‘Tis election season in India. With the general elections due in May 2019, and a bunch of state elections on the anvil now, campaigning is in full swing. But what are the elections about?
Going by the rhetoric of the political class, we maybe mistaken in thinking that the elections is about a multiple-choice history paper. It’s like Coal Sear says in the Manoj Night Shyamalan’s film
– “I see dead people”- the elections campaign is full of people who have moved on from this world. Sixth Sense
Already, the memory of Sitaram Kesri, who was last seen in national politics two decades ago has been dusted out and rolled out as an instrument of electoral pugilism. Kesri’s soul must be gratified that he is finally of some use in some election, while the first-time voter, born much after Kesri was deposed as the Congress leader in favour of Sonia Gandhi, is probably figuring if Kesri is a newspaper, a sweetmeat or a colour.
Jawahar Lal Nehru, dead for the best part of half a century, makes an appearance in election speeches. An electorate, that
is 45 percent under the age of 25 is suddenly curious about a man whose shadow looms large on the nation decades after his death. But it is not just about dead people. Allegations and counter allegations are bandied about effortlessly. Already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked Rahul Gandhi what his maternal grand parents (who were Italian) have done for this country. Rahul, in turn, has alleged that the chowkidar is a thief.
Shashi Tharoor has mentioned the chaiwallah, Congress leader Manvendra Singh has accused Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje of being an outsider to Rajasthan. And, the entertainment continues. Amidst all this, there are discussions on faith, food, degrees (or the lack of ) and other incredibly irrelevant yet hilarious items. It is almost like the parties think that offense, and offensiveness, is the best form of campaigning. But, is this what the elections are about.
Narendra Modi won a massive mandate in 2014, on the back of a promise of a better, more inclusive, tomorrow. A future in which people have a shot at equality, progress, and escaping from the past. A core aspect of this is jobs and education and skills that lead to jobs. “
Achche Din Ayenge” the theme of the 2014 campaign focused on a better tomorrow in many areas.
Curbing price rise, increasing employment opportunities, better schools, better infrastructure, better security, to name a few. And along with the promise of “
sabka saath, sabka vikas” a promise of inclusive growth and development where everyone benefits, not just the cronies.
Elections in India, remain what they have mostly been. A chance for voters to favour or disfavour a set of parties over another set of parties based primarily on their sense of well being. How good have the previous five years made them feel, and how hopeful are they about the next five years. And, it would stand to reason that politicians would fight on their record if in power; or attacking that record if in the opposition.
However, whenever politicians talk policy, the all pervasive television news media with over 400 news channels, finds it easier to show other more entertaining things. And, ultimately all political parties end up competing not with each other for attention, but with celebrity weddings, star babies, cute dog and cat videos, and other such distractions; and they play to the gallery.
It is easier to gain eyeballs by going on the offensive, than detailing out policy and the achievements of policy. Media follows sound bytes, sound bytes gain traction on twitter, the twitter outrage turns into IT cells driven hashtag promotion; this feeds itself back into TV news. This encourages politicians to make even more outrageous statements, which gain traction on social media. Rinse and Repeat, multiple times over.
This has become the theatre of the absurd, highly entertaining, highly addictive, but ultimately counter productive. It is possibly the mental equivalent of eating highly deep fried food as your only diet.
Maybe it is time to borrow best practises in media and politics from other cultures. A tradition of media driven structured debates in which each candidate has a specified time to discuss how they will bring about change at a local, state, or central level. For democracy to survive and thrive, elections cannot just be about rhetoric. Nor can it be just about the legacy of people dead for decades. IT has to be about the legacy you create, and the future you envision.
Unfortunately, in a ratings driven world, corporations give us what is seen the most. And, that usually is six to seven people screaming at each other simultaneously, in a farce that passes off as debate. This is what we get to see, because this is what we like to see. Entertainment. With reports indicating that in a digital world, human beings have a
shorter attention span than goldfish, the coming elections are likely to be even shorter sound bytes. Indian elections have often been described as melas, where it is a festive carnival. And, an essential part of every mela is the tamasha. Let the entertainment begin.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.