Indian politicians need tutoring in addressing TV audiences.
Almost no Indian political leader has yet adapted to the medium of television. We either have politicians with poor public speaking skills or those who think histrionics substitute for public speaking. In fact finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and railway minister Mamata Banerjee were good examples last week of the two polar opposite models of public speaking on Indian television, when they delivered their respective budget speeches.
Mr Mukherjee spoke well and clearly, but with no dramatic turn of phrase, no visual display to impress millions watching him on television, no punchy one-liners, no dramatic gestures. None at all. The only time he stirred up the viewer was when he chastised an unruly opposition. Mr Mukherjee would have scored a goal with his television audience if he had just stood there in silence, with a wry smile on his face, watching the opposition rave and rant. He missed that chance by going into a rage himself.
Ms Banerjee, on the other hand, always goes into a rage. Her two-hour long budget speech sounded like a Rajdhani train rushing from Delhi to Kolkata blowing its horn all the way! Clearly, Ms Banerjee has no media advisor to tell her that her speech in parliament would be heard by all her existing and potential voters on television and that television is a very personal medium. You don’t speak on television the way you would addressing a hundred thousand or more on a Kolkata maidan. On the election trail you can shout and proclaim, in your viewer’s home space you need to engage the person to whom the message is addressed.
It has been a long time since we have had a telegenic prime minister. The great orator Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, who mesmerised millions with his public speaking skills, usually put up a poor show on television when he addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort or from his perch in parliament. Dr Manmohan Singh is a poor public speaker, but when he gets all worked up in parliament, he can speak engagingly to the television viewer. His famous speeches on the Delhi anit-Sikh riots and on the India-US nuclear agreement hit home hard because he spoke in a manner that impressed his television audience. The transparent sincerity came through his soft but firm voice.
Others, like Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr L K Advani, Mr Lalu Prasad, Ms Sushma Swaraj and so on fall into one or the other of the two categories — either boring or too loud on television. Among the few who have mastered the art of communicating well on television are politicians like Mr Arun Jaitley and Mr P Chidambaram.
In India, there are three major policy speeches every year. The President’s address to parliament on the first day of the first session each year; the prime minister’s address to the nation on Independence Day from the Red Fort and the finance minister’s budget speech. On none of the three occasions have we seen an engaging performance in recent years. Time we sent our leaders to Bollywood for some training!