A month before the elections kick off, campaigning has turned into a reality show. Move aside Bigg Boss and Satyamev Jayate, there is more drama to be devoured in election coverage.
From street violence, to verbal abuse, ink smearing, tears and family tussles, everything is being done on live TV. If you thought unemployment, price rise, health care, civic issues and foreign policy are going to be part of the political discourse, think again.
For your viewing pleasure: Enraged over Arvind Kejriwal’s detention in Gujarat, AAP leader Ashutosh clambered on to the boundary wall of the BJP office in Delhi and raised slogans, all the while playing to the live TV cameras with flourish. Pic/PTI
Just sit back and watch the drama unfold on TV. Anchors are going to be yelling at decibel levels of drill sergeants. The sets are going to resemble the interiors of some Star Wars film, giant TV screens, men in tight, very tight suits, women in coiffed hair and sponsored outfits, bright, very bright lights, with lots of animated
The prime actors are the politicians themselves. If there is anybody who knows how to grab eye-balls, it’s the Aam Aadmi Party. They stage events which are TV-friendly, from the dharnas to the press conferences. Arvind Kejriwal is a TV baby. Everything he does has an effect, his appearance, his speech style, his mannerism; his conduct is all lapped up by cameras. Last week was all about entering the Lion’s den. His audacity of challenging Modi in Gujarat was captured live. The seemingly ordinary car journey to the chief minister’s office, the turning down of his request for an audience with Modi, the dejected return to the airport….all milked to the last drop. Arun Jaitley dismissed him as a maverick. But just a gentle reminder, so was Raj Narain. And he defeated Indira Gandhi.
Enraged over Kejriwal’s detention in Gujarat, Ashutosh led a band of protestors to the BJP headquarters in Delhi, clambered on to the boundary wall and raised slogans. This former reporter/TV anchor played to the cameras with flourish, feeding the frenzy and anxiety of ordinary workers. The BJP workers inside the premises were itching to take on the AAP workers. Slogan matched slogan, bricks were hurled, matched with plastic chairs, brooms and lathis, while the police watched for a while and then intervened by bringing in anti-riot water cannons. Nalin Kohli of the BJP led the charge brandishing anti-riot shield and looking visibly enraged. This was unhealthy mob violence and TV captured it all, the spark, the mobilisation of crowds, the faces of those who were violent, the initial inertia of the police and then action when things went out of control.
Did it gain voters or lose voters for AAP and BJP? Nobody has time for that question because the next drama soon took place, a man smeared ink on the mild mannered Yogendra Yadav’s face while he was addressing the media.
Regional parties are not far behind. Laloo Yadav’s daughter Misa got her share of on-air drama on the 7th when she visited senior party leader Ram Kirpal Yadav’s residence in Delhi and sat in the porch waiting for an audience. The disgruntled Ram Kirpal had meanwhile left his home in a huff and refused to return till Misa left. On the 8th, Ram Kirpal announced that he was quitting all posts from Laloo Yadav’s party but not before he said what Misa did was “emotional atyachar”. Misa got the ticket but only after some filmy dialogues were exchanged.
N D Tiwari plants an on-camera kiss on his 34-year old abandoned son and the Samajwadi Party makes an open offer of a Lok Sabha ticket to this 88-year old from anywhere in Uttarakhand.
Ideally these incidents would show up leaders who unhesitatingly twist facts and make scurrilous accusations. But they don’t. The camera pans to the next story. A woman plants a kiss on Rahul Gandhi, again live on camera. Barely a day passes and TV reports that enraged over the kiss, the woman’s husband burns her to death. A few hours later the police say the woman who died did not even attend Rahul Gandhi’s meet. No apology from the media for flashing a wrong report. Move on to the next drama.
There are gaffes, slip ups, some amusing, some awkward and some scary; but all to be milked for juicing up TV ratings and votes. Get it on your idiot box, tablet, cell phone, and hit Like, join Live Chats, Google Hangouts, Tweet with Hashtag, and join the carnival. It is impossible to stem the rising tide. Not in India. Reversing established liberties does not happen that easily in democracies. So more TV, more information is the answer. Choose your own filters to fit your sanity levels.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash