Television believes, perhaps with a measure of justified confidence, that it mostly determines what leaders say or do, also when and how they say or do it. Between the two of them, they create a make-believe universe of echo chambers, comprising advertisers, action, drama and cut. There is also the viewer. The creators of this universe often undermine the very viewer for whom all this effort is put. The UPA-2 and Congress did realise the importance of this universe. The sincerity with which ministers and chief ministers (against whom no wrongdoing has subsequently been established) were removed in response to prime-time activism shows how misplaced our understanding of this universe was.
The BJP knew better how to play this universe because it had a part in the construct of it. Politics by optics is fine but governance by optics is new. From foreign policy to decisions taken on the economic front, the Narendra Modi government has been attempting to create optical illusions.
Last week saw an action-packed no-confidence motion in the Parliament. Rahul Gandhi stole the show and has forced a definite change in how the dramatis personae of Indian politics will now have to recalibrate their actions, reactions and reflexes. While Modi has all along treated optics as an end in itself, Rahul used it effectively to convey in that one hug the construct of his politics and that of the party's. The words that preceded the hug are a strong counter to the venom spewing ecosystem of the ruling ideology. Both the words and the hug come from a deep understanding of how India reacts to bullies.
While Modi has often tried to play victim, his advisors have failed to tutor him that those who rule cannot be victims. Perhaps, Modi is the first victim who keeps flaunting his vital statistics; the first victim who keeps reminding everyone that he rules over 19 states and that his is the first full majority government in 30 years.
Muscular is what muscular does. India's foreign policy is at its lowest nadir. From Nepal to Sri Lanka, from Maldives to Pakistan, China holds control on levers that harm our interests. In a first, Russia is selling arms to Pakistan. In another first, Russia and Pakistan have held a joint military drill. In a shameless first, China is helping Pakistan build over 350 bunkers on the Rajasthan/Gujarat border. Diaspora events to show to your hosts how well you can influence diaspora votes has gone down very poorly with several nations, where Modi held these events.
Modi's foreign policy can best be summarised in the title of a book: How to lose friends and alienate people.
Questioning your failures is the right as well as duty of the media, activists and the Opposition. You may have tamed some of them into submission. You cannot play the victim card to run down those who do not submit to you, those who question you and those who show you the mirror. They are not victimising you, they are giving voice to the victims of your faulty policies and politics.
What Rahul gained is not as important as what Modi lost. The nation witnessed the eerie and quiet collapse of the Modi edifice. His 90-minute speech could only show us the rubble of the edifice. He had the option of showing grace. He also had the option of effecting a change in his now boringly repetitive narrative. Instead, he resorted to cheap mimicry. Rahul did offer to him an opportunity to upgrade his outdated, virus-ridden software. Modi chose to ignore the opportunity — a choice for which he will pay a dear price in months in the run up to the 2019 election.
In the visuals were lost some very significant words from Rahul's speech, wherein he analysed why winning the next elections is so important for Modi and Amit Shah. In their defeat, they see a risk of 'other processes'. As Rahul ably deconstructed their politics of fear and anger, the expression on the face of Modi endorsed every word uttered by Rahul.
With the wink, Rahul showed his youthful spontaneity. People do not want well dressed, dehumanised robots as their leaders.
Modi visibly lost his well-scripted body language when Rahul went to his seat to hug him. This however, was hardly a loss. What Modi lost on 20 July, 2018, was his narrative. Built on flimsy victimhood and a flaky understanding of history, this fabled narrative had to collapse, all that it took was a hug.
The author is national spokesperson, Indian National Congress
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Updated Date: Jul 23, 2018 12:54:12 IST