Sunday, October 17, 2010

CM's Media Adviser Lifts the Veil

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

The open letter of Harcharan Bains, media adviser to the Chief Minister of Punjab, should be archived in the cultural studies departments of the world's universities.1 It is such a model illustration of how ideology functions in these times. 

If it is a calculated attempt to put the case of 'injured merit' (here the government's) before the 'discerning' readers of The Tribune, the calculation appears to have gone fatally wrong. As a signed statement that purports to answer a former minister's charges against the leadership of the principal ruling party and the CM and the Deputy CM, the letter merits serious scrutiny. But what a scrutiny reveals is that the answer does not really answer anything. The official media adviser has penned, actually, a personal letter.

But then why give it wide public circulation? 

The answer lies in the nature of the letter.

It is a fine, indeed admirable, exercise in rhetoric. Bains exploits to the hilt the resources of literature and language. He evokes archetypal tales of trust and betrayal, specifically that of Caesar and Brutus immortalized by Shakespeare. Against this charged and theatrical backdrop, he tells his contemporary tale of personal relations gone sour, of kindness returned with ingratitude, of sentiments wasted over an unworthy object.

Yet where are the questions of economy and politics that a letter coming from the CM's media adviser is expected to address? Is it a lapse, or a ruse? Is this an instance of unprofessional media management, or of really professional media management? Does the letter suggest that the government is not interested in answering the real questions, and so this recourse to an exhibition of personal sentiments? Or does it mean there is no one in the government who can ably articulate what is at stake, including the tangled issues of state-centre relations, federal funding, electoral promises, and grassroots governance versus top-down management?

There is no reason to believe that the government and the party have a dearth of talent. So there is only one key to read the letter: silence babbles.

Hence the right way to read the anguished missive is to be deaf to what is being said and to listen to the silence, to what the letter does not say out loud.  The excess of words actually carries only silence; but it is silence that tells the untold tale.

Clearly, the neat lines being drawn, in facebook kind of amateurish political comment, between good and evil are not realistic. The hard and significant fact is that neither side is discussing the issues. Manpreet Badal, who is seen as a winner of middle-class hearts, would have won, if he had the ability, the hearts of his party and the cabinet. He had a long enough innings to prove his mettle for leadership. So instead of finding in him an object to indulge our surplus, TV-induced pity, we might ask him: Recount your accomplishments as the Finance Minister and spell out in concrete detail your programme for a resurgent Punjab.
1The letter appears in The Sunday Tribune of 17 October 2010 and can be accessed at


Anonymous said...

Yes dear Rajesh, your observations regarding Mr. Bains's open letter to Manpreet Badal are spot on. The letter is an exercise in rhetoric with hardly any substance in it. There are ample innuendos aimed at suggesting that Manpreet has been a villain of the piece, a la Brutus. But the substantive issues about Punjab's economy raised by Manpreet remain unanswered, or rather they have been very adroitly evaded by Mr. Bains. The overall tone and tenor of the entire letter is that of injured innocence. Missing from Mr. Bains's public show of obsequious loyalty to the Punjab CM known for being a past master in practising competitive populism is any sense of loyalty for Punjab. Ideology always comes veiled; the letter under question is ideology veiled as reverence and loyalty to a patriarch.

Rajesh K Sharma said...

I would add that the choice of Brutus as a metaphor opens a window on the irony that underlies Bains's discourse. Can anyone doubt Brutus's intentions and unquestionable loyalty to Rome?

What Bains wishes to say and what he really says are contrary things....