THINK of a politician. What image comes to mind? An unsmiling visage and a ponderous speech? No longer. In the India of the '90s, politics is not the "backward sector" as fashionable theorists of culture have asserted. Today Indian politics is Virtual Reality where the soundbite threatens to replace the pre-election promise and the camera angle passes for a manifesto.
From Narasimha Rao to Uma Bharati, Ram Vilas Paswan to Madhavrao Scindia, politicians have recognised the power of pictures. Khadi kurtas are freshly ironed nowadays and brevity and wit have replaced boring policy statements.
John F. Kennedy was perhaps the first tele-president of the United States. And the forthcoming elections will perhaps be the first tele-elections in India.
Yet the genesis of the telegenising of Indian politics lies in the Rajiv Gandhi years. Racing through the country on a jeep, dancing with tribals or laughing amid a crowd, the leader with the prettiest face in the Lok Sabha was the first Indian politician to harness the power of television to his campaigns. As far as Rajiv...