National Affairs

Perspectives on Roadshow for electoral campaigning

The political leaders have been doing roadshows in increasingly large numbers. It facilitates an interface between political leaders and their party workers. It also gives people an opportunity for “darshan” (to take a glimpse) of their leader. These may appear as unbeatable positives of “roadshows.” We know that some of the developing economies are doing roadshows in rich countries to attract “investors” just as politicians do here in India to “impress” and “attract” voters. The roadshows today are not managed only by a party or its workers, but hired “event managers” who turn the “political event” into a “mela”(fair) and “people” into a “crowd” to provide both- “opportunity for entertainment” to people and “opportunity to political leaders for raising “mass hysteria” among the people marked by mad sloganeering and deification of leaders with an aim to do what is called “Shakti pradarshan” (display of power). The process of roadshows glorify political parties and its leaders without allowing any political interaction with or scrutiny by the people and it turns mostly into creating artificial “ demigods” who the people attending blindly believe as “avatars” (reincarnation of god) as many “Bhaktas” (devotees) claim.

The roadshows have risks posed by angry people and opposition parties as we have seen in “slapping” or “shoe” throwing events, acts which are cowardly and mean. There are chances of stampede and street fights within and without a party’s followers or fans of leaders. Such events make political process dirty and vitiate the political environment as seen in the reactions expressed on social media. In many of the roadshows even young boys and children not even attaining the age qualification of voting are being brought to the roadshows and their impressionable mind is trained into “how to become crowd.” Men, women and children all gather or are gathered to be part of a crowd that unquestioningly eulogies a leader, many of whom even do not know which political party and leader they have to come to support and why?

The roadshows involve massive expenditure, yet there is no effective mechanism to evaluate whether they have flouted the limits of expenditure set by the election commission for election campaigning. Further a big portion of people’s money is also spent on administration, policing and security of political leaders and people during the roadshows. The roadshows are like “ advertisement campaigns” which have to be taken on face value by counting the number of cars in the cavalcade of leaders, amount of flower rained on leader and used for decoration, number of dignitaries and people from local and outer regions attending the roadshows without any possibility of discussion or two way communication on vital issues that bother people.

Two way communication is done only in a limited and calibrated manner. The leader says “Vande “and people are asked to chant “Mataram.” The leader says “chaukidar” while people are coaxed to cry loudly “Chor hai”. That is the communication which clearly is an effort to “create” “unquestioning” “mass hysteria.” Nowhere in the world, there is so much of time, energy and money spent on creating mass hysteria.

The roadshows interrupt business and life. There is no estimate how much economic loss and real inconvenience they create, but they certainly do immense harms. There are many ways leaders could have created an interface with the people and election rallies in an open area as done in past or in conference halls as it is done in the USA are better options as they do not interrupt business and life. But like anecdotal pied piper or “Madariwala” of Kissa Kursi ka fame, the leaders are not bothered as long as people come behind them and they win elections which prove their “righteousness” in the court of people. Here the people’s mandate is enough, no other scrutiny is required. This is why roadshows are gaining increasing popularity. What a method where the length and quantity of people waiting in line to see their leader is the used to judge “deservedness”. There is no need to carry out any educated discussion and debate on issues facts and performance. The howling debaters on electronic media on the other hand also ensured that vital issues should not come up for logical and amiable discussions and only caliber to participate in slugfest will count! Some of the old timers opine that Hindi media has died while English media is playing into the hands of their corporate managers. What else one could expect but for breaking news, sensationalisation and slugfest!

When the country is grappling with agricultural distress, drought, unemployment, poor quality of basic facilities, health and education and new technological and economic challenges emerging in new world order apart from issues related to environment, climatic change and development; the time, energy and money spent on roadshows are an irony and travesty of the present day democratic process in India. The roadshows continue while Students and farmers continue to commit suicides and labourers continue to migrate in distress and die working in dehumanising working conditions such as dying every year while cleaning sewage! People line up in limited number of hospitals with limited number of doctors and beds and inadequate machines and equipment. We comfortably assume that government has limited resources and people should silently cope with as “protests” are destined to be “dubbed” as “anti-national”. Let the roadshows continue;, do not ask questions on public or national issues or source of funding roadshows. Do not ask-“what is the difference between monarchy and “dynasties based on families’ and “dynasties based on political ideologies” or based on “one-man charisma” continuously returning to power three or more times in a row?” Let the “roadshows” decide who is good and strong to meet the aspirations of the nation and people. When people turn into herds and are wildly intolerant about “each other” and unwilling to conduct a “Chaupal” to introspect, analyse, discuss and find solutions together to real problems rather than harping on artificially pervaded hopes and fears, roadshows remain to be the most potent tool of political mobilisation process.

The only troubling thing about roadshows is that while politicians have their total say, people are condemned to watch like mute spectators and the pain increases further to see that gains in the process of roadshow is asymmetric and highly skewed in favour of politicians. Thomas Jefferson rightly said “the government you elect, is the government you deserve.” It is voters’ choice which roadshow they like most and who do they elect. And he added that if your choice is wrong you have no choice but to burn your back for the next four or five years. Just think why not the electronic media and telecom be seen more cost effective and expedient method for political leaders to communicate with people, discuss and debate? Are they afraid to face the people? Facing the crowd is, perhaps, always an easy option!

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