Politics and perceptions: The more leaders on stage, the more powerful they are perceived to be

Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Raju MansukhaniUpdated: Apr 03, 2019, 11:08 AM IST

file photo Photograph:(PTI)

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When there are people, people everywhere, there’s new powerful imagery.

Everyone loves elections in India. Especially the vibrant Indian media which lives off elections, seemingly at the cost of all other news.  

In the process, television news today has created its own imagery: capturing the pandal, a stage set high above the ground far removed from the people gathered in front; a line-up of leaders in white khadi photographed with arms raised, their hands clasped in a photo-op of solidarity; tinselly crowns, swords, bows, and arrows being presented to a supreme leader.  

It is the crowning glory. What takes the cake, rather the crown, is the mukut or tiara itself. Innumerable images, even of Dalit leaders, who have spent lifetimes fighting for equality and constitutional freedoms are on camera juggling uneasily with gold-plated tiaras on their heads.  

An accessory befitting a local theatre group enacting Ramayana scenes is now seen occupying pride of place. For upper caste political leaders, the mukut seems just right.  

The mukut-dhaaris wear it with a sense of entitlement completely at odds with our democratic polity. The King-like mystique or Goddess-like aura is recreated time and again, reinforcing the image of rulers with their ‘right to rule’ persona. No questions asked.  

Now is the time when swords create images. Throughout the Hindi heartland, the talwar or sword held aloft is a metaphor of martial strength sanctified by our caste hierarchies. Leaders are filmed drawing the sword, often shakily, from its scabbard. Undoubtedly, it is a mighty act. 

Unsheathing the power of the sword, bringing die-hard bravery to the fore and reaffirming their right to fight for democratic rights with such ancient weaponry.  

Images of women leaders, conservatively draped in saris, now with a naked sword in hand gets its share of coverage. It is an image of empowerment in this age of gender fluidity, with the clarion calls for Bharat Mata ki Jai in the background.  

Next is the imagery of togetherness and leadership. On a dais or a stage way above the ground level, a mass of men and women come together signifying their unity and uniformity.  

Seen from a distance, this critical mass of leadership is often indistinguishable. The images captured have flashes of white and red, green and saffron, the dominant colours signifying India.  

The leaders’ attire, body language and speeches do make them distinct for a while, as they speak from the rostrum. Speech over, they merge together again. Today’s leadership is about numbers; the more leaders on stage, the more powerful they are perceived to be. Politics and perceptions share shadowy borders.  

When there are people, people everywhere, there’s new powerful imagery. Janata or the crowds are packed together. Like a wheat-field packed, filled with ripening stalks. When Elias Canetti used such strong imagery to explain crowds, he visualised homogeneous faceless masses.  

Crowds in India seem homogeneous but they are not. Village folk sit, crouch, and stand in similar ways; they lean together and when prompted, cheer in unison. They are the audience, watching political dramas unfold on the stage in front of them.  

What they see and what they hear is not what is telecast or broadcast. Leaders often hail this janata as ‘janardan’, likening them to a benevolent God, who always helps. What a turn and twist in this phrase: Janata janardan hai.   

The Gandhi cap is still an omnipresent image. But it just doesn’t fit all or anybody! Even though the cap is freely available at all Khadi Bhandar showrooms, stacked in cardboard boxes, it really seems like a limp relic of the past.   

Neither the Congressmen and women nor leaders of other political hues have shown the imagination to make capital out of this simple cap. Merely putting the cap on has become a defining moment. Like during the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement at Ramlila grounds of New Delhi. Each leader who donned one was hoping it would create a new image, generate a new aura around them and make history.  

The socialists of Uttar Pradesh prefer red instead of white caps. Colours change but the simplicity, austerity of the Gandhi cap continues to be a complete misfit in today’s time and age of consumerism, opulence and fortune-for-the-few.  

On TV studio-floors, there’s the taandav of image-making. Television anchors are adept at creating their own imagery, aesthetically designed to pull audiences into a studio-generated illusionary world.  

Here colours streak across screens with music rising to a crescendo and merging visuals into words. One TV anchor has made rubbing hands his signature style. It was a gesture rarely seen on TV screens; he created the imagery of an eager auctioneer rubbing his hands in glee. Breaking news made him break the mould.  

Other anchors are in throes of self-induced ecstasy, a news-morphine-high, which makes them leap across studio floors, punching the air in front of large studio screens.

The whiplash of their words activates a mass of graphical data, conjuring images of a ringmaster on a circus floor, summoning jokers, who cartwheel and monkeys who ride bicycles. And then suddenly it all fades away…time now for Chyawanprash ads to roll.  

These images and performances go on, evening after evening, night after night, when electoral politics are dissected, debated and discussed. Our television studios, newspapers, magazines and news portals are a world of such profound sound and fury, music and graphics.  

It signifies our reality: so western, so contemporary, where modern style and substance go together hand in hand. Who said we are stereotypical, regressive, chauvinistic, unimaginative and unconstitutional…?

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)