On Sept 18th, The Telegraph's front page headline said 'In glow of emergency lamp, chorus for Ayodhya verdict on 24th'. Huh? That was th headline for the story on Allahabad court's dismissal of the petitions appealing for deferring the verdict. The copy explained that there was a power cut in the court room, emergency lamps were lit and then the judgment was passed that the petitions were rejected and the verdict would come on the 24th!
Anandabazar said, for the same story, 'Ayodhya verdict on 24th'.
On Sept 26, the opposite happened. The Telegraph came up with a straightforward header on the happenings in Supreme Court with, 'CJI heads Ayodhya bench' but Anandabazar had a complicated 'Justice changed for hearing Ayodhya verdict deferment petition'. The Bengali paper explained its headline in the copy saying the Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia will himself hear the petition asking for deferment of the Ayodhya verdict. The petition was admitted by a bench comprising Justice R V Ravindran and Justice H L Gokhale but there was difference of opinion between the two on whether the petition was to be accepted or not. They referred the matter to the CJI, who decided that a new bench comprising Justice Aftab Alam, Justice K S Radhakrishnan and himself would hear the matter.
Both papers had misleading headlines for speculative stories on the centre's stand on Ayodhya on Sept 28. Anandabazar asked, 'Will Centre ask for deferred verdict on Ayodhya today?' , while The Telegraph asserted, 'Centre stand key to Ayodhya verdict fate'. The stories in both papers were based on one statement from Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, saying, 'The parties to the Ayodhya title suit have to resolve the matter among themselves through discussions. If that is not possible, then the court verdict has to be accepted'. The Telegraph interpreted this as a hint from Mr Mukherjee that 'the centre may not want an early verdict', while Anandabazar speculated with the question in the headline.
'Countdown to verdict tomorrow', was the front page banner in The Telegraph on Sept 29th. Indicating a ticking time bomb? The copy underneath this headline was absolutely amazing. It did explain that the Supreme Court had cleared the decks for the Ayodhya ruling, but it also had a six column weird insert within the story with a tag line, 'Unforgettable Days in Courts', giving details of landmark judgments which the paper claimed had influenced the course of history and people's lives. This included a 1765 'Entick vs Carrington' case in England, a 1841 The 'Amistad' case in the US, the 1975 case related to Indira Gandhi's election and the 1986 'Shah Bano' case in India and the 2000 'Bush vs Gore' case in the US. This odd piece established no relevance to the Ayodhya issue or seemingly on any issue at all!
The Anandabazar, on the other hand, had a passive banner 'Verdict tomorrow, after 60 years'. Surprisingly, The Telegraph had a headline on the inside pages 'After 60 years, wait for 5 pages'. Apparently, the paper was omniscient and was sure that the 'operative part (of the judgment) would be about five pages', depending on sources within Allahabad Court.
ABP seemed better with the banner headline on Sept 30, saying 'Test for Modern India' while The Telegraph was emotive saying, 'Hands on Hearts'. Post-verdict (Oct 1) , it was straightforward again for Anandabazar with a simple 'Agreed on Living Together' while The Telegraph went for hype and a dash of emotion with a double-decker banner , 'Verdict : Divide Land'/ 'Hope : Unite Nation'.
The word Ram
The words 'Ram', 'Ram Janmabhoomi' or 'Ram Janmasthan' figured minimally in headlines in both papers in the pre-verdict period. Anandabazar had a headline 'Parivar ready to follow Ram Setu movement path' on Sept 29th on the Ayodhya issue.
In the post-verdict period, 'Ram' appears more often in headlines. On Oct 1st, Anandabazar had a smaller headline beneath the banner which said 'Ram Janmabhoomi accepted but Path Open to all' on the Ayodhya issue.
Anandabazar had another headline on the same day saying 'After verdict, BJP takes shelter under Ram'. Later on Oct 2 the same paper had a header saying , 'Akharas start wrestling on ownership of Ram Lalla'. The Telegraph had 'Ram Lalla guardian faces parivar push' on the same day.
The Telegraph played up the communal issue with a bold header for the front page anchor, saying, 'Ayodhya Imam for Mosque' on Oct 3 with a dimmer strap line to the headline saying ' Hindu priests okay with masjid and temple side by side' . The headline seemed to imply that the Ayodhya Imam was insistent on a mosque in Ayodhya whereas Hindu priests were more accommodating and open to both mosque and temple on the site. In contrast, the copy only explained that the Ayodhya Imam had expressed satisfaction with the verdict and said Muslims would offer Namaaz on the portion of land given to them after three months and the Muslims were entitled to build a mosque on that part of the site if they so wished.
Interestingly, The Telegraph had named pages two to six as 'Ayodhya Verdict' on Oct 1st and page four similarly on Oct 2nd. On the other hand, Anandabazar had one page and part of the Editorial page titled 'Verdict Day' on Oct 1st.
'Mines, Marx and angels make a court cocktail' was a headline which caught the eye in The Telegraph on Oct 2. The story was on the references made to things like 'landmines' , 'storming of the Bastille' , 'Marx' and use of cliches like 'where angels fear to tread' etc by the three presiding judges in the course of the mammoth verdict.
Reference to demolition
One story which stood out in The Telegraph on Oct 3 had the headline 'Demolition rap in verdict'. This was the only story, despite reams of coverage in both newspapers, which mentioned that the Ayodhya judgment did indeed refer to the Babri Masjid demolition , with at least one judge describing the act as 'abominable'. The story pointed out that 'the strongest condemnation on the demolition comes from Justice Sudhir Agarwal'. 'A huge mob, in a most abominable manner, caused demolition of the disputed structure against all norms and principles of a civilized society', he says on page 64 of volume 20 of his judgment, the longest among the three judges.'
The Anandabazar Patrika had just made a one-line pointer in this regard within a point-list on the verdict given on Oct 1st. However, the Bengali daily did persistently run the same picture of the Babri Masjid with most of the stories it carried on the Ayodhya issue.
Over all, from Sept 15 to Oct 6, The Telegraph had eight front page banner headlines on Ayodhya and Anandabazar had four front page banner headlines on the same issue during the given period.