rival parties. “Aap jawab deejiye. Bine jawab diye aap yahan se nahi jaa sakte,'' yells a Samajwadi Party supporter as he tries to corner the BJP candidate over the Kashmir issue.