Today’s packaged politics is for mass consumption. We must remember that we are the creators and look at the political alternatives available.
Possibly, every authoritarian regime propagates a myth that there is no alternative. What prevails, as it is said, is true and absolute; and hence, any critique of the establishment is bound to cause anarchy, normlessness and utter confusion.
In this election year, we too are being repeatedly reminded by the ruling regime that Narendra Modi is the best ‘brand’ possible; and our smartness as consumers of politics in this market-driven age lies in choosing this much-hyped ‘brand’ and feeling ‘secure’.
This argument is dangerous because it robs us of our creative agency and makes us forget that an ‘alternative’, far from being a perfectly hygenic ‘product’ to be offered to us by some external agency, is a process that evolves through our own practices, experiments, contradictions and failures. To deny this praxis is to negate democracy, or the catharsis of politics as a liberating act.
No to narcissism and religious nationalism
This emanates from two sources: (a) the colonisation of the lifeworld by the market and (b) the emergent culture of narcissism. It is, therefore, not surprising that the fancy and misdirected MBA graduates are often hired by the political establishment to project a leader as a ‘brand’ filled with all sorts of ‘heroic’ qualities.
And hence, as we have been witnessing since 2014, through the meticulously designed media campaign, and the magic of the camera capturing every act of his ‘dramaturgical performance’, Modi is projected as the best prime minister India has ever seen: a ‘refreshing departure’ from ‘westernised’, ‘immoral’ Nehru, ‘dynastic’ Indira Gandhi and ‘accidental’ Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
To begin with, we need to see the danger in reducing democracy into an act of choosing between two personalities – say, a ‘hyper-masculine’, ‘workholic, ‘make-in India’ famous Narendra Modi and a ‘naive’, ‘inexperienced’, ‘part-time politician’ Rahul Gandhi. And yes, the media houses that love to sell everything, be it culture, news and politics, as a ‘packaged product’ further create a milieu that makes many vulnerable minds feel that nothing is more important than the personality cult.
Furthermore, the culture of narcissism – a product of social Darwinism or the doctrine of the ‘survival of the fittest’ – seeks to hypnotise us. When most of us feel powerless and alienated in the age of anonymity, the mythical tales of an ‘achievement-oriented’, ‘hyper- masculine nationalist’ attract us with the grand promise of ‘saving’ us from the ‘enemies: ‘Pakistan- sponsored’ terrorists in Kashmir,’ illegal migrants’ in Assam, and ‘non-patriotic’ Muslims in Uttar Pradesh refusing to see the sacredness of the ‘holy cow’.
It is not fundamentally different from the way the ‘angry’ Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) in the Bollywood blockbuster Deewaar used to charm the youngsters in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum. Packaged politics is always for mass consumption.
And this is precisely the reason why we need to work on an alternative. We ought to say no to the politics of personality cult – the media-driven, market-induced urge to sell it as a consumable good and we ought to see politics as a critical and creative engagement with the discourse of power: the way we revisit the policies relating to social security, economic decentralisation, land reform, distributive justice and psycho-cultural movement for resisting patriarchal, casteist hierarchies. This requires our participation and our voices.
We are creators, not consumers. Well, leaders are not unimportant. However, we do not need narcissistic leaders with inflated egos. We do not need any ‘magician’ or any authoritarian personality. We need dialogic/humble leaders – almost like Antonio Gramsci’s ‘organic intellectuals’ –in constant communion with people. Well, it is possible for a leader to have what sociologist Max Weber would have regarded as ‘charisma’; but then, let the charisma, as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi revealed, evolve throgh organic connectedness with people rather than the hyper-reality of media simulations.