Akhilesh Yadav recently said, “Baba Mukhyamantri cricket khel sakte hai kya, bowling kar sakte hai kya” (can a monk CM play cricket? Can he bat? Can he ball?). This statement has its own theatrics – an open to interpretation statement attacking the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with provocative undertone.
But Yogi did not respond to it himself. Instead, Defence minister and senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh, who also understands cricket retorted, “yogi ji ki in-swinger and out-swinger ke age koi tik nahi payega” (Nobody can stand a chance against in- swinger and out-swingers of Yogi Ji). This suggests how much value politicians give to this new found theatrics.
As electoral zeal is brimming in Uttar Pradesh, a new politics – a politics of catchy statements is adorning the atmosphere. A tug of war between two main parties – BJP and SP – have ensued. But statements from each party have less to do with issues that they are fighting for. Instead epitomize unique theatrics, which has become a part of every election since 2014. Each politician knows that their statement is being recorded. So, they want to be impressive – they act as if a specter of being irrelevant is chasing them.
In UP it all augmented with Prime minister Narendra Modi’s jibe “Pura UP janta hai in lal topi walo ko lal batti se matlab raha hai, aapke dukh takleef se kuch lena dena nahi hai (whole UP knows that these people with Red cap only wants power, they don’t care about your problems). And in response to that SP released a song “Hum Lal topi wale hai” (we are people with Red caps). Yadav knew that they can’t just respond to the PM's statement by saying something; they need to capitalize this opportunity – so releasing a song was a way that they reckon might do well for them.
Interestingly, the song “Hum Lal topi wale hai” didn’t attack the PM but CM Yogi. Both Akhilesh and Adityanath know that contest is between them, dragging a player from outside UP in the election, would go against them.
For the grand old party – Congress – preparing a pitch in UP is tough for many reasons and one of those is that they don’t have a strong face to play in this parley – and on top of it, BJP and SP have already assumed the role as each other’s opponent.
However, Priyanka Gandhi did try to be an active party in this theatrical parley – Ladki Hoon Ladd Sakti Hun (I am a girl, I can fight), was a strong statement, given the circumstances but this couldn’t augur well. Because Congress couldn’t take it further. Mayawati too, has remained an outsider in this theatric. Although, she is still a very important player in this election.
In this game, Congress and BSP seem to forget that one can diminish out of public memory in just a matter of a few days. If their statements don’t engage with the public in these theatrics – they won’t get any attention. Moreover, this “public” is not just voters of UP, it includes everyone who is interested in the UP election. For them, politicians are not just politicians, they are also performers. Voters too want leaders to say what they stand for in a witty and convincing manner.
BJP is by far the first party to meticulously use these new theatrics – use of memes and catchy statements. Memories of the 2014 election when BJP first used these theatrics on a bigger scale, are still etched in our mind. For instance, the slogan Abki Baar Modi Sarkar, Modi hai toh Mumkin hai and a lot of memes made after that can’t be forgotten. Also, BJP successfully created an image of Rahul Gandhi, as a bad performer.
Now politicians seem to have realized that they should remain impressive and catchy – it was very much visible in the Bengal election – Didi oh Didi, Khela hobe, etc were not random statements but very planned, definitive moments to create a “notional” image of election and parties in the minds of voters. It made people choose for who they would vote.
Though, academicians and some Journalists are opposed to these theatrics of meme wars during election because it affects election outcomes. An argument emerges out of it that, “memes are dangerous for democracy.” Journalist Douglas Haddow argues in a piece that he wrote for The Guardian in 2016, “Memes can be fun, or they can be dumb – but as an emerging medium, they haven’t provoked a lot of debate or analysis. In fact, they seem to defy scrutiny.”
Going into a normative debate over whether memes are good or bad for a democracy – is not in the scope of this article. However, one thing that is quite visible and we as journalists see that politicians are making interesting, pithy statements with a memetic undertone. For instance, Akhilesh calls Adityanath, “Baba” and his tone for him is always such that he is speaking about a “monk”. Similarly, when Adityanath speaks of Akhilesh, he refers to him and his party as ostentatious and corrupt.
In these theatrics, failing in wit is too risky. Their statements, and internet memes made out of it is a constant attempt to keep them trendy. So, like all elections after 2014, these theatrics are playing out in UP as well. But of course, UP is UP.
(The views expressed here are of author’s own)