The dictionary defines a rabble rouser as “a person who speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people, typically for political reasons.” In today’s new resurgent India, where people wear their political identity on their sleeves, TV news anchors and party spokespersons are the new rabble rousers. They are the gladiators of the TV screen, the champions of social media and fighters of the trolls.
Where reality melts into fantasy is difficult to say, but in the guise of nightly debates on screens of all sizes, these men and women shout, scream and spew venom without batting an eyelid. Where does one search for fake news and when is the entire narrative make-believe!
Polarisation is inevitable when rival players are busy round the clock squeezing every second out of a billion-plus attention-deficit minds. In the last 10 years the political debate has become louder, shriller, inane and polarised. There is no truth involved. Rhetoric is the currency of political communication nowadays.
The purveyors of political communication are the news anchors, political commentators, occasionally editorial writers, but most significantly, the official spokespersons of various political parties. Although we have a multi-party system, most of the public discourse is centred around the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress (INC).
There is a free-for-all with screaming banshees debating, rather cross-talking at cross purposes on the subject at hand. The spokespersons come tutored to parrot away, screaming and shouting irrelevant accusations against each other and the political opponents.
It is important to note that except for the Indian sub-continent and parts of Africa, this kind of political slanging matches are not seen on TV channels. Twitter is another matter because equally vitriolic campaigns are common all over the platform. It is interesting to note the peculiarities of the various party spokespersons.
The ones of the BJP, surprisingly except for a couple of exceptions, are a lot of bumbling motormouths. I cannot understand why ineloquent people are chosen to appear on TV. They are slightly better in Hindi, but fumble through debates in English. Their obsession with the Congress is puzzling. They keep repeating arguments about Congress misrule ad nauseum rather than talk about the issues at hand.
A few keep shouting and do nothing beyond that. Some are so sanctimonious that they are irritating on screen. Why are not some of the more eloquent ministers fielded for these debates and they can talk about the present and issues of current importance, and not be obsessed about the performance of the Congress in the past.
This brings us to the Congress. A bevy of pretty well-spoken young women and a few eloquent but not so young men are so patronising and sing so many paeans of Rahul Gandhi (and the other Gandhis) that they defeat the very purpose of a debate. Their obsession with the Sangh Parivar is irksome. Shouting angrily and pointing fingers are the hallmarks of the Congress brigade. Whoever appointed the party’s communications heads requires some urgent coaching in mass communications.
The roster of Congress spokespersons, interestingly, indicates the current favourites of the Congress ‘high command’. In any case the Congress spokespersons appear like over-enthusiastic college debaters.
Among the other parties, some, like the ones fielded by the TMC, stand out for their holier-than-thou manner, and Samajwadi Party spokespersons try very hard to intervene in debates, but without much success. And regional parties such as the DMK, TDP, RJD and NCP have mostly unremarkable spokespersons who are handicapped by their lack of fluency in either Hindi or English.
In fact, that is the drawback of some of the BJP stars who cannot talk in any language other than Hindi. They must realise that this just doesn’t work south of the Vindhyas.
To handle social media, especially the trolls, you require another set of skills and a lot of patience. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t have either and are not even willing to learn the syntax and lingo of twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You need an army of active youngsters on the ball for social messaging which has to be succinct<br>and enticing.
Trolling is a given and you need tremendous resolve not to be provoked. Once the heat has died down, you hit back with either a witty answer or respond aggressively. Spokespersons, politicians and media persons must remain active on social media. It connects. In the month ahead, bots such as ChatGpT will morph into great<br>targeting tools for communication.
Finally, a word about our anchors. They are largely biased, which is fine, but some can be rude and others appear bereft of any intellectual heft and also often make their biases annoyingly obvious. Others are more subtle in letting out their political slant.
Some of the Hindi anchors are unnecessarily hyper and others simply repeat their lines without understanding, ending up only looking pretty and preening as they moderate discussions. Too much cross talk as well as the selection of guests and panelists already makes it clear which way the debate is headed. Most other channels are jejune, alternating between hyperbole and jingoism, or in some rare cases, government bashing.
It is time someone attempts to do simple news bulletins and politicians, led by the PM, start having good old- style press conferences. That’s the way we would get to hear the true Man Ki Baat.
Meanwhile, can we please raise the standard of political discourse, lower the sound levels, and talk more about policy and issues concerning us. Rabble rousing cannot be the rule for pollical communications. Substance over shouting matters.
(Amit Khanna is a National Award-winning film producer, lyricist and director, and was the founder president of Reliance Entertainment)
–By Amit Khanna