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The trivialisation of our public debates

March 31, 2010 14:31 IST

The huge political furore created after Amitabh Bachchan attended a function at the Mumbai sea-link shows that trivial issues score over issues of substance, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Once again, the country has proven that not substance but shadow matters, especially in politics.

That politics is now a game played by suave spokespersons who have a command over the language, ability to spin a yarn, willingness to expose themselves to ridicule with their outpourings to justify the unjustifiable.

That politics can be played out not in the Parliament and legislatures, where official papers can be torn, the chair disrespected and all can be justified or objected to on the other for television screens showing current affairs channels.

Institutions and individuals who are the common people do not count. The greed of office would lead to do or say anything, including the vile and the stupid.


Like, for instance, that the women's reservation in elected bodies would lead to wives of industrialists and businessmen to Parliament where people would whistle at them. Remember that Mulayam Singh Yadav had even refused to apologise for that. And his spokesperson went on air and said that what Yadav meant was that only educated should go to Parliament. And we have to swallow that!

Like, for instance, if anyone uses "Bombay" for Mumbai, a slip of tongue and old habit, ire is heaped by Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. It is, however, alright for Raj Thackeray to slip up and call Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus 'VT', short for Victoria Terminus.

It can't get more ridiculous than this, I thought, till this controversy surrounding Amitabh Bachchan erupted. It is pathetic, to say the least.

Motor mouths

Congressmen who have been shooting their mouths off about Bachchan ought to be ashamed of themselves. There are two reasons why: One, they are doing this less on the moral issue of his association with Narendra Modi and more to please the party's -- and the country's -- First Family. Two, they are contriving arguments to prove that by they are loyal to her and her brood because the Bachchans and the Gandhis have fallen apart though once they were close friends.

It is a good thing that the party motor-mouths have been asked to cool it now because there is a sudden realisation that possibly, there are more people who admire Bachchan than those who do the Gandhis. If this fiat to spokespersons also includes the need to talk only on substantive issues and other times remain out of the news columns and off the television screens, the country could come out of excessive engagement with trivia.

Icon or no icon, Bachchan promotes brands because it is his profession to model as well as act in films. One cannot fault him for agreeing to promote tourism in Gujarat; it is just a job he agreed to undertake not because he loves Modi or his brand of politics. Likewise, the past brand ambassadorship of Uttar Pradesh, more perhaps because he is from Allahabad. Or, his entry into politics apparently because of his friendship with the Gandhi family.

His business, literally

It does not, therefore, lie in the Congress mouths to speak about Bachchan and his presumed endorsement of Modi when he has done no such thing at all. I wonder if he really favours all the brands that he endorses. Models, it is known, endorse products they are paid to promote, and one needs to look at it that way. There could be exceptions, including in Bachchan's case. And in Gujarat, big-ticket decisions are not taken by anyone else except Modi. Others only nod their heads, post-facto.

So what if Modi asked Bachchan to make sure more tourists flock to his state? Will you ask Tatas to take their Nano out of Gujarat? Then let Parliament shift out of Delhi because Sikhs were killed there in a pogrom in 1984.

Yes, Modi has been accused by several victims as having enabled the riots and deaths in Gujarat. Modi needs to prove his innocence, if he is that, because a man with such a label should clear himself soonest especially because he is holding a constitutional position. His being elected and re-elected does not straightaway clear the charges against him made in the highest court of the country. But to link Bachchan and Modi's status as seen by the politically correct class in this country is ridiculous, to say the least.

Then, Sajjan Kumar

On the other hand, those who are culpable for the pogrom against the Sikhs also need to be proven guilty, if they are that, including Sajjan Kumar. Remember that statement that the earth shakes when the banyan tree falls? Congress is no party of only innocents. Now, every Congressman worth his salt is trying to pay homage to that fallen banyan and its offshoots by pledging their loyalty by taking pot shots at Bachchan.

The culprit who set this off this time is Krupashankar Singh, Mumbai's Congress party chief. He had to needle Chief Minister Ashok Chavan for not having taken him in the state ministry and what better than show his loyalty at the same time to Mrs G?

No sooner that happened, Chavan himself woke up to say that he was unaware because he had not seen the advertisement with Bachchan's mention as a special invitee. If that were true, Mr Chavan, your protocol department and your office ought to be pulled up for not telling who would share the dias with you.

You were not going on a school picnic but to an official function! The charade is yet to be fully played out because the Congress spokespersons in Delhi and Mumbai are finding ways to justify their silliness.

Any call by anyone asking the Congress to get its own stigma of the Sikhs' massacre goes unheeded because saying anything beyond 'law would take its own course' is just out of the question. And the party expects Modi, another politician, to walk another path and say 'come, crucify me for I am guilty'. The irrationality of this all has made politics a charade. Substance is elusive, if it is there at all.

Shying from company

Look at the way Chavan escaped another round of criticism by disturbing the latest edition of Marathi literary conference at Pune, disrupting the proceedings just to ensure that he did not have to share the dais with Bachchan. What if he did? Perhaps, he thought, his job would be on the line. Such are the leaders that we have to follow.

It is not only the Maharashtra chief minister. Delhi's own error has been to have Abhishek Bachchan's picture removed without any explanations whatsoever. And another loyalist, Suresh Kalmadi, who is hot waters for his poor show with regard to the preparations for the Commonwealth Games says Amitabh will not be a brand ambassador for the games. Someone younger was needed. Like someone more competent to see the games through, Mr. Kalmadi?

All the country, at least its politicians can, it seems is to get their knickers in a twist over trivia and forget real issues of governance.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based senior journalist and analyst.

Mahesh Vijapurkar