Devoid of ideas or content
By: Pawan Khera
L K Advani should have known better. He was standing in the way of one of the most garish road shows ever on the Indian political scene. But he probably knows the limitations of a road show without a road map. Elections are the stage on which the communication skills of leaders are on full display.
It is a stage that often pits drama against data, history against histrionics and demagogue against democrat.
This election will neither be about Modi’s governance nor his politics. It will be about a coalition between him and his ego. Now that we have seen him in action, we know that he loves to impersonate the image of himself as Prime Minister.
Political communication is about aleader’s ability to imprint her policy, style and character on the people. Acampaign is not just about the netas’ tours and stump speeches. The nuanced use of a local idiom, the twitch of the facial muscle, the look in the eye, the body language, the pause, the word left unspoken are crafted to drive home a point.
In all political communication, both style and content play a key role in capturing voters’ mind space. But in this election, there is one more variable at play.
The content that goes to construct political communication is no longer top-down. It is no longer derived from elitist editorials. Access to interactive platforms has collapsed class barriers in information flow.
Content is now harvested from the people on the ground – an imperative in this age of new codes of engagement shaped by the grammar of digital democracies.
Narendra Modi boasts of crowd sourcing his political ideas via social media. But has that made his political message more effective? He peppers his speeches with the previous week’s SMS jokes; and his oneliners are similar to TV’s stand-up acts followed by canned laughter.
They may attract TRPs, but they make one thing crystal clear – Modi is no statesman.
I, Me, Mine
On policy, style and character, Modi has only himself to show. All three are driven by that force which allows Modi to see himself in the hot seat, his ego. As one could see in Gujarat, Modi’s ego has already been sworn in as the Prime Minister and is unfurling the flag from the ramparts of a fake Red Fort.
Glib orators often conceal their lack of substance with an overdose of style. From his Independence Day speech in Bhuj to his address to NRIs, Modi exhibits his minimalist political narrative, leading a churlish opposition more used to street fights, verbal brawl and below the belt humor than a national vision.
In all his speeches, he plays to the gallery. Indeed, he is the gallery. When he said his voice reached Pakistan from Bhuj, it wasn’t too different from the US presidential aspirant Sarah Palin who said she could see Russia from Alaska. We all know what happened to her quest for the presidency. Is the Bhuj-Pakistan line of vision Modi’s claim to experience in national security? Consider his ostentatious style and dramatic claims.
His personal attacks on the Prime Minister and earlier on Sonia Gandhi also herald anew low in inter-personal political exchanges. He continues to call for a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”. Is this the language of a democrat? Or is this a politician who wants to operate in an empty room to hear the echo of his own voice?
The current narrative is a study in political communication. On one side, is the Modi-style campaign, high on octane and low on content, with no policy to offer and no vision, but to defeat Congress and cart his pedestrian achievements around as monumental masterpieces.
On the other side is the UPA, low on style but high on content, arming the citizen with the rights to information, education, employment, right to food and now, the land acquisition act. But it does not realize that in the competitive cacophony of an urban-centric media, it is not enough to just do your work, credit has to be wrested aggressively.
Compare the fake figures of development in Gujarat, the pulp patriotism and lumpenisation of Modi’s campaign, to the India story written by the UPA.
In the UPA’s time, India has gone from 7 IITs to 16; from 6 IIMs to 13; from 1 AIIMS to 6; from 5,144 ITIs to 10,344. The minimum support price for paddy has gone from Rs 530/quintal in 2002-03 to Rs 1,285/quintal in 2012-13; life expectancy is rising and infant mortality falling.
The enrolment of children between 6 and 14 in rural India is up to 96.5%. The NREGA has inspired an increase in rural consumption: 50% on food, 20% on clothing, 10-15% on education and 10% on health care.
This story has not been told well. Compare the campaign to grab power vs the empowering vision of rights-based development that the UPA has launched, focusing on a silent revolution that is afoot in India, invisible to TRP-hungry politicians.
(The writer is political secretary to Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit. Views are personal)