When Image is Manufactured


Just as manufactured/fake news retains its credibility only for a short period, the same may be said about manufactured images.

There is hardly anyone who is not concerned about his/her image. Ironically, if it is a matter of livelihood for those in entertainment industry, it is a question of promoting their “credibility” for practically all politicians. Irrespective of whatever are opinions held about Prime Minister Modi’s accomplishments, the fact that he has proved himself to be a master strategist in promoting his image cannot be understated. When he first decided to step onto the national stage in 2014, he chose to give great importance to his “secular” mask. The mask was apparently considered important by him and his advisors to diminish the negative opinions held about his role as chief minister when the state was hit by Gujarat carnage in 2002.

Ahead of 2019 elections, he tried his hand at anti-Pak card, the Kashmir-issue, triple-talaq law and succeeded once again. Now, with assembly elections in West Bengal not too far away, he appears to be going over-board in trying to look like Rabindranath Tagore. The big question is, to what degree can this exercise of promoting varying images of oneself, in the quest of winning voters, really succeed? After all, when images seem to be manufactured, they can succeed to a certain limit and not forever. Besides, questions are likely to be raised on different images of oneself being promoted within less than a decade.

Just as manufactured/fake news retains its credibility only for a short period, the same may be said about manufactured images. Here, one is tempted to state that the political field is not a stage where politicians can choose to speedily change their appearances and perform before the voters. In this age of today, voters are not simply viewers to what is going on in the political world. A testimony to this hard reality is the ongoing protest of farmers against certain agricultural laws. The same may be said about the protest at the Shaheen Baghs across the country a year ago. Both these protests are proofs of people asserting their voices as critics to government’s measures, which they feel are detrimental to their interests. Can “manufactured images” compel people to change their attitudes towards issues they are concerned about for their life and livelihood? Maybe, such images can to a certain degree but chances of their having the same impact for too long a time are extremely limited, particularly if they (images) lack credibility. This point is supported by the same person choosing to don different masks within too short a period of time.

Here, attention maybe drawn to other politicians also using tactics to promote their images. One of the most popular tools used by most is that of wearing regional dresses identifying themselves with the area they hail from. This refers to style of dress, particularly dhotis worn by H. D. Deve Gowda, M. Venkaiah Naidu, P. Chidambaram, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and many others. This tradition is changing with the younger generation opting for kurta-pyjama or jeans. Besides, what is notable is that these have retained their specific styles. There are also numerous politicians who have for long used a certain dress which is now strongly linked with their identity. This may be said of the style and colour of the saree worn by Mamata Bannerjee, shalwar-kameez by Mayawati, Uma Bharati’s saffron robes, Chandrababu Naidu’s safari-suit, the shirt-pant by Arvind Kejriwal and so forth.

Of course, each individual, whether in politics or in any other field has the right to dress and present the image he/she desires through his/her attire. Dress certainly also acts as a tool of communication, an attempt to convince the targeted audience of a certain image being promoted by the user of the dress. And herein lies a communication lapse. In all probability, voters in West Bengal are fairly familiar with the attires earlier used by Prime Minister Modi. He is not a new entrant in the political field. They probably are also well aware of his regional roots, western India. It is not the question of East being East, West beig West. But that of the same state’s intellectual as well as ideological inclinations being not similar to what was displayed by Gujarat in 2002.

Now, can hair-style, beard and dress in keeping with the identity of Tagore win over hearts, minds and votes of Bengalis? Tagore was a multi-faceted intellectual personality, against extremism that led to communalism. It was not without reason that he expressed views against rigidity leading to social bias devoid of core principles of humanity and openness. He viewed extremism as “communal motive” used by “interested groups led by ambition and outside instigation” for “destructive political ends.” Also, he was opposed to the narrow nationalism which leads to phobias and rejection of “foreign” wisdom.

Against this backdrop, electoral gains of BJP are least likely to be decided by images used by any political leader. Rather, prospects of their being based on alliances and divisions within anti-BJP parties cannot be ignored. It must be remembered, though BJP swept 2019 polls, it won less than 40% votes. Whatever be the image manufactured for electoral campaigning, it never is permanent, about which voters are becoming more and more conscious. Manufactured images can gain temporary attention and media-coverage but not win votes forever!