How often have we noticed when a tensed situation is sorted with a timely joke or gesture? Quite often isn’t it? However, it is becoming increasingly rare to come across such wit in public life in India, more specifically among politicians and members of parliament, who spend most of their time making personal attacks on someone or the other. Perhaps the only man who displays some sense of humour and candour is Mani Shankar Aiyyar – the former bureaucrat and foreign minister of India. Moreover, whenever the members of the public watch them on television as participants in debates, they mostly come across as a snarling lot. For instance, Shashi Tharoor has allegedly been asked to desist from using Twitter as much he used to since he was candid and people loved it. His ‘follower’ count on Twitter is still growing.
The people who matter might have a sense of humour but they are mostly given a gag order if they show any inclination of displaying it.
This morning I came across a report in the Huffington Post which was incredibly refreshing and kind of reaffirmed the fact that a head of state with a sense of humour is always desirable. The Prime Minister of the Scandinavian country of Norway pulled a stunt that had a generous dollop of humour along with the most important ingredient of an election campaign- direct interaction with the people. The Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg donned the role of a taxi driver for a cab company and drove people to their destinations. It was a brilliant stunt to say the least since the whole charade was recorded by hidden cameras and although the video has been taken down since, you can expect it to resurface again. The startled reactions of the passengers when they came to know the identity of their driver was inordinately funny but what stood out was the impersonal way in which they spoke with their Prime Minister and relayed their thoughts. An old gentleman even said as he got off the taxi that he might consider voting for the Prime Minister’s party after the aforementioned taxi ride.
It was as funny as it was effective since the Mr. Stoltenberg succeeded in speaking to plenty of people on a one on one basis using a simple but ingenious method, rather than calling a durbar at one’s lawn. Moreover, it was strategy that delivered the message that the Prime Minister is prepared to go out of his way to check how the people are getting on, much like the monarchs of a bygone era who used to take a routine trip of the cities they ruled in disguise.
I am not suggesting for a second that Manmohan Singh should copy this and be called a fool by the opposition, but the personal connect that the voter seeks is forever missing from elections campaigns in India, notwithstanding the millions that are spent on publicity and advertising. It is after all always better to let the people come to you unawares rather that forcing yourself on a Dalit family for a night with cameras in tow. A bit of humour and inventiveness can work wonders in our country.