On Showmanship

Fake News 

I hear him shout, “CNN is fake news”. These are the immortal words of the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. A man who can best be explained by the fact that not all humans have completely evolved from apes. No disrespect to the apes of course.

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Trump has a well-documented and well-known antipathy (hate would be a better term) for the press. He accused them of carrying false stories and perpetrating falsehood about him, his family, and his campaign.

Whether the signs of a delusional person are visible in these actions or not, the signs of one thing clearly are, Trump is afraid of the media.

Now Trump is a populist leader. He was chosen for power as, instead of having comprehensive ideas and policies to implement, he had rhetoric. And people get attracted to rhetoric very very easily.

He was and is a showman.

Closer to home, we have our dear own PM Modi, a man who has done a lot for this country no doubt. But is in a manner, also a showman.

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Now, don’t get me wrong here. All politicians use rhetoric to an extent. But what we have on our hands are showmen.

Our dear PM Modi razzles and dazzles the populace with fancy rallies and holograms and ostentatious processions. He makes the fight for votes a fancy affair where the glitter and the pomp draw in crowds more than the discussion and solution of issues.

And if there is one thing that showmen don’t want is bad publicity. Because if they do get bad publicity, business will go down.

Now being showmen, these leaders have a certain image to uphold. Because at the end of the day. It is the image that they have created in the minds of the people that will influence opinion.

This image that Modi has created of a ‘chaiwallah’, a simple man, somebody who is close to the people. This is what is at the forefront of the people’s minds when they vote.

The way they create a connection with the people is really quite fascinating. They do not have to establish a connection with all the people, just enough to matter. In this case, Modi’s connect with Hindus and the treatment of Muslims and Dalits as second-class citizens.

They are also, to quote Jan Werner Mueller, “monolithic”, they portray themselves as the single and all-powerful figure which will solve all the problems. And thus people flock to them in herds of millions.

They pride themselves on their “proximity to the people.” For example, Modi being a ‘chaiwallah’ is a key part of his narrative. His common-man element is important to him.

And similar to other populists, Modi has hosted his show ‘Mann Ki Baat’ like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

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Even the social upheaval mean machine Arvind Kejriwal is a populist leader. When the people grew tired of the relentless corruption of the incumbent, they turned to this ‘leader’ who had the image of an honest, anti-establishment guy who had worked hard as an anti-corruption crusader.

And if you think about it, that’s what the ENTIRE stance of the AAP is, they are not the other guys. And they try to change every narrative to suit and support this image.

They portray every tussle with the center as a vendetta against the ‘new guys’ and pass off their inability to govern as “the best they can do in the circumstances”

On populism being the biggest bias

All of Modi’s and Kejriwal’s actions are seen through these respective lenses. And more often than not, his mistakes are forgiven precisely because of the fact that this lens biases the people. And he gets away scot-free.

This image that populist leader create is a buffer for their potential mistakes. It is what gets them to power, and keeps them there.

Populist leaders thus need to protect this image of theirs more fiercely than a lioness protects her cubs.

So, to achieve this, what do these they do? They take the narrative into their own hands.

They define the context, push their biased perspective. They make the people doubt other narratives, narratives which go against the image. Their PR machinery constantly churns out propaganda to support this narrative so that the image remains untarnished.

And it is because of this policy of preservation of image that these popular leaders refuse to answer tough questions. In fear that their stances on these polarizing issues might destabilize the position that they have worked so hard to conjure.

More importantly, their stance on any issue is not their own, it is their party’s stance, a stance that will align with the ‘culture’ of their party. Something that won’t offend everyone and will appease everyone.

Ah! See the mess that is politics.

On taking control of narratives

So, in order to take control of the narrative that surrounds them, these people churn out propaganda. They bury stories with their own to subdue any unwanted opinion. They go out into the media themselves and answer pre-selected questions so that they are in the spotlight and not the issue that brought them here.

And I am not saying that it’s entirely their fault. Like every other issue, this too arises from a failure of the system. A system which subdues individual opinion. Where leaders can’t voice their own opinion for it will hurt the ‘party’.

Where rhetoric wins over logic. Where you have to be extra careful about what you say because free speech is a myth.

Politics needs to be about solving the issues and not attacking the facade. Political incorrectness should not be sidelined because of sugar coating things never works.

We need to move away from showmanship. Away from pomp and show and down to actual work. People’s support will undoubtedly follow when they see you working instead of donning 3-foot garlands and brandishing swords in the air with a ridiculous object on your head.

Image Credits: Google Images

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