Vivid: Jokes that politicians make... or not

Politicians must realise that a single utterance that does not go down well with the electorate has the potential to erode the faith of the masses, says Annurag Batra of exchange4media

e4m by Annurag Batra
Updated: Apr 21, 2014 7:45 AM
Vivid: Jokes that politicians make... or not

We Indians love a laugh. Even during times of confusion and adversities. And thanks to media, traditional and new, our lung power is only getting accentuated.

These General Elections, perhaps the most eye-catching, splitting innovations have been of the ‘Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar’ series. As states, one must be living in a cave if he or she has not heard of the ad campaign and the sloganeering that followed. Yes, social media has its share of contribution in spreading the influence of ‘The Great Indian Election Laughter Challenge’ far and wide, and ‘Ab ki baar…’ is surely the Kapil Sharma, in essence, if not in the act.

Anything that ends with an ‘Aar’ has sparked a slew of memes, as the thread running on Quora that has gone viral since it was created, indicates.

Take for example: “Safed hai cement Kala hai tar... Ab ki bar, Modi Sarkar” (Cement is white, Tar is black, thus Mod govt), while another goes: “Mooh mein aayi dakar, isliye ab ki baar modi sarkar”. But perhaps the level of stretched imagination is captured in the following: “Joker to Batman: Do you know how I got my scar? Batman’s reply: Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkar”.

It’s a riot of mirth across media. From the rhyme ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star…’ to Liam Neeson in Taken 2 to Rock to Alok Nath – all have been invoked to lend an extra punch to the funny side of the General Elections 2014. And the ground the jokesters are covering is never ending, thanks to the virtual world – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, you name it, and they are there.

The Twitterati Touch
Perhaps the most riveting and attention-catching phenomenon these elections has been the rise of the Twitterati. Media reports point out that ever since BJP’s prime ministerial candidate decided to speak out, Twitterati has been playing fastest fingers first. Giving a humorous and hostile touch at the same time to Modi and his election strategy, among the trends that have brought the best of wit from the prospective voters online is ‘Feku’.

Even before Modi began speaking at the FICCI Ladies Organisation, Feku has begun trending, and everything that he mentioned – from chapattis, papads, pizzas, saris, churidars and shirts – became ammo for funslinging. Various international websites have been at pains to explain the term to people following the speech through Twitter abroad. Even journalists and reporters present at the venue, listening to Modi started tweeting with the term Feku to get a retweet or a mention. After that event, Modi has already delivered three speeches and every time he spoke, Feku trended.

However, not all jokes are fun, as Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar – who said that he was joking, but the Election Commission of India refused to smile – found out recently. While addressing labourers in Maharashtra last month, he said: “This time, elections in Satara are on the 17th, and as per my information, election here is on 24. So cast your vote on ‘Clock’ (party symbol) there and cast your vote on ‘clock’ here. Wipe the ink,” he said in reference to the indelible ink to mark the fingers of people who have voted, noting that people should be able to remove it. The ink blot is to ensure that voters don’t con election officials into allowing them to vote more than once.

Does that make one laugh? According to Manish Priyam, political commentator and senior lecturer at Delhi University, in Reuters, “It is the politicians who belittle the act of voter rights and citizens’ power who [make] statements of this kind. You don’t crack that joke”.

Pawar’s case is just one example of how Indian politicians are very bad at making real jokes. When Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal called himself an ‘anarchist’, the irony was totally missed, even though senior AAP member Yogendra Yadav tried to explain, “I don’t know how the media managed to miss the very pronounced irony with which he said it… If you miss irony and turn it into a flat statement, anyone in the world would be misunderstood.” That, is quite a joke.

Indian media has been talking for long of the thin line separating jokes that hurt someone’s feelings or wrong messaging with poor attempts at wit. It’s indeed different when Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said at a meeting of poets in 2012 that “New victory and new wedding, both of them have their own importance. As time will pass, the victory will become old. As time passes, wife also becomes old, that charm does not sustain”, than actor Dev, the Trinamul Congress candidate from Ghatal, cracking jokes about rape.

When Bengali newspaper Ebela asked Dev whether he was enjoying his campaign as the Trinamul Congress candidate and the buzz being generated by his presence there, the actor replied, “Enjoy! It’s just like being raped, yaar! You can shout or you can enjoy. Nothing more than that. Anyway, since I am here now, I must get the job done.”

He was dismissed and rejected by bloggers from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska within hours of the comment made without any thought, say reports. Dev had to tweet an apology pleading that he was new to politics and that he meant no offence to anyone. And, that he was, “SINCERE SORRY”.

Jabbing and making fun will stay, but politicians, particularly those in the making, must realise that a single utterance that does not go down well with the electorate has the potential to risk a career and erode the faith of the masses. Particularly in this age of communication and information travelling the fastest, reporting will remain on top of politics – one of the favourite pastimes of the nation. Politicians must also realise that there are no differences between ‘private’ and ‘public’ utterances in an era where everyone carries phones with recorders at the ready.

As for jokes, Shashi Tharoor rightly says that politicians need to be extra careful to abide by basic standards of decorum. But then, “we should have the sense to see that a joke, however weak it may be, is a joke”.


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