Monday, October 19, 2015

Too many authors, too many patriots? No problem. Black paint helps meet any challenge

Perhaps we need not work ourselves into a fluster over Shiv Sena's black-paint abhishek of Sudheendra Kularni. Perhaps it was a pre-arranged operation by the two parties, with the collaboration of former Pakistan Minister Kasuri and the publisher of his autobiography. Perhaps it was a script that panned out exactly as the players wanted -- to the benefit of every participant.

Consider the facts of life, literary and political. Both fields have become complicated with too much competition. The book market has become so crowded that selling even good books has become a problem. So we can imagine what it is to sell autobiographies, the mighty domes through which politicians and generals justify their actions and glorify their names. You need a special kind of genius to sell bubbling ego.

The situation is the same in politics. There are too many parties around, all of them insisting on serving the country. When America has in effect only two parties and Britain only three (two-and-a-half, to be precise), India has 1760 registered parties. With so many recognised patriots determined to work for the development of the country, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. Again, you need a special kind of genius to convince voters that your patriotism is better than the patriotism of other patriots.

The challenge is to invent ways to forcibly attract public attention. Unfortunately everyone cannot be a Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin group of companies, who thinks up the weirdest publicity ideas to sell his products and carries them out himself. Minister Kasuri cannot bungee-jump from the top of the Kutb Minar as Branson jumped off the top of a Las Vegas hotel to celebrate Virgin Atlantic's first flight to America. Can even the new-gen Thackeray drive a tank along Marine Drive as Branson did in New York's Fifth Avenue to publicise a new cola drink he had introduced?

Lacking Branson-style chutzpah, our writers, politicians and their backers need to invent other means to sell their wares. And we have to admit that, by modern marketing principles, consecration by black paint is an effective procedure. To see the brilliance of the idea, we only have to look at how every participant gained. The Kasuri book could not have dreamed of a more dramatic blast of publicity. His publisher must be giggling all the way to the bank, even if he has to pay commission to the other players who made it all possible.

The Shiv Sena gained by becoming the cynosure of all eyes for a dazzling moment. Bal Thackeray had succeeded because his preliminary objective was economic, not communal: He set out to oust South Indians from Bombay so that middleclass jobs would go to local Maharashtrians. It was when that movement ran out of steam that he turned to a communal platform, with demonstrative symbolism against Pakistan as a headline-grabber.

If that took the Shiv Sena forward a little, it was because of the stature Bal Thackeray had managed to achieve and the marketplace politics of BJP interlocuters like Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde. With all of them gone and with Uddhav Thackeray never achieving stature, it has been an uphill task for the Shiv Sena. The Kasuri book gave them a golden opportunity. They would have invested not more than Rs 1250, the cost of one liter of Asian paint. And look at the dividend they got in terms of not only publicity but also of some badly needed clout.

Perhaps the biggest gainer was Kulkarni himself. First of all, the painted face gave him a gush of energy as he spoke animatedly before the cameras. He looked inspired as never before. More importantly, like the Shiv Sena, Kulkarni too was at a loose end. Much of his life was spent chasing some goal he did not quite seem to know; hence the somersaults he performed during his career. He started out as a communist, committed enough to become a member of the Marxist Party. Then he switched to the other extreme and joined BJP. Then he left the BJP too. Three years later he rejoined the BJP. In the course of all this toing and froing, he also spent an interlude in Tihar in the 2011 cash-for-votes scam. A busy man by any account, but still chasing that final goal of importance and influence and perhaps a bit of power thrown in. That tin of paint has pushed him to centre stage. The journey ahead should now be easier.