February 23, 2020
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Cartwheel Netas

Cartwheel Netas
Is there any humiliation our netas and mantris will not accept in order to appear on television? Our (at last count 53) round-the-clock news channels have realised that short of taking off his clothes, Mr Neta will do anything. Thus, we have politicians on tractors, in trains, in topless buses, in garish raths, in awkward for-the-accused-type boxes gracing programmes appropriately called 'Court Martial', 'The Big Fight', 'Aap ki Adalat', etc. Some imaginative anchor will soon tie up his 'guests' in chains, or ask them to stand on their head, or plunge them into a jacuzzi, or position them on top of the Qutab Minar—and they will readily oblige. I don't blame the channels. The old studio discussion format of a table and three chairs is fast becoming an endangered species because 24-hour news television requires novelty, noise, spectacle and, above all, comedy. If the anchor fails to deliver on all four counts, he is courting unemployment.

The dumbing down of political discourse, the absence of issues, which concerned and sober citizens worry about in Election 2004, is the first casualty of a bloated electronic media gone berserk. You and I can do nothing about it since many of India's 650-million-strong electorate is looking for laughs, not enlightenment. And if your programming is geared to the lowest common denominator, it is inevitable that elections and entertainment will become synonymous.

Why do they do it? Why do politicians submit themselves to such indignity? Vanity, of course, is part of the answer. Seeing one's face on the screen is no doubt thrilling, and being told the next day by your colleagues and rivals that they saw you on the idiot box the previous evening is even more thrilling. Some politicians even believe they can project an 'image' exclusively through TV, which allegedly has a pan-Indian appeal. I think this image-enhancement business is complete nonsense since not a single viewer remembers what the sage politician has uttered. The words are forgotten even as they are spoken. Not surprisingly, no one ever says, "I heard you on TV", they always say, " I saw you on TV". Therefore, you need to look like Aishwarya Rai or Shahrukh Khan to make an impact in such a crazy medium.

It is vaulting vanity, then, which explains the present madness. I cannot claim to be a Mahatma Gandhi or a Mother Teresa when it comes to self-love, but I hope I know where to draw the line. Seeing my unmemorable mug once a month on the screen is more than enough for me.

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