A political leader’s jacket is news is because we let it be so. We pander not to the lazy audience, but to the lazy idea of ‘reportage’ we’ve created.
What’s in a Burberry jacket?
Any outerwear would be just as warm.
Forgive me for bastardising the bard, but that’s the only reaction I can come up with for the latest political intrigue gripping the nation. Rahul Gandhi probably just wore a jacket he had lying around because it’s freezing in Shillong, but he forgot how long (and vicious) social media’s memories can be.
The Meghalaya BJP cell tweeted an image of him bundled up in an (alleged) Burberry jacket that suddenly became a metaphor for all of the Congress’s corruption, misrule, and the economic terror it apparently unleashed upon the country.
As Twitter debates often go, this one went off on a tangent faster than can be traced with human faculties. The discourse (and I use the term with liberal doses of sarcasm) shifted to our dear Prime Minister’s sense of philanthropy, with a legion of bot accounts making sure no one can forget that Narendra Modi’s suit was auctioned off to save the nation’s poor and bedraggled. The Congress, on the other hand, began bombarding our timelines with pictures of Rahul ji’s benevolence and humility — which is to say, pictures of him travelling in modes of transportation the rest of us use.
Semantic satiation is a psychological phenomenon that causes a phrase, if repeated fast and often enough, to temporarily lose any semblance of sense. ‘Suit-boot ki sarkar’ has been thrown around so many times, I’ve forgotten what it means, and more importantly, I’ve forgotten why it’s being thrown around. To think that the most pertinent issue in the country right now is a (rather nondescript) jacket rankles on so many levels — especially those that are struggling to come to terms with the train wreck that the country is right now.
Just a day before, an eight-month-old was raped in Delhi by her 28-year-old cousin. The outrage started off well enough, with pithy statements and tweets savaging the authorities and ripping through the stratified threads of the social fabric around us, but petered out just as quickly. The Budget session kicked off too, with the Economic Survey painting a rather sobering picture between the (very ‘empowering’ pink) lines of a government acknowledging that we might be in for a fair amount of instability in the near future. The judiciary is in a state of upheaval, and no one knows which way it will heave. Media and freedom of speech are