We Indians often feel irritated when our Prime Minister or his party leaders do not speak in the public when they should have done so to clear confusion. But do we feel less surprised when other politicians start speaking to the media? There was a time when a politician like Lalu Prasad was liked for his comic gestures and modes of public speaking but a one-off case of the RJD chief provided us enough reason to smile in an otherwise gloomy world of Indian politics.
Today, there are several other politicians who have emerged as top competitors to Lalu but the problem is: These people make politics even more hopeless through their talks, which though apparently look funny, but actually expose the hollowness of the leaders today.
Take for instance, the Congress party. The problem with this party is its top leaders never talk while the lesser ones never stop talking in utterly nonsensical and insensitive way. What Union minister Beni Prasad Verma recently said in the defence of Salman Khurshid did more harm to the latter than good. "I don't think Khurshid will do anything for Rs 71 lakh." Goodness! What was this man trying to say? And that is not all also. The same minister was later seen throwing away his earphone during a TV talk after the anchor kept on pressuring him to explain his words. Later, he tried to control the damage by saying even a rupee amounts to corruption, but it was too late.
Verma is not the first one either. A couple of months ago, we saw how top central ministers made a mess by uttering non-sense statements. Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal's statement that old wife lose charm or that of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde who said public memory is short and coalgate will be forgotten soon are just atrocious expressions in the public.
Another Congress man Sanjay Jha was heard saying that Arvind Kejriwal has no other issue apart from corruption. This was actually a shocker from a leadership which has no ammunition left to defend itself. Jha is not new in the business of 'entertaining' people, however. A few months ago, this HamaraCongress writer's comparative analysis between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, titled Isn't the choice obvious?, where he declared Rahul a winner by far had been ridiculed. Even a suave and diplomatic Shashi Tharoor, the former Congress minister, earned much wrath after calling passengers travelling in the economy class of a flight as the cattle class. The insensitive 'offline' statement made on rape by another leader when the camera was on is another case in point.
Then we have the media's favourite Mamata Banerjee. From "Dengue caused by dieting" to "Free interaction between men and women encourage rape," the Trinamool Congress chief has never let the media down in terms of giving entertaining quotes which the soundbite subsequently takes care of. Banerjee, however, thinks that media is her No. 1 enemy and is behind all problems in Bengal which she has proudly announced to have reached new heights under her leadership.
A Samajwadi Party minister was also found advising the bureaucrats not to steal in huge amount and indulge in a little corruption while working hard. The statement was not entirely untrue but was a disaster for the 'politically-correct' media.
All these leaders, whether they utter such statements out of humour (Tharoor surely has it) or they don't have a taste for humour, fail to understand that their relations with the media need to be tighter. They forget that like their electorate, the media today has also become diversified and democratic. And when these are added with the factor of serious competition just like that between the parties and politicians themselves, there is virtually no room for error. Political leaders today might try to underplay their conduct vis-a-vis the media and vice-versa, but their efforts mostly remain futile for today's media, thanks to its diversification and cut-throat competition, is not going to let opportunity to increase its TRP slip. It is more a humourless force at play.
BJP is more adept than parties like Congress or Trinamool in handling media
The Congress finds itself more at the receiving end when it comes to handling the media because of its traditional mindset. It perhaps still find itself in the days of Nehru when leaders enjoyed friendly and amateurish terms with the media. The Congress leaders are not known for their media-friendliness. If we see the top leaders of the Congress today, we will see that people like Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or Manmohan Singh hardly speak to the media or attend public programmes.
On the contrary, BJP is a much more media-savvy party and its leaders can be seen often interacting with people through popular media, whether it's news channels or social networking sites. The BJP can be found committing less goof-ups when it comes to handling the media. The other day, I saw Narendra Modi not uttering a word despite being repeatedly asked questions on the 2002 Gujarat riots by a journalist during his pre-poll Yatra. And a few weeks before that, I also saw Mamata Banerjee making all sorts of gestures possible when the same journalist was asking her about the Congress party and the Prime Minister. This is the difference and it speaks of political maturity. Nitish Kumar is another politician known for his 'no-nonsense approach' towards the media.
Kejriwal used media smartly, politicians could not
If the politicians have lost the plot to their new enemy, Arvind Kejriwal, it is because the latter has used the media more smartly than them. Yes, it is also true that the crusader in Kejriwal found a sympathetic ally in the media but the politicians have to blame themselves for the erosion of accountability. But what is surprising is that the politicians have not prepared themselves well even in the face of humiliation. Newsrooms and studios have emerged the new forums for discussion and debate for political personalities and particularly when parliamentary debate is becoming more and more less.
The debates and discussions on the media are even more challenging for the politicians for there, they face all sorts of questions being asked by anybody, beyond the political arena and no unruly fellow partymen can shield them by creating a ruckus as they do in the parliament. It is expected that the politicians should be more prepared while behaving in such a situation. But the question is: Do they have the capacity?