As loose talk goes…

As spokespersons go, the Bharatiya Janata Party definitely has a battery of the best. Rarely are any Congress spokespersons able to win against them, even when the BJP is being hyperbolic, bigoted, cussed or plain misleading. I notice that Congress spokespersons often have to shout them down (which makes them look plain bad-tempered), they sometimes get personal (which is off-putting) and more often than not they lose the argument.

It was no wonder, then, that the ruling party at the Centre recently appointed a clutch of the more articulate among their ministers to field for the party on television channels, night in and night out. The new lot, especially Ms Daggubati Purandeswari, is rather good – she is cool, calm, collected, fails to be provoked. But, more importantly, she is able to make her points quickly and complete what she is saying in the 40-second span that generally gets allotted to most spokespersons these days by the TV channels on any show/issue.

The ability to speak in sound bytes has become a much-needed skill these days – the best spokesperson of any party ever has been Praful Patel of the Nationalist Congress Party. He has since withdrawn from centre-stage, so far as speaking for the party goes. But I thought he had done a great job of cleaning up the image of his party and that of his rather boorish party president (Sharad Pawar) in the early years of the UPA rule while still holding the rather high-profile job of Minister of state for Civil Aviation. He was never rattled by any question and always found a polite answer to even the most difficult of them. It cannot be a complete coincidence that the NCP (and Pawar’s) image has suffered somewhat since he took a backseat and stopped facing the television cameras after the UPA returned to power at the Centre.

In this day and age of split-second perceptions and instant judgments, it is, therefore, very necessary to have serious-minded individuals with good understanding of issues and quick, intelligent repartee to build or keep the image of your party going. So, with the BJP having some great speakers among their ranks, I was rather surprised, on more than one occasion, to see them fielding actress Kirron Kher who, I thought, suffers from a distinct lack of ability to distinguish between a bias and a difference of opinion or even between fact and fiction and rumour or plain gossip.

This was borne out sharply on the day Anna Hazare began his fast when one of the television channels had her in their studio to present the BJP’s point of view. I had not expected to learn much from Ms Kher but clearly others had noticed, too. For, soon after the show, one of my Twitter friends sent me a message: “Wonder whether Kirron Kher was batting for the BJP or #TeamAnna on the show.”

I had been watching that particular show, too, and I had been amused to see Ms Kher pass off what was not even gossip or a rumour as the Gospel Truth. She blamed the Maharashtra government for the poor support to Anna Hazare in Bombay on December 27 (he had to call off his fast as day later, one day before schedule, due to lack of crowds) and said in no uncertain terms that phone companies had been jammed so that people could not communicate with each other for the purpose. She also said that taxi drivers at the Bandra railway station had been ordered not to ferry passengers to the MMRDA grounds where Anna was fasting and that the government had used the police force to put fear into Anna’s supporters.

All three were furthest from the truth. It was just a coincidence that one of the largest mobile phone service providers suffered outages after a freak fire in their technology and hardware installations the previous night. They restored part of the services by that afternoon. But three days later (and four days after Anna broke his fast) many subscribers are still suffering. The company has apologised to all consumers through front-page advertisements. But it is not as though communication in Bombay was or still is on standstill. All other phone companies have been working normally, and no one even thought that the disruption was a blackout.

So where did Ms Kher get the idea, I wonder? I can see she was trying to be clever but then she should have seen the look on the face of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who was being beamed from another OB van. He seemed not even to know who she was but clearly appeared highly amused. And because he is such a gentleman he did not ridicule her much; he only said as gently as possible, “Not at all. That is not the truth.”

Whereupon Ms Kher continued to challenge him and came out with her other remarkable statements. I don’t believe any taxi driver refused a fare to MMRDA grounds that or any other day – but there were very few asking to go the venue of Anna’s fast. The next day, Team Anna, realising the mess they were in, were begging people at the railway station (as well as from the nearby offices) to make tracks to the grounds — and among them were journalists they did not recognize. They have now gone to town about Team Anna’s desperation (and these journalists were indeed taking taxis from the station to the grounds).

As for the police presence – they did come out in large numbers on the first day but they scaled down their force within hours after they realised that Anna’s had been a flop show in Bombay and that they could well handle the smaller crowds with lesser numbers.

Even before I received the tweet, I had wondered what Ms Kher had been talking about: not just the unfounded allegations but she spoke as though she was a spokesperson for Team Anna and not just the BJP. It was quite apparent then that she had failed to understand that, even if the BJP was backing Anna Hazare, it was not something they might have wanted to be made public and certainly not to have anyone from their ranks defend Anna so publicly in this fashion.

Kirron Kher quite gave the game away but the nation was too busy with the debate in the Lok Sabha for too many to have really noticed.

I do not think the BJP needs any film stars, with limited understanding of the complexities and nuances of various issues, to bat for them – they have good ideologues of high calibre who can be depended upon to do them less harm than good.

I have nothing against Ms Kher – I admire her as an actress, I adore her jewellery (as seen on television) and I envy her collection of the most wonderful sarees that she seems to have. But when I listen to the BJP’s (or any other party’s) point of view on any argument, I want rather more than the loose talk indulged in by some celebrities in their private parlours which is not just not based on facts but is downright unintelligent besides.

I expected better of both the BJP and Kirron Kher.

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