My June 4 Story: The Day Results to the 2024 Elections came in

In his inimitable style, the senior journalist captures what millions felt last Tuesday, June 4
Image: Business Standard

Some of my friends asked me why I haven’t sent them any sermons after the election results and what I did on June 4. I guess almost every Indian will have a June 4 story — the sort that fits the 20th-century genre of journalism fine-tuned by American newsrooms that asked “where were you when you heard JFK had been shot”, an event so momentous that the collective national memory is inseparably welded to our private markers.

So, I do have a June 4 story that began in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi lost the election, which I covered as a cub reporter at 21. “Covered” is presumptuous. I was more or less zipping around Trivandrum on a two-wheeler gifted by a friend, reporting “untoward incidents” for Venad Pathrika, the afternoon newspaper I was working for then. Again, it was an election that would turn fateful for the country that sent me to Calcutta.

After the journalism course at the Times School in Daryaganj, I had been shortlisted for The Economic Times in Bangalore but I was reluctant, having contracted typhoid from the southern city during a two-month internship with The Times of India and generally unable to find anything of interest there. The only open slot then was Jaipur Times of India, an edition that faced the somewhat unique and unfortunate threat of “cannibalism”. The Times of India Delhi edition, probably the best newspaper in the country then with a powerhouse of talented journalists, would reach Jaipur by around 10am or before that, and many readers in Jaipur would prefer to wait rather than take the Jaipur edition, which meant the biggest competitor of The Times of India in Jaipur was The Times of India from New Delhi! But that was not a factor for me.

I had been schooled that journalists should pursue journalism, not what circulation managers do. I was willing to go to Jaipur (anything to escape Bangalore) when my classmate who was earmarked for Calcutta Economic Times landed a position in a US university. Calcutta badly wanted a trainee because of the elections of May 1991. Delhi asked for volunteers and my hand went up, possibly because I had never been to Calcutta and our classmate Mohuya’s mother used to tell us such endearing stories about the city while feeding us luchies when we deliberately landed up at her home at Vivek Vihar just before dinner. That’s how I reached Calcutta, lost my way and ended up in Harish Mukherjee Street, instead of the nearby Hazra Road, and found Maharashtra Bhavan instead of Maharashtra Niwas. Which suited me best because I could not have afforded the better Niwas.

One or two days later, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. Needless to say, I was devastated and I was scared I would descend to depression with no one to talk to. I think only the collegiate atmosphere at the Calcutta Economic Times saved me. I was also asked if I was “LTTE” once or twice because the term had acquired currency after the assassination and I used to roam around central Calcutta in a lungi after work. The questions were good-natured, meant to impress me with the familiarity of geopolitical coinages. I took it in my stride as ribbing, which it was.

I sometimes wonder which was the toughest election I had been associated with in terms of newspapering. I think my friend and former colleague Harshita will choose the 2004 election when The Telegraph headlined it Power of Finger and illustrated the page with an oversized but real-life inked finger.

My choice will be the Bengal Assembly election of 2001. Both pages had a common link: the genius of Deepayan Chatterjee, our deputy editor. What new thing can you say when the Left Front keeps winning election after election? When I was at my wits’ end, I used to literally “look up” to the six-plus-foot Deepayan. He is almost always kind but when his brain was whirring and you intruded with your rabbit-caught-in-the-headline-look, he would glare at me. Then, always, always, without fail, he would lean forward, take a headline sheet, scrawl something carelessly as if it is the grocery list and pass it on to me. I was speechless, as I often was when Deepayan’s creative gears started shifting, especially when World Cup Soccer finals were over at some unholy hour on some far corner of the earth and we had only a few minutes to release the page.

In 2001, I was speechless because leaping at me from the headline sheet was what I consider the best election headline I had seen in my career. The headline: 1977, 1982, 1987, 1991, 1996, 2001…

The ellipsis was the coup de grace. A hint that the chain will continue, which was not very difficult to predict. Little did we know then that within a decade the Red Fort would crumble?

Personally, the hardest election for me was the 2021 Assembly election. Almost everyone, except our bureau chief Devadeep Purohit, predicted that Modi will make mincemeat of Mamata. I was especially proud of my colleagues because of the exceptional work they produced. We cut down on traditional reportage and focused on what Bengal stands to lose if the zealots came to power.

