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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 45 October 29, 2022

Playing with Public Perception: Opposition and the Public Enquiry | Shilp Shikha Singh

Saturday 29 October 2022

Public perception plays a crucial role in today’s politics. While inclusivity of such public remains questionable it nonetheless creates a perception of common will. While BJP has mastered the art of creating perception through its meta narratives during and in-between elections, other parties fall far behind. What works for BJP does not seem to work for others. While the credit for building this rapport with public goes to BJP and its leadership, a large role is played by academia and media also. Along with the seemingly popular support for the ruling party there is a trend to dislike opposition. There is rattle race in academia and media to establish the ineffectiveness of parties in opposition. Congress seems to be the major target for everyone. Gone are the days when academic and media neutrality was defined by the ability to critique the state, the party ruling the state. Today this neutrality is judged by the ability to decimate the opposition. When government cannot be held accountable except during elections as it is a sacrosanct institution, then what is left for the critical minds to reflect on? Ah! the dying Congress that has always remained benign to academic criticism while in power or outside it. So, the sharpest minds are now busy dissecting the Congress. It has dual advantage; on the one hand it will keep their critical skills alive, one the other hand it creates a goodwill for them in the power circle. Caught in this critical public gaze Congress pays for action and also its inaction.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra seems to break this trend. The ability of Congress to pull large crowds seems to unnerve such opinion creators. After a long time there seems to be some action in the Congress camp to manage the public perception of the party. Senior leaders not only supported this initiative in one voice, they also seem to effectively respond to narrative attacks on various social and electronic media platforms. While BJP was praised for reaching out directly to the public, when it comes to Congress people preferred to either remain silent or critical. The limited media coverage of the Yatra accentuates the perception of its limited reach and effectiveness. The selective choice of metaphor ‘khakhi on fire’ was placed out of context to further denounce the party by political experts. The metaphor was used by Congress to symbolize jealousy in the camps of RSS. An expert read this as political violence. The Congress was warned for any attempt to misread RSS which may backfire the Hindutva supporters. At the same time selective dementia of academia and media when it comes to hate speech by various BJP leaders is considered politically appropriate.

Congress becomes worthy of discussion only when its leaders move out to other parties or when there is an internal crisis in the party. The media attention to Rajasthan Congress crisis is again more to discredit the authority of Congress high command than a concern for democracy within party. All such differences within the ruling party are not considered worthy of similar media scrutiny. While Congress is to be despised, its leaders are to be loved the moment they leave the party. This is not only true for young leaders who have not seen the hey days of Congress, but also senior ones who enjoyed the fruits of power for long. They take with them no discredit of bad performance or faulty policy choice. Everything seems to be wrong with the mystic entity of the party and the moment that shadow fades, leaders acquire political morality. The party carries the burden of the past and leaders remain free of the any misdeed and guilt.

That there is no credible opposition is the common perception built by media and academia. The people seem to be in love with the idea of fragmented and weak opposition. Any attempt to bring unity in opposition is also despised and debunked as unnatural and unpolitical. All this goes against the spirit of parliamentary democracy. The academia and media need to play a constructive role in strengthening the pillars of democracy by acting responsibly. It’s easy to side with the powerful but the real democracy works when you create space for all, include all shades of political opinion. The political opposition needs equal respect and demands just treatment. At the same time there is needed to expand the scope of critical enquiry so that governance may become more accountable.

(Author: Dr. Shilp Shikha Singh, Assistant Professor, Giri Institute of Development Studies | Email: shilpshikha[at]gmail.com)

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