The Art of Image-Making in Politics

“Half of politics is image-making; the other half is the art of making people believe the image”.

-Hannah Arendt

Most common people have the privilege of living distinguishable private and public aspects of life. However, some career-choices require this distinction to be erased, as the public domain gradually penetrates into the private. These are usually professions in the entertainment industry or active politics that bring along wide popularity and fame, and therefore, necessitate that a positive public perception on the individual be maintained at all times. In the entertainment industry, there is still some scope remaining to guard one’s personal life from public scrutiny, owing to the fact that the actor’s private morality does not particularly affect the viewers’ life directly. This is not so for people having an active political career, especially those that command high-ranking positions in any system.

In fact, the decision to join active politics embodies an inherent acceptance of this reality, and public attention is often the incentive that attracts people to politics in the first place. Formal politics is characterized by authority, i.e. power backed by legitimacy. This notion of legitimacy involves a voluntary acceptance on the part of the citizenry, which can be attained only when the regime is able to create an image of goodness/righteousness. The process, in fact, begins when a political party aims to contest an election. The initial steps are the formative ones, and while the process of image formulation is continuous, a foundation laid well gives the party and its leadership an upper-hand. The relevance is not merely to political parties, but also plays a crucial role in determining the career prospects of individual leaders.

Image formulation essentially entails portraying oneself in a certain manner in the public domain that may or may not correspond to the real value systems of the individual or party. This is done by a series of deliberate and carefully planned actions. Important elements include personality, attire, vision, opinion on key issues concerning the polity, articulation of the aforementioned and behavioral patterns displayed in the public. While the process of creating an image mostly underlines a continuous effort throughout one’s political career, the high points are visible in the vibrant periods prior to elections. Election campaigning is an embodiment of this process, that poses a challenging frequency with which leaders and parties need to make public presentations.

These rallies, meetings, press conferences, interviews, etc. seek to build a pressure on the involved leader, who needs to employ intelligence in his public demeanor, and be spontaneously wise in his responses to impromptu questions. Seemingly unimportant factors like dressing, expressions, and the minutest of gestures demonstrate the qualities an individual is equipped with. Election campaigns are indeed competitions in marketing and branding. The juggernaut that Narendra Modi came in with during the General Elections of 2014, and the results that the branding brought along, are clear manifestations of the power of image-making. Narendra Modi has had one of the most successful branding strategies in Indian politics. Despite his history comprising the dark label of communal politics, he created a positive wave in the nation with his “Achche Din Aane Wale Hain”.

Post-election, he has done remarkably well in creating a progressive image of himself around the world. Similarly, the ‘Pappu’ that has been attached to the Congress Supremo Rahul Gandhi is an image he has been trying hard to get rid of. With the General Election 2019 knocking, he has been grave and confident in repeatedly challenging the government on crucial questions like the Rafale Deal. Clothing is another key component, as used by the West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee, for instance, whose white saree reflects upon her simplicity and a close bond with the humble lives in the country. Her grounded demeanor has helped her become one with the masses and has popularized her image as Bengal’s ‘Didi’. Several leaders and parties portray an image of a modern outlook driven forward by development-oriented policies.

However, they fail miserably at the implementation when their redundancy and disgusting thoughts concerning women are out in the open with their public remarks. Public image formation today also has numerous corporate houses involved in branding and strategizing. The centrality that a leader’s image has assumed can barely be defined in words. What is important is that once people assess these leaders and elect them in accordance with the judgments made on these images, leaders and parties comply to them!

Picture Courtesy- News Nation

This article is a part of the ‘Of Tugs and Tussles: General Election 2019’ feature series where we focus on quality content written and chosen to focus on specific areas surrounding elections. Find a link to other articles of this feature series here: 

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