‘Why does Amar Singh fascinate the media?’ It was a question anyone could have asked but hearing it from Pertie aroused my suspicions. Behind his curiosity, I felt convinced he was making a deeper point about Indian journalism. So I answered carefully.
“Because he always has something to say. And he says it colourfully. That makes him good copy and entertaining television.”
Pertie didn’t rush to ask another question. Yet this delay only further unnerved me. “But don’t you guys realise he’s using you? He’s made his name by getting the papers and news channels to boost his image. There’s a real sense in which he’s your creation and yet you hang onto every word he utters, forgetting he needs you far more than you need him.”
“Oh come on,” I expostulated, a shade too loudly. “That’s not fair. Amar Singh was the second most important man in the Samajwadi Party when it ruled UP for four years till 2007 and saved the government in Delhi in 2008. During that period he could change people’s lives. Why don’t you ask Manmohan Singh?”
“You’re missing the point.” I could sense Pertie’s dismissiveness. My answer had failed to grasp the true import of his observation.
“Of course, he was important and powerful and still is. But ask yourself why. He has no political base. He has no caste or regional following. He’s never even won a direct election. So what makes him attractive to politicians like Mulayam? Answer that and you’ll have answered my question.”
Quite frankly, I hate people who respond to a question by posing another. It may seem obvious to them but not to me. Working out a mystery wrapped in an enigma and hidden in a riddle simply gives me a headache. So I kept silent.
“Amar Singh’s power lies in his ability to attract attention — both to himself and the issues he promotes. He has a knack for staying in the public gaze. That’s what the Samajwadi Party found most useful. And everything he achieved follows from that. But where does that power come from? That’s the point I’m getting at. From TV and the papers, from journalists like you who keep him in the headlines and front pages. Instead, if you treated him like a Congress or BJP general secretary he’d end up like them too.”
This time I had to speak out: “Ask yourself why the media make the difference. That’s what you’re failing to see. The answer is Amar Singh has certain qualities other general secretaries don’t. He always makes himself accessible, he’s willing to comment no matter how ticklish or awkward the situation and he takes tough questioning without sulking or slamming the door. So naturally, in turn, the media give him play.”
“You mean it’s a two-way game?” Pertie meant that to sound like criticism but I saw in it recognition of an established fact. “Of course! Politicians and journalists may clash but they also serve each other’s purpose. The good ones use each other whilst hoping not to be used in turn. Amar Singh understands this and plays the game like an expert. The bad ones turn their noses in the air, shun the media and then find the media have lost interest in them.”
Pertie harrumphed. “That’s why Mrs Thatcher dismissed the media as the oxygen of publicity. But ask yourself if newspapers and news channels should be marketing platforms? Amar Singh may gain by using you, but do you?”
The views expressed by the author are personal