How many 19-year-olds, unknown till a year ago, would get a state funeral or have the Prime Minister of India or Chief Minister of Punjab mourn his death?
But Ishmeet Singh was special.
When he won the TV music contest, Star Voice of India, last year, the young Sikh from Ludhiana became the symbol of small town, middle-class aspirations. The television show lasted almost five months and Ishmeet built up a huge following in his home state, Punjab, which eventually voted him to victory.
“Such contests mobilise State affiliations and community associations, particularly among the youth,” said Pramod Kumar, director of Chandigarh’s Institute of Development and Communications. Because the public can vote for their favourite candidate, there is an “ownership” of the winners.
This ownership develops over time: Every week, for the entire duration of the music show, viewers saw Ishmeet and his family and shared in their dreams and aspirations. Explains Anupama Mandolai, creative director of Star Plus, the channel on which Voice of India was shown, “Viewers get passionately involved with the contestants and these passions get inflamed even more as you move closer to the final stages of the contest.”
Every community — particularly minorities or residents of far-flung states like Assam or Jammu and Kashmir — searches for heroes. And, as Chandigarh-based theatre director Neelam Mansingh said: “Politicians are poor candidates. But television and talent together make a lethal combination. Contests like Voice of India tap in on every community’s desire to have its own members achieve national fame and adulation.”
We all need icons, and when we create icons who belong to us and are one of us — that’s when you get someone like Ishmeet. Politicians and State governments are quick to recognise — and appropriate — such icons.
That’s why a talented young singer with a huge fan following in his state got a State funeral.