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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 31 New Delhi July 25, 2015

The Image Is All

Saturday 25 July 2015, by Mukul Dube

The view is held by many that we Indians are loud in whatever we do. To take a recent example, Kanak Mani Dixit of Nepal’s Himal is reported to have said, of Indian media people in the aftermath of the earthquake, “The shrillness, jingoism, exaggerations, boorishness and sometimes mistakes in coverage have rankled the host community.”

The Hindu Right exemplifies this feature of Indianness. It is convinced that the pretence and the trappings of grandeur are necessary always. We have before us the grand coronations of the Prime Minister and of BJP Chief Ministers. These are of course a waste of public money to feed the egos of petty individuals who see themselves as rajas and emperors in the mould created by that theatre which caters to the crassest audience.

For the Hindu Right, appearances are all. In a recent newspaper headline, “New BJP members to help build government’s pro-poor image”, image is the important word. Never mind that if we look at objective indicators, the government is not by a long shot pro-poor. The tactical line is to counter the growing perception that the government is, in fact, so much in the camp of the wealthy that the poor are getting rapidly poorer. These people know that a lie, when repeated often enough, begins to look much like the truth.

No political party can afford to neglect its image, just as image-building is important for every individual in politics. In one way or another, parties and people have practised image-building throughout history. The images they seek to build have almost never been completely faithful to reality: but never before in the history of India have appearances and reality been separated by such a great chasm.

The BJP’s boss man, Amit Shah, said to elected representatives in Madhya Pradesh (Indian Express, May 13, 2015): “Take a pledge that you won’t do anything that will damage the party’s image.” It is important that this man did not ask his people to work towards helping their party to keep its promises. He did not ask them to work for the common people. He did not ask them to do what they, as men and women elected by the people, must have sworn solemn pledges to do. His injunction to them to behave was intended solely to protect the party’s image.

Much has been written about the vast sums of money spent on the fabrication of an image for Narendra Damodardas Modi. Enough is known also about the devious methods employed: the petty lies and the half truths, the suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. What is perhaps not so well known is the evidence of an organised effort to remove from the public domain material which shows Modi in a bad light and which may be used against him. This is why Rakesh Sharma, for example, has been making available material which had seemingly disappeared.

What goes for the Great Leader goes for his followers. Even the BJP, in theory larger than him, and the RSS, in theory larger than anything else in the world, have been playing the game. Looking at their profligate ways, no one would think that India remains a country of poor people. I end with an example which makes this contrast blindingly obvious.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, has ... thrown up an ad bill of nearly Rs 100 crore, according to information revealed through a Right to Information or RTI application. The government has spent Rs 94 crore only on print, radio and television ads to promote the cleanliness mission that PM Modi launched on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary October 2 last year.” http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/nearly-100-crore-bill-for-swachch-bharat-ads-reveals-rti-780220)

What wonders would not have been worked had the money been spent on actual cleaning rather than on singing of the need to clean and posing for cameras on specially dirtied streets holding brooms well away from one’s costly garments?

We must never forget that this waste is of money which belongs to the people, money which should be used to benefit the people, not to befuddle them.

The author is a writer, editor and photographer.