Politics is entertainment
Election 2014 has emerged as the most popular event in the daily life of Indians of all hues. Those who benefitted from the economic growth, seen in the NDA and UPA-I days, are looking for a stable government with a resolute leader; their verdict is overwhelmingly in favour of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Those who were not that lucky and remained on the fringes are unhappy with the way things are but are not so certain to fall for Modi. This category is the target of the shrill campaign unleashed by all political parties nationwide. Finally there are the beneficiaries of the system, not merely during the last 10 years but longer, even for generations. They are scared that changes are in the air. Such a change will hit their traditional source of power and privileges. Broadly the current state of the nation’s political preference can be summed up in these three categories.
What are the messages coming out of the various contenders for the Delhi durbar? Narendra Modi is talking of development and how growth will touch the lives of those who are left out. He identifies infrastructure to spearhead the economy, as did the ‘golden quadrilateral’ project. The famed Vajpayee initiative had freed India from the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. He is talking of dispersion of growth regionally. Modi is using his record in Gujarat as his testimonial. The growth model of Modi arouses extreme opinions. Some, as Rahul Gandhi did, dismiss it derisively, like the American humorist Will Rogers had one, as ‘trickle down’ effect. Money will go into the pockets of the rich only. Some like Amartya Sen went on denouncing the Gujarat model along with Narendra Modi and BJP. For Sen redistribution should receive priority, which will automatically ensure growth along with social equilibrium. Had Rahul Gandhi been articulate and some will say ‘knowledgeable enough’ he perhaps would have argued in the same manner. His communication handicap has allowed Arvind Kejriwal to shout from the rooftop in favour of the Aam Aadmi.
Kejriwal does not talk of economics and concentrates instead on social factors. Rightly so since his principal support base cannot be subjected to any logic of elementary economics. He has simplified and resorted to corruption as the main bottleneck for daily life of average citizens in their search for livelihood. This is oversimplification but catches the fancy of those who cannot think much. More important, as political campaign plank, this is an exciting theme attacking any established political party, national or regional, who had been in power. The campaign theme has singled him out as the savior of the poor thus usurping the influence of the communists. In effect the Left in India has ended up as a marginal force where its elected representatives are switching their loyalties to the archrivals. Kejriwal has emerged as the neo-left of India attracting supports from activists from different corners. That in the process many not so scrupulous, too, are joining the bandwagon, is not attracting much attention.
Divided as the country is, in effect between the pro-growth and pro-distribution lobbies, many regional parties including the national Congress are finding it difficult to take a position. The only broad consensus among the political class that has emerged is taking either anti or pro Modi positions. This has made Narendra Modi as the single most important personality in election 2014 adding to his appeal. In any contest the most prominent one certainly has an advantage. And this has placed other contenders at a handicap. None of them, be it Rahul Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee or Arvind Kejriwal, has positioned themselves as leaders with national perspective. Rahul Gandhi’s RTI and doles cannot charm the ordinary people in search of their livelihood. More so Rahul, at his best, is an incompetent orator. Mamata, Jayalalitha and the likes have their regional and parochial appeal confined within their own states. Only Kejriwal has a theme which is broader, that of benefit to the common man. But he has two problems. First his time is short, too short to show some result like Modi has done during his 12 year long dominance in Gujarat. Second Kejriwal is caught in his own narrow political trap. Unlike the former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit he does not have charisma enough to carry along all sections of people in Delhi. Just by espousing the cause of certain sections of the city, mostly migrants with little or no stake in the city or society, Kejriwal has positioned himself in a corner. In politics one needs a broad-based coalition among various social classes, as one had seen in the success of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh.
Apart from the messages coming out from the two broad camps , Pro-Modi and anti-Modi, the other critical factor is the medium used to convey their respective messages. All are depending on media to spread their communications to as many in the vast country as possible through media.
Unfortunately media is also a business. Election time is the time to earn advertisement revenue.
Those who are in power, like Congress in the centre, have a larger advertisement pie to
share with media. Naturally media as business are falling for the lure of money. Lost in the process are the messages of non-Congress outfits, including Kejriwal’s AAP. Hence they are all trying to create story opportunities, Kejriwal through his dharna and Lokpal and Modi with his carefully planned rallies.
The beneficiary in the process of attracting media, Rahul Congress, is spending money but losing its appeal also as a result. The party has no message of hope to deliver. It has no motivating speaker to articulate the message, if any. The more they are talking of RTI and subsidies, the more the ammunitions they are providing to its adversaries. Particularly to Narendra Modi, a great political entertainer. Largely due to Modi, election 2014 has emerged as the most watched political event in India.
The author is a communication consultant