Pulp politics session
The Monsoon session of the 16th Lok Sabha, which began yesterday is predicted to turn into another tumultuous session of Pandemonium, the parliament of the fallen angels. The ardent fans of John Milton would instantly know that the reference is to Paradise Lost. The Congress has made it amply clear that it was out to turn the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from that of leader of the Archangels into that of Lucifer, the spearhead of the fallen heroes.
The Congress leaders have made no bones about their monsoon session strategy, asserting that the rules of ethical debate were nullified when the BJP sat in the opposition and justified paralyzing the Parliament. In fact former HRD Minister Kapil Sibal was quick to remind his colleague on the bar, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley saying that the “Top BJP leader used to say obstruction is part of parliamentary strategy.”
The continued deterioration in the quality of House proceedings and steady fall in quality of parliamentary oration is best attributable to what political scientists would like to classify as “pulp politics”. The term has been inspired by the 1994 Hollywood film Pulp Fiction, which had seven Oscar nominations. The film in turn was inspired “by the pulp magazines and hardboiled crime novels popular during the mid-20th century, known for their graphic violence and punchy dialogue.”
A film preview had mentioned, “Pulp Fiction connects the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals, and a mysterious briefcase. Considerable screen time is devoted to monologues and casual conversations that reveal the characters’ sense of humour and perspectives on life.”
Coming back to pulp politics, we have to agree that the medium of television has cast a very dark shadow on the spirit of Parliamentary democracy. It has provided space to, as the preview mentioned above said, “Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals,” all in the hunt for the “mysterious briefcase.” Instead of public personalities making an appearance on the television, events are unfolding in a totally opposite direction. Television personalities are coming to be feted as public figures.
The dangerous omens signalling this trend has been most visible in the meteoric rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a complete creation of the media, and also to an extent rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the centre-stage of national politics. The Indian media today has rolled out a turf where the Goebbels of the day are having a gala time. For the uninitiated, Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, was known for creating a mirage about his leader and his party. He is credited for being “adept at using the relatively new media of radio and film for propaganda purposes and justifying Nazi crusades like Anti-Semitism, attacks on the Christian churches, and (after the start of the Second World War) attempting to shape morale.”
Unfortunately the Congress under the leadership of its current leader Rahul Gandhi too has decided to travel down the same road which his rivals took and denied him the opportunity to occupy the first seat on the right of the Speaker in Lok Sabha. Referring to his new avatar, being so vigorously vouched for by Rahul Gandhi’s party leaders, veteran journalist Prabhu Chawla in an open letter recently wrote, “You have learnt the art of going colloquial to match your opponents to increase your image connect in this age of television. Last week, your resolve to reduce Modi’s 56 inches chest to 5-6 inches was hailed by your supporters. It signalled you will be leading the Congress onslaught against the NDA in the coming Parliament session.”
I wonder whether Gandhi can take Chawla’s assessment of having learnt the art of being colloquial as a compliment. The terms of engagement of colloquial politics were set by Narendra Modi about four years back when Dr Manmohan Singh’s “eclectic governance” started to feel the pangs of anti-incumbency. Unable to devise the means to counter charges of corruption, the government decided to go on the offensive deploying their best legal minds on the television screens. On hindsight this proved to be costly.
The best of a lawyer comes out in the courtrooms, where s/he has to also rebut the counter-arguments forwarded by their opponents. In case of television, an interview is best described by the inability of the anchors to effectively counter or their abrasive inanity, which completely drowns reason. The damage grows bigger, when the audience has questions rising in their mind, which an anchor seldom puts forward to the politician. With doubts remaining in mind, the chances of misgivings about a government grows higher.
In case of Rahul Gandhi too, his best oratory was inside the Parliament when he spoke on “suit-boot ki sarkar”. This was the first time he had the BJP’s spin doctors go into overdrive and was seen scoring brownie points galore. Be that as it may his 56 inch to 5.6 inch comment in Jaipur smacked of venomous and bitter politics. He was probably rebutting the Prime Minister’s ‘damaad’ jibe delivered a few hours earlier in Jammu.
The itch of television is dangerous. Gandhi should have waited to have his revenge on the floor of the House, where the parliamentary norms would have provided him the opportunity of going beyond the grammar of pulp politics and establish his credibility as a parliamentarian.
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)