A BRAND NEW GAME

India Today - - SIGNATURE - KAVEREE BAMZAI

At the 65th Emmy Awards on Septem­ber 22, a cu­ri­ous thing hap­pened. Hol­ly­wood ended up cel­e­brat­ing the best of Wash­ing­ton D. C., on screen. The award for best ac­tor in a drama went to Jeff Daniels for play­ing a news an­chor who takes his job of in­form­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic so se­ri­ously that even though he is a Repub­li­can, he has no trou­ble de­scrib­ing the Tea Party as the Amer­i­can Tal­iban. The best ac­tress in a drama went to Claire Danes for her role as a bipo­lar op­er­a­tive cur­rently be­ing ac­cused of shield­ing the rogue US ma­rine who may have bombed the CIA head­quar­ters. Now, we could scoff at the celebri­ti­sa­tion of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics or we could be plain en­vi­ous at the in­creas­ingly in­clu­sive spec­ta­cle that it has be­come. A spec­ta­cle that in­forms and en­ter­tains, a cir­cus where politi­cians are forced to per­form or per­ish, first to win the man­date and then to keep it. A new book by Mark Lei­bovich, This Town: Two Par­ties and a Fu­neral— plus plenty of valet park­ing!— in Amer­ica’s Gilded Cap­i­tal, shows ex­actly how the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, de­spite its protes­ta­tions of not suc­cumb­ing to the se­duc­tions of Suck- Up City, would end up as the top of the pop cul­ture food chain. It ends with Obama, the ul­ti­mate sneery out­sider, be­com­ing an ev­ery­man photo- op in his cam­paign against Mitt Rom­ney. He eats bar­be­cue for the cam­eras, sings blues with B. B. King, men­tions that his daugh­ter Malia likes the cult sit­com Parks and Recre­ation, and drinks Guin­ness on St Pa­trick’s Day.

Skin crawl­ingly or­ches­trated, you’d say, al­most as un­real as fake pres­i­dent Fitzger­ald Grant’s af­fair with his for­mer press sec­re­tary in the buzzy new Amer­i­can show Scan­dal? Not quite. So­cial me­dia and pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment have done a lot to make the elite pol­i­tics of Belt­way ac­ces­si­ble to all. It has given Amer­i­cans a healthy dis­re­spect for the float­ing D. C. elites who pro­mote spe­cial in­ter­ests. We see the same churn­ing when Arvind Ke­jri­wal speaks of Congress as a cor­po­rate group that serves Robert Vadra Inc. Or refers to BJP as the Bhrasht Party of col­lab­o­ra­tors and col­lud­ers. Here is a man who turned the press con­fer­ence into a feed­ing frenzy, of­fer­ing equal op­por­tu­nity of­fence to all ma­jor par­ties. That he has emerged as a force that nei­ther Sheila Dik­shit nor Vi­jay Goel can ig­nore in Delhi is a tes­ta­ment to the Aam Aadmi Party’s abil­ity to take pol­i­tics from rar­efied draw­ing rooms to the backs of au­torick­shaws. Ke­jri­wal’s or­di­nar­i­ness may be stud­ied and his en­tourage may look like an al­ter­na­tive news chan­nel but he has shown the power of pol­i­tics as a con­ver­sa­tion, as a new nar­ra­tive that can be in­flu­enced by a news con­fer­ence, a blog, or even a tweet.

In many ways, that is ex­actly what Naren­dra Modi has done. He has forced the Congress to counter him on facts, en­gage with him on so­cial me­dia, and try to dis­credit his coali­tion of non- po­lit­i­cal al­lies. Un­for­tu­nately for him, it is over­shad­owed by the old­est and dead­li­est nar­ra­tive of In­dian pol­i­tics— the deep­en­ing com­mu­nal di­vide. But the com­bined ef­forts of Ke­jri­wal and Modi will en­sure that the feu­dal dis­course of see­ing pol­i­tics as the sac­ri­fice of one fam­ily for the good of all will al­ter. Pol­i­tics may well be­come a pop cul­ture spec­ta­cle, with its at­ten­dant celebrity cir­cus— Modi al­ready has his charm­ing cheer­girls and gilt- edged en­dorsers, Ke­jri­wal has his jour­nal­ist lob­by­ists and anti- es­tab­lish­ment street cred­i­bil­ity. The only way to counter the old­est in­sider brand in In­dian pol­i­tics, Brand Gandhi, is to cre­ate a new one. Pol­i­tics post- 2014 will never be the same again.

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @ kavereeb

MODI AL­READY HAS HIS CHARM­ING CHEER­GIRLS AND GILT- EDGED EN­DORSERS, KE­JRI­WAL HAS HIS JOUR­NAL­IST LOB­BY­ISTS AND ANTI- ES­TAB­LISH­MENT STREET CRED­I­BIL­ITY. THE ONLY WAYTO COUNTER THE OLD­EST IN­SIDER BRAND IN IN­DIAN POL­I­TICS, BRAND GANDHI, IS TO CRE­ATE A NEW ONE.

SAU­RABH SINGH / www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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