Thursday, November 22, 2012

Political ride atop bubbles of gossip

Nilofar Suhrawardy
Political communication in around six-and-a-half decades of India’s Independence has retained an amazing importance where gossip is concerned. Gossip over tea on politics, cricket, Indo-Pak relations, filmy spice and other interesting issues is probably least likely to be erased from Indian culture for a long, long time. In fact, if gossip, whether through face-to-face interactions, on phone, through Internet or the media, had not reached a new height, the importance of numerous politicians and leaders would have remained confined to probably statistics and at most small news reports. What else can be said about the hype raised recently by two leaders? One is Anna Hazare and the other is Narendra Modi.
Since last year, through hunger strikes, demonstrations and other means of protest, Hazare has succeeded in drawing attention to his own team and the issue they are most concerned about, the need of an anti-corruption law. Hazare’s latest decision to disband his team that was involved actively in this movement and consider floating a political party for the 2014 parliamentary elections has taken the nation by shock. Thanks to the media coverage, Hazare has succeeded considerably in dominating the political gossip and building hype about himself as people’s leader. His decision to take the political plunge has raised questions on whether his agitation was an anti-corruption drive or simply a political drama.
Hazare’s anti-corruption drive began before the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. Team Anna failed to influence voters in this state. But the team chose to remain silent on this apparently because they were focussed on the parliamentary polls. Certainly, Hazare is entitled to raise his voice on issues concerning him and his supporters. He also has the right to float a political party and contest elections if he desires. Strangely, while on one hand, his anti-corruption drive has brought him to the forefront of the political mainstream, Hazare still talks of remaining out of politics. Perhaps, greater importance needs to be given to the political gossip about his having prepared the stage to help his key supporters in contesting the Lok Sabha elections.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has created waves in media and political circles by stating that he is prepared to be hanged if he is held guilty for the 2002 Gujarat carnage. Clearly, it has taken around a decade for Modi to accept that his communal card has helped him politically only in his own state. His declaring himself as not responsible for the Gujarat carnage is equivalent to his donning a secular mask so that he is considered for the Delhi office. Here lies a major communication lapse that Modi apparently is not ready to accept. True, his words have not bounced back as far as political gossip is concerned. But these do not suggest that his words have been accepted as the ultimate truth, that he was not responsible for the 2002 riots. Members of his own party and alliance are not willing to be guided by what Modi has declared. They still cannot forget that had the 2002 carnage not tarnished the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s image, this coalition may not have lost the subsequent parliamentary elections. The Indian voters did not want the Gujarat carnage to be repeated elsewhere.
Defeat of the NDA helped in the return of the Congress at the centre. Against this backdrop, Modi’s own party and alliance members are apprehensive of pushing him forward as their prime ministerial candidate. They are scared that this may prove damaging for their prospects in the Lok Sabha. Not surprisingly, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar did not waste time in announcing his opposition to supporting Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. Nitish’s opposition is just a mild symbol of the politico-media bubble, the gossip floated by Modi, beginning to burst.
Undeniably, it has been easy for both to ride atop political gossip and earn considerable media attention through hunger strikes, demonstrations or expressing willingness to be hanged. But both have failed in convincing people about credibility of their intentions. Regarding Modi, why then did he fail to control the anti-Muslim Gujarat carnage? The degree to which his political image has been tarnished by that dark chapter in India’s secular history cannot be cleansed by the noise he makes today about his “secular” credentials. “News” manufactured by him about his being “not guilty” is not being accepted as the truth.
The news value of Hazare’s anti-corruption drive has fallen flat by his new political announcement. Indians are smart enough to pay substantial attention to political gossip but are not fools to be misguided by the same. Thus, success attained in dominating political gossip does not guarantee such leaders any political legitimacy!
The writer is a freelance journalist