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This article was first published 2 years ago  » News » Modi Isn't A Speaker Who Enjoys The Unpredictable

Modi Isn't A Speaker Who Enjoys The Unpredictable

February 10, 2022 12:24 IST
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He appears to prefer controlled environments and secure, guided outcomes.
In this format, he seems to be at home across scales ranging from a studio-based interview to giant stadiums.
It highlights the significance of control in the ruling dispensation's idea of narrative, observes Shyam G Menon.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi replies to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address in the Lok Sabha, February 7, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

What makes a speech interesting?

If it is all words and no idea, articulation and facts, a speech is merely hot air.

If it is idea, articulation and facts with no human connect, the speaker might as well be replaced by a machine.

It is tough to find those who strike the proper balance. You improve with experience.

Years ago, amateurs in the trade kicked off with emphasis on being heard.

Till it became clear from the audience's response that there was also much to learn from the content articulated by the most reserved, soft-spoken speaker around.

One realised that the audience was not above listening if the content was relevant.

It was a lesson -- drama, loudness and style don't always sell.

Not to mention -- isn't an audience listening to what is being said despite speech lacking fireworks, a measure of speaker's effectiveness?

The above is an ideal situation; memories of college.

The real world has its challenges.

For instance, while a general audience may submit to a speaker's thoughts and words, venues that serve as competitive political space -- Parliament being one -- aren't as kind.

At times of domination by majoritarian politics (like what India has endured since 2014), speeches in Parliament that question government have to tackle the prevailing trend of being crowded out.

Further, as an audience at large, we have become increasingly lost to technology.

We are quickly trading articulation and explanation by language for the brief, sharp responses of a mind used to technology.

Dialogue has become a chore, informed dialogue even more so.

There has also been the perception that the rules of engagement associated with fine public speaking are the etiquette of an elite world as opposed to being indispensable prop for good quality debate.

One may assume that the casualty of all this, is public speaking. That is incorrect.

The predicament actually offers scope for certain kinds of speakers, among them, those who tap into old school public speaking rich in emotion but aim for an outcome palatable to contemporary tastes.

Often called a great communicator, Narendra Modi arguably falls in this category.

He grasped the audience's emergent nature and has been an unstoppable force, particularly as regards large sized meetings.

In this new blend of public speaking, the emotion from yore continues, except it is to indulge the sensibilities of a Roman arena.

It is entertainment. Not to mention -- quite macho in its style, which India loves.

Till recently, a Modi speech fetched huge crowds.

Further, Modi leveraged technology to straddle (virtually and otherwise) an audience spanning school children to election rallies; he has had multiple avatars ranging from approachable teacher for the young to star campaigner for the BJP and ascetic meditating in a cave.

He is everywhere. However, it prompts the question: What is he? Discerning players in any field know, one can't be everything to everybody.

The fatigue around brand Modi is thus not surprising.

But then, this weakness is noticeable only to a discerning audience and by definition, such forums won't be many.

In political fate decided by majority of votes, the few don't count, unless they speak up and speak as best as they can.

In public speaking, connect is only one half (sometimes less); the rest is content.

How well Modi fares in content -- you be the judge.

If his record of interaction with the media is anything to go by, then he isn't a speaker who enjoys the unpredictable, especially uncomfortable questions.

He appears to prefer controlled environments and secure, guided outcomes.

In this format, he seems to be at home across scales ranging from a studio-based interview to giant stadiums.

It highlights the significance of control in the ruling dispensation's idea of narrative.

The troll armies and the waves of approval and disapproval manufactured on social media using people, algorithms and bots -- point to the control exercised.

The question then is -- does oratory dare remind the audience of the larger picture they are missing; does it have a responsibility to make people think or should it restrict itself to that which fetches the easiest ovation?

Does oratory accept the audience as impatient and carry on as entertainment or does it take the harder route of negotiating for patience and restoring comprehension and larger picture to their rightful place?

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi struck an aggressive note during his speech in the Lok Sabha, February 3, 2022. Photograph: Sansad TV/ANI Photo

Rahul Gandhi, whose oratorical skills aren't among the most impressive, appears conscious of what the country is walking into and speaks his mind regardless of popularity.

Sometimes, that is what counts. On February 3, he did that in Parliament and got the government worked up.

The same day Rahul Gandhi spoke in Parliament, the media reported Mahua Moitra telling the government at the same venue, 'You fear a future India which is comfortable in its own skin, which is comfortable with conflicting realities. You are not content with just the vote, you want to get inside our heads, inside our homes, to tell us what to eat, what to wear, who to love. But your fear alone cannot keep the future at bay.'

The government has itself to blame for its blood pressure shooting up due to the Opposition's speeches.

The ruling dispensation is comfortable only in its agenda, which it spares no effort to inject our existence with.

While the speeches of February 3 may have fuelled anticipation for what Modi would say in reply, fact is, no country would be happy with a section's agenda thrust on all.

People will speak up and if their style of speaking doesn't impress, their relevance will.

Shyam G Menon is a Mumbai-based columnist.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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