As we look at the next Lok Sabha elections, it’s clear that television will play a big role in helping candidates connect to the electorate. It’s also clear the Congress will be found wanting when it comes to using television, as they have been found wanting for the past few years.
The Congress doesn’t seem to get that, thanks to the camera, the speaker is afforded an intimacy with the viewer. You talk to individual viewers, and they focus on you, connect with you, respond to you, fail to connect with you or reject you, depending on how you come across.
Congress spokespersons like Kapil Sibal, Renuka Chowdhury and Manish Tiwari repeatedly forget that, once they are on TV, the panelists in the TV studio are not the audience that truly matters – it’s those who are watching the show who matter. When they lose their temper with other panelists, to the viewer, they’re politicians who are out of control. When they shout in a TV studio, it’s the viewers they are shouting at. When they are arrogant, their arrogance is perceived by the viewers as arrogance to the viewers.
The Congress doesn’t seem to get, as many NDA leaders do, that TV is an intimate medium. While it reaches the masses, the consumption is intimate, in the comfort and solitude of one’s drawing room. As a speaker on TV, you have the undivided attention of the viewer. You talk to him or to her, not to lakhs and millions.
The last few months have demonstrated the double-edged sword that TV can be. Today, we’ve seen Pranab Mukherjee’s son make some bizarre, insensitive and downright stupid comments on his remarks on women protestors. Sushil Kumar Shinde, Union Minister for Home, put his foot in his mouth with the Naxal remark. To an individual viewer, he immediately came across as insensitive to the magnitude of the rape case.
Narendra Modi, in contrast, used TV brilliantly during his campaigning. He touched upon issues that mattered to the voter, balancing aggressive rhetoric attacking the Congress intelligently, while talking about his government’s achievements in an even, measured tone. When critical of the Congress, he came across as confident and dismissive of the Congress – and as a friend and well-wisher of the viewer.
Manmohan Singh comes across as flat, never able to enthuse the viewer. The scams exposed in the last couple of years have tarnished the sympathy that viewers had with the ‘honest’ PM who was seen as a reluctant politician. Shorn of the honest tag, he is now just another politician – and comes a cropper when compared with the opposition voices.
Chidambaram, while being ariculate and soft-spoken in general, comes across as professionally mouthing a speech, unable to send a message of sincerity in what he says. V Narayanasamy looks, often, that he’ll burst an artery and do himself some serious damage every time he appears on the idiot box. Abhishek Manu Singhvi will take some time to recover from his embarrassment over the sex scandal.
The NDA has a decided edge when the battle on TV begins in earnest. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, LK Advani, Narendra Modi, Jayalalithaa and even Nitin Gadkari, come across as confident rather than arrogant. They rarely display a loss of control and Congress spokespersons regularly do.
One could argue that the situation has changed little since the last general elections. Actually, they have. The NDA heavywights have demonstrated that they have learned to deal with the complexities of television, while the Congress, on the other hand, has demonstrated, as usual, that they do no need to do anything about the issue.