A BRAND NEW GAME
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.