Indian politician’s foot-in-the-mouth disease

Pratim Ranjan Bose | Updated on May 15, 2018 Published on May 15, 2018

Social media All pervasive   -  iStockphoto

Tripura’s CM is the latest in the long list of political leaders known for their gaffes

Tripura’s new Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has become fodder for the social media.

Many Indians would struggle to identify Tripura on the Indian map. But SayItLikeBiplab is now a popular hashtag on social media. He is not the first politician to find himself if such awkward position. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made news in the past for her ‘profound’ remarks ranging from history, science to even nursing.

So, Rakesh Roshan (film personality) became the first Indian astronaut; Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) woke up from his grave to offer fruit juice to a fasting Mahatma Gandhi at the dawn of Independence in 1947.

It is not necessary for a Chief Minister to know space technology or history in great detail. In fact s/he may know as much about Tagore as a poet or historian knows about money markets or farming.

Know your limits

There were exceptions like PV Narasimha Rao who was a polymath. But such exceptions are difficult to find now as India’s electoral democracy is creating grassroots leaders such as Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee and Yogi Adityanath.

From Donald Trump to Modi, mature politicians depend on their support staff for preparing their speeches. But given the frequency of elections in India, the support staff are under enormous pressure in prepping their political masters.

Hence, during the recent Karnataka polls, the BJP President wrongly referred to the previous BJP government in the State as the ‘most corrupt’. Siddaramaiah of the Congress returned the favour by giving credit to Modi for infrastructure creation in the State.

Such faux pas are not new. Reporters over the years have collected many such gems from politicians cutting across party lines, both at the Centre and the States. A Left leader once pronounced ‘brochure’ as ‘brassiere’ before a full House.

Social media glare

Thankfully in those days even TV cameras were rare; leave alone the prying eyes of crores of smart phones recording every incident, every slip, 24X7.

Back in the 1990s, when Lalu Prasad promised to make Bihar roads as smooth as the cheeks of actress turned MP Hema Malini, editors smiled indulgently. Today, for a similar remark he could be trolled for being sexist.

And, that is the big change that has taken place in our socio-political space over the last few years. Social media is a monster. It has started impacting political sentiments like never before.

Clearly, politicians need extra care and training to survive the onslaught. ‘Mistakes’ cannot be hidden under the carpet anymore, and worse still, the impact can be disproportionately high.

From Modi to Mamata, every seasoned leader is trying to take on this challenge. Mamata has evidently been more cautious in her second term as there has been a clear decline in her share of errors. But Biplab Deb, who lacks both oratory and training, is inviting trouble for his government and the party.

Making his job difficult

Leading the BJP government in Tripura is not an easy task as the ranks are filled with turncoats from other parties, especially the Congress. Reports suggest that a power struggle has already broken out within the ranks. But it is still too early to judge the performance of Deb’s government.

As per the electoral promise, Deb formed a committee to recommend ways to offer pay commission benefits to the State employees. The committee will submit report in 90 days.

Unemployment is a major issue in the State and a lot of work is pending. But Deb’s communication blunders are causing a major dent to the image of the government especially young voters, who played key role in the Left’s defeat.

His well-intentioned but wrongly worded advise to the unemployed to open paan shops instead of seeking the favour of politicians didn’t go down well with the masses. His mix-up between civil service and civil engineering made him a butt of the joke for the educated.

The way forward for Deb is simple. Stick to the script, till you learn the trick. Modi and Mamata are mass leaders and Deb has to build political his credentials before he can hope to match them. Till then leave talking to others and concentrate on governance.

Published on May 15, 2018

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