Our senior journalist Chandrima Bhattacharya wrote on short notice, again the story spotted and amplified by Devadeep, what turned out to be the best report of the election. Chandrima wrote on how Modi called Mamata “Didi O Didi” — an extremely difficult copy to write unless you are personally wounded and affected. The Telegraph gave maximum coverage to the blockbuster song, Nijeder Mawte Nijeder Gaan. I remember that the result day in 2021 was May 2. May 1 was a no-print day and we were working from home.

On April 30, while leaving the newsroom well past 2am, a colleague asked me: “Will we see you again here?” The unstated suggestion was that the BJP would not spare me if the party came to power in Bengal. The BJP did not come to power in 2021. As it turned out, September 29, 2023, was my last day in the newsroom or virtual newsroom as we were working from home. Not many in the desk got to ask me if that was my last day.

Since October 2023, I have travelled widely in Kerala and some parts of India and realised that I have friends I had never met before or even heard of before. I also realised that I am a bad speaker but some people, for some reason, like to inflict on themselves bad speakers like me. Especially students. I even campaigned for a candidate (who lost). But I had no idea what I would do on June 4, the result day. Around mid-May, my friend and Media One channel editor Pramod Raman asked me if I would like to be at their studio for three days till the result day. I reluctantly agreed.

When the exit polls were flashed, I wondered whether I should still go. I was in two minds. Until I received a message from a Muslim friend I had met during one of my travels in Malabar: “Are the exit polls true? I am very afraid.” The message gutted me. I did not know what to say. Eventually, I told him to keep the faith. Then I thought I should go to the studio. On June 3, I was welcomed to the studio with the warmth and the hospitality Malabar is known for. But I could sense the tension in the production rooms. So thick that you could cut it with a knife. The cliché is true. I felt it first-hand. No one told me they were tense and if so, why they were tense. They needn’t have told me. I was standing on Ground Zero of media oppression in India. Media One, run by a Muslim management but which has several journalists and other employees from other faiths too, had been abruptly banned by the Centre, triggering a long and expensive legal battle that the channel won emphatically.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Media One case should be part of the curriculum in all journalism schools. Also, the way Pramod and his team navigated the crisis. Unlike some of the “powerful” media houses, they did not cave in.)

On June 4, I reached the studio around 1.30pm. By then, there was a sea change. It was becoming increasingly clear that the BJP would not get a majority on its own. Ajims, Nishad and Pramod (the untiring journalists who were broadcasting from 5am) were on air. Someone asked me to wait in the editor’s office. Then someone from the production room saw me and waved me over. I think the desk knows where someone from the desk would like to be. I stood in one corner of the newsroom, reluctant to intrude.

I am glad I did not go to the editor’s room straightaway. The mood at the production room, packed mostly with young journalists, was infectious. Someone shouted: “Smriti trailing badly.” A cheer went up. So did a round of applause. Then they began feeding memes based on popular movie scenes. The great actress KPAC Lalitha’s meltdown in a scene was flashed when Smriti Irani’s plight was shown. “I need a headline,” another voice. PT Nasar, a veteran journalist I respect a lot, piped in: “Smritinaasam (The destruction of Smriti, and here a reference to the recollection of Smriti Irani’s tenure as minister and the Amethi conquest of 2019).” The response: “Yay.” I was in shock. It happens when you have an adrenaline rush after a long time. “Am I back in my newsroom?” I asked myself. “Tharoor has closed the gap. He is leading now.” Another cheer, another round of claps. Until a few minutes earlier, Shashi Tharoor was trailing. “Tharoor widening the gap. I need a headline.” “Turbo Tharoor.” Turbo is a full-on Mammootty action flick now running in Kerala movie halls. Unable to sleep, I had seen the movie less than 24 hours earlier on June 3 night. Another meme is on screen.

