India: Gladiators of political debate are here
By Zia HaqNEW DELHI — As 2014 elections inch closer, news-hour television debates and social-media scuffles are becoming louder, meaner, bloodier. A new, aggressive breed of politicians has emerged — more gladiators than spokespersons — going head-to-head on hot-button issues.
Parties are foisting newer ‘made-for-TV’ personalities. The starchy, poker-faced spokesperson of yesteryear is dead.
Take for instance two of the main opposition BJP’s spokeswomen: Nirmala Sitharaman, a genteel, English-speaking Tamilian who can forcefully defend her party, and Meenakshi Lekhi, a lawyer who many believe propels logic with disproportionate lung power.
“There’s a new challenge every day. You can’t even predict the route a debate is going to take or if it will be open to your views. The challenge is to re-route the debate to make an impact,” says Sitharaman, who the Congress’ Digvijaya Singh had called “gracious” in a tweet.
But such compliments are rare. As developments unfold at dizzying speed, most TV crews hunt for visceral responses. With over 100 news channels, most parties have also expanded their media teams. The BJP has seven national-level spokespersons apart from a battery of 23 others permitted to speak on party’s behalf.
The Congress has unveiled a raft of changes to its publicity machinery, as senior leaders privately admit to losing out to the BJP’s more sure-footed media strategies.
Around noon each day, the Congress’ new communications chief Ajay Maken chats with his countrywide army of 36 media speakers, including eight designated spokespersons. That’s nearly double the talking heads the party had a year ago.
Beginning Monday, the party will deploy seven top leaders, from MPs Renuka Chowdhury to Sandeep Dikshit, to 17 state capitals to publicise the National Food Security Law.
In contrast to today’s heavy verbal artillery, spokesmanship in the ’80s was a staid, one-way affair. Well-known Congress spokesperson VN Gadgil could directly call up the Prime Minister to discuss press matters before meeting journalists, recalls son Anant Gadgil, currently a party spokesperson. Parties have now switched to aggressive corporate-style media management. Read the rest in the Hindustan Times.