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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On the campaign trail...

In this election season, some free and unsolicited advice to our politicians

Election season is upon us in all its maddening glory. Newspapers are heaving with poll-related news, telling us the caste breakdowns of constituencies, how they voted the last time, and what chances the principal political leaders have this time round. TV news channels have suspended regular programming to bring us live speeches from Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal whenever they speak at party rallies (which is pretty much every day). And even in the real world, all conversation seems to revolve around the elections, and what kind of result they will throw up.

In this season of poll-mania, it is hard not to get caught up in the madness. And so yes, I have succumbed as well, mainlining the news reports, following the social media accounts of politicians, and yes, watching the endless reports on the electoral fights in Varanasi, Vadodara, Amethi, Rae Bareli, Amritsar, Gandhinagar, Bhopal, and other key constituencies.

Which is why, this Sunday morning, I feel compelled to offer some free and completely unsolicited advice to all the candidates in the fray. 

First off, a quiet word for the men. No matter what the provocation, do keep your shirts on. Or your kurtas. Or even your banians. Nobody needs to see those man boobs or jiggly bellies even if you are taking a ‘holy dip’ in the Ganga (yes, Arvind Kejriwal, I am looking at you). This nation has suffered enough. It doesn’t deserve to be traumatized any further. 
Ladies, please be advised to post a cordon of heavies around you to keep away the gropers, especially the ones that belong to your own party. Congress candidate from Meerut, the film star, Nagma, learnt this the hard way. She was first filmed being manhandled by a Congress MLA, who later claimed that he was only trying to say something in her ear above the din of campaigning. Nagma brushed that off but a few days later was seen slapping a man at a rally when he got too close for comfort. Maybe next time, she should keep the pepper spray handy. (As indeed should all the women candidates out there.)
Remember, this is the era of electronic media and social media. You may be making a speech in one state but it is heard across the country. So, don’t use arguments that don’t travel well. Narendra Modi, for instance, made a vow at a rally in Jammu to free the state of J&K from dynastic rule. Chief minister Omar Abdullah was quick to respond. “I dare Namo to make exactly the same speech against dynastic politics in Punjab or Maharashtra. Come on, money where your mouth is,” he tweeted. 
This should really go without saying, but it makes a complete mockery of the election process if you make speeches threatening to kill your political opponent. This is an election. You are supposed to beat him by the ballot not the bullet. But nobody sent that memo to Imran Masood, the Congress candidate from Saharanpur, who was filmed making a speech in which he threatened to chop Narendra Modi to pieces. He has since been booked for hate speech. And we can only hope that this serves as a salutary example to others.
Say one controversial thing every day to keep in the news. Better still, time your statement so that it makes the primetime TV news bulletin. There is no better, or cheaper, way of staying in the limelight. Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP colleagues have perfected this art. It’s time other political leaders played catch-up.
Use social media to bypass traditional media and get your message across to the voters without any intermediaries. Shashi Tharoor has first mover advantage in this regard. But since then, other politicians have also seen the endless possibilities of this strategy. Narendra Modi, Shivraj Chauhan, Sushma Swaraj, Digvijay Singh and RPN Singh have accounts on Twitter, and Arun Jaitley is fast becoming a presence on social media as well. 
It may be a good idea to hire stand-up comics to write your lines for you because – let’s face it – you are really not that funny or witty on your own. There are, of course, exceptions like Arvind Kejriwal who came up with this classic: “If Advani wants Modi to listen to him, he should drop the ‘v’ from his name.” 
And if you do make a witty remark in the course of an interview, then don’t get too over-excited. And for God’s sake, don’t look off camera and smile proudly at your support staff, even if they are applauding you from the sidelines. (Yes, Amar Singh, I do mean you!)

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