It is a scene from Bhramayugam, a Mammootty blockbuster in which the character played by the great actor keeps captive a man who seeks shelter in his manor. “You can’t go. I won’t allow you to go,” the most famous voice in Kerala is telling the captive. On the split screen, the image of a loser (I think it was Rajeev Chandrasekhar but I am not sure) appears. The suggestion: Mammootty’s character is telling the losing candidate that he cannot go to Parliament. Then Sabir asked me: “Would you like to come upstairs from where the figures are being updated?” I went up.

What a scene it was! It was one of the most breath-taking sights I have ever seen. The top deck — from where the figures are being fed to the on-screen charts — overlooks the studio floor from where the live telecast is going on. On the floor, the dashing Nishad is on fire. It is the principal duty of Nishad and Ajims to ensure that the coverage does not flag. Both were soft-spoken when I met them the day before.

But in front of the camera, they were tigers on the hunt. Behind me was the electric hubbub of the desk, unable to suppress the excitement as it became clear that Modi will fall short of majority. Ahead and down below on the brightly lit floor, Nishad, Ajims and Pramod were kicking their coverage into high gear and memes were flying thick and fast. That is the magnificent image that will stay with me forever. Later, Pramod and Nasar Sir took me to a nearby shop to have tea. On the way, an almost apologetic Pramod asked me: “Don’t take it otherwise. May I ask you what your headline would have been tomorrow had you run the newsroom? I wanted to ask you live on TV but I did not.”

I am glad Pramod, always reasonable and who insists on hearing the other side before passing judgement, did not ask me that question on air. Because I would not have had an answer. I told Pramod that I need a newsroom to think up a headline. I usually go blank and the reaction around me — even while working from home for months, I used to communicate constantly with as many colleagues as possible, especially Harshita — helped me to pick a headline.

When I told Harshita about this, she also asked me to think about what I would have done. I politely declined to answer. I don’t want to return to that space and place. But I am sure my headline would not have been on Modi (a headline on Modi would definitely have titillated social media but I would have kept it for an inside page). My headline most probably would have been on the people, especially the people of Uttar Pradesh. Just a simple “Thank U”, perhaps? Who knows? “U” opens up a lot of possibilities to work on as subsidiary visual ideas, besides Uttar Pradesh: Uttam Pradesh, U-tubers, Uniters, Unbreakables, U-turners….

Or, a tweak of Lincoln to say THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATION? Or, if I focused on Modi, would I have shrunk the entire Page 1 by 56 per cent in recognition of the deflation of the Big Chest? I don’t know. Now you know why I am too reckless for newsrooms.

That night, I messaged my friend in Malabar who was alarmed by the exit polls: “Sleep well tonight. We are safe.”

The dark clouds have only parted. They still hang heavy over us. Even now, anything can happen. Still, the night of June 4 was one of relief. We needed to breathe. We did. Late that night, I received a message from a friend in Uttar Pradesh. It read: “My kids asked me the reason for my happiness today. I told them that you will realise the value of this day many years later, then you will thank me and countless others who fought against tyranny.” I replied: “Well said, Saheb. And I will tell my grandchildren that I knew you.”

I don’t know if my account makes a story, especially against the backdrop of the sacrifices made by many, including Umar Khalid who is still in jail; the whiplash journalism pursued by Ravish Kumar and Ajit Anjum and several others; the selfless crusade of Teesta Setalvad, Harsh Mander, Roop Rekha Verma and many, many volunteers; the sharp political instincts of Yogendra Yadav and Parakala Prabhakar; and the hope kept alive by Dhruv Rathee. But I do hope my account answers my friends’ questions.

This is my June 4 story.

N.E. Sudheer, the foremost bibliophile I know and a no-nonsense commentator, writes in TrueCopyThink. (Of course, you may say little has changed with Modi and he retains his destructive powers but there is one priceless change. We are no longer afraid, especially no longer afraid to hope and to dream)


A pluralistic Opposition, steered by a redoubtable civil society, will certainly preserve “India”. The democracy of Nehru will have sparkling evolutionary progressions


All that I am visualising now is Modi falling prey to opportunistic politics and leaving Parliament one day after losing a confidence motion. The sengol must also accompany him. This is the dream of an ordinary citizen who takes pride in the idea of India. Had the popular verdict been otherwise, we would have been afraid even to dream.

(The author is a senior journalist; this is from his social media post)


The handover at Rae Bareli



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