Millennium Post

Art of selling dream

Politicians are dream merchants. Or should we call them as opium peddlers and occasional consumers so as to intoxicate the mass? Can we dare say so of the greatest dream speech ever made 50 years ago? Or for that matter of many risingstars in many other countries? Take a look at how Martin Luther King Junior announced his dream, deviating from his prepared text. The often repeated part of, arguably the most inspiring speech of the last 50 years, is, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!’  Such was the effect that the then US President John Kennedy heaved a sigh of relief in the White House at the success of the organised civil rights rally and on receiving support for his attempt to tone up the US law. US intelligence agency FBI, under the notorious J Edgar Hoover, started marking King as its enemy number one among the blacks. Nobel Peace Prize had its youngest recipient in 1964. And 50 years later three American presidents, one serving and the first black President, spoke of its significance.
The lesson from the ‘dream’ speech is that dreams sell. It is a theme politicians, budding or plucked and hoisted on top, should put to good use. The ‘youth icon’ of the Indian Congress Party has many US educated advisors to guide him. Even if one assumes that Rahul Gandhi did not have much time to know the history of Martin Luther King and his speech there are many to suggest the success of dream speeches.

Rahul Gandhi, indeed, is a fast learner. Take for instance his recent address to a huge gathering at a place called Baran in Rajasthan. Rahul said he wanted the ‘poorest to dream the biggest dreams’.  Let us quote from a report: Pointing to a group of women in the crowd, he said, ‘There those women should not just see aeroplanes in the sky but also be able to dream that one day their sons will be flying those planes.’ Impressed many looked at the clouds on a sunny day and then to the helicopter, which had flown the dream merchant. And the leader of the dream went on, ‘We say the poorest should see the biggest dreams and not just be on the fringes, marginalised and helplessly watching the rich flying in aeroplanes and travelling in big cars. That is what the Opposition wants... If the poor cannot see the biggest dreams, then we are not interested in politics. Our politics is to further your dreams.’

Rahul spoke for just less than 20 minutes to drive home his dream. Experts say that during sleep one dreams for just about 20 minutes during the phase of rapid eye movement (REM). No wonder that the PR experts of Rahul did not let him wax eloquent beyond the 20 minutes time limit. Dream is a favourite theme of Rahul Gandhi. In his speech in the Lok Sabha over the Indo-US Nuclear Deal he narrated the dreams of Sasikala and Kalawati from the draught hit Vidarbha. He spoke of dreams of Sasikala’s sons, ‘The eldest son dreams of being a district collector, while the middle one dreams of becoming a engineer. And the youngest wants to do a private job.’ Though Rahul’s speech was cut short by the melee in the house, the points were well accepted. He indeed impressed common men and intellectuals alike on the need for energy security. The opium, one likes to accept it or not, did work then while his recent effort at Baran cannot qualify as a successful one. Why did the dreams peddled by the same person work once and fail now? The reason lies in the circumstances, the volumes of mud that have flown through the Yamuna since then. When Rahul Gandhi said that India was a country of youth but most of them were poor, ‘They have a lot of dreams. If they want to find employment, want to start a business, the government needs to hold their hand,’ people recalled the baton in the hands of the state police. They dreamt of the ever-shooting food bill, the cost of medicines, the stale food their children are forced to gulp in the schools, the rapes their women-folk suffer and the ignominy of living in abject poverty. Their dreams are actually nightmares they will like to escape from.

People are no fools. Had President Kennedy attempted to deliver King Junior’s dream speech this would have merited as the greatest spoof of modern civilisation. For dreams there need to be proper time and place. And even if one likes it or not, it will, to a great extent, depending on the speaker’s ability to convey the message. Imagine somebody like our soft-spoken Manmohan Singh selling his dream to people who dare not even sleep! It is not Rahul Gandhi’s fault alone that he failed to deliver the dreams he wanted to at Baran.For any leader to carry a message to the target audience he must understand his audience first. Accustomed as they are to the ritualistic obeisance from their cohorts and courtiers they end up thinking arrogantly that they are infallible. The pliant media make things worse. Intoxicated by the overdose of sycophancy they end up dreaming the wrong dream. Rahul Gandhi is caught in the trap.

Numerous stage-managed public events later, volumes of positive media references after, huge expenditure notwithstanding the Congress party’s family icon has failed to enthuse the party’s support base. An upstart from a regional corner, with little support from mainstream media who does not peddle sky-high dreams has been upstaging the man born with a diamond spoon and a divine right to rule. This is a sad commentary on textbookish PR practitioners!

The author is a communication professional

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