Welcome to Indian Television’s House of Horrors. Prepare yourself for a night of abject terror. Unlike other Halloween-themed amusement parks, we don’t have to rely on clowns or zombies or vampires to scare the bejeezus out of you. We have managed to gather the scariest people on Indian television for your entertainment. Enter at your own risk!

Don’t miss our popular attractions. In the awkwardly named India Today Scare Room, you can play Patriotic Improv with Gaurav Sawant. You give him names of things that you like to do, and he in turn will tell you how a disgrace like you is hurting the Indian soldier. Don’t be alarmed by the flak jacket. That’s just a thing he started wearing a few weeks ago even though the only danger he will ever face is Rajdeep Sardesai cornering him in the washroom to talk about Kishore Kumar for half an hour. No one says anything to Sawant about it because he loves to play dress up and comes to the office in different costumes all the time. Someday he pretends to be a soldier, someday a cowboy. One time he even dressed up as a journalist but we haven’t seen him don that disguise for a while now.

In the NDTV Horror Hall of Fame, the self-proclaimed august news organisation celebrates a made-up capitalist holiday whose only purpose is to get the masses to buy more things. As soon as you enter this hall, their anchor Ravish Kumar dims the lights and you’re suddenly transported into the middle of a We the People episode. Afterwards, Dorab Sopariwala takes you to a tour of his home, which is a tiny cottage under the huge table NDTV uses during Election Day broadcasts. In the finale, you get to moderate an hour-long debate between Sambit Patra, Sanjay Jha and Ashutosh.

Of course, the biggest show is at the main auditorium and is hosted by Times Now. They took it over before anyone even came in and claimed they had a right to, because they have 2565% higher ratings than any other channel. Even though the Times Now representative manning the ticket counter yells at everyone passing by without a ticket, accusing them of being anti-national, not everyone is welcome inside the hallowed auditorium. You can’t enter if you are Arundhati Roy or if you’re a student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, or if you’ve ever received a Sahitya Akademi award, or if you aren’t excited about a nuclear war, or if you’ve ever had a thought that does not align with the opinions of Arnab Goswami. Those lucky enough to be allowed entry have to leave the following things outside: working brain cells, sense of shame, every shred of self-awareness, humanity, commitment to ethical behaviour, and blood pressure medicine. Then, they have to sign a standard disclaimer indemnifying Times Now and Bennett Coleman & Co. Limited of any physical, moral or psychological problems that may arise from attendance of the event.

The first attraction at the News 18 Fiesta Room is a mock interview with Bhupendra Chaubey in which he asks you uncomfortable and probing questions about your sex life in a sanctimonious and judgemental tone while he takes copious notes of your answers. Then, as you feel an urgent need to take a shower, you’re accosted by Zakka Jacob who only lets you go once you agree to buy a Reliance Jio 4G connection. The pièce de résistance is an hour-long speech by Swapan Dasgupta, in which he forcefully expounds about how Narendra Modi would have got more things done in the last two and a half years if only he hadn’t have to face all those distractions that are part and parcel of his job.

You may want to skip the dilapidated News X stall, though. They blew their entire budget on the neon X that adorns the entrance of the stall. Their only attraction is Rahul Shivshankar and Ashoke Pandit falsely accusing all the visitors to their booth of being under investigation by the Intelligence Bureau for connections to international jihadist groups.

Patriotic shtick 

Over the last couple of weeks, our news channels have been going after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. But it’s not because they think what the MNS is doing is wrong. It’s more like professional jealously. They’re angry at the MNS for stealing the self-righteous patriot shtick they have got going these days. They’re mad that someone else used faux patriotism and the visage of dead soldiers for their advantage.

Gee, you dedicate a large part of your programming to unnecessarily whipping up people’s sentiments, constantly encouraging them to be angry with people who don’t agree with your conveniently adopted opinions and then you are shocked – shocked! – that someone else took advantage of that? Okay, then.

A political party metaphorically kidnapped a producer’s movie and the chief minister brokered a meeting between the kidnappers and the producers to work out the ransom amount that would have to be paid. This was a failure of so many of our institutions. The media for creating an environment the MNS could take advantage of. The police for failing to protect theatres and moviegoers. The various organisations that joined the boycott for not standing up to the bullies. And the state government, for reducing the writ of the state from a mere bystander to a ransom facilitator.

Which is why those who tell us that we shouldn’t question our institutions need a civics lesson. All our institutions are run by humans and humans are not infallible. Not even the ones who claim to be appointed by god. If you’ve ever had to deal with a local, state or central government entity, you would know how far away from infallible they are.

So yes, there shouldn’t be a blind trust of any institution. No one should get a free pass – not even the army. There is a reason there is civilian oversight of the armed forces. We have a parliament, not a military junta. We’re a constitutional republic, not a tinpot military dictatorship. There are some people who don’t like that. We need to protect our democracy from such pseudo-nationalists.

Snake-oil salesman

Pseudo-nationalists are the sort of people whose love for their country only exists to serve their nefarious purpose. Their patriotism seems to wake up the minute they start losing an argument. Because their love is superficial, they tend to over-compensate by pretending that the object of their fake affection is perfect and should not be subject to any criticism at all.

So all those people who want to shut down any sort of dissent, you’re only fooling yourself. You’re not patriotic. You’re like a child in old-time movies selling newspapers with sensational headlines. Extry, extry! You don’t care about the country. You only care about making money. You don’t care about our soldiers. If you did, then you wouldn’t be trying to create a situation that would risk many of their lives.

Yes, you can have your high ratings. You can emotionally manipulate the thousands of people who share your sense of emasculation. You can sit behind a camera and pretend to be brave. You can wear camouflage jackets and play dress-up all you want, but you’ll remain nothing more than a snake-oil salesman who specialises in selling empty boxes of phoney patriotism.

We already have an example of a country that doesn’t question its army in our neighbourhood. A country that exists to serve the army, instead of the other way around. A country where the army chief has more power than its elected representatives. We’re far away from ending up like it, but that is the path this cosmetic hero worship will leads us to.

I guess what they say is true. You do turn into the very people you hate.

Who’d a thunk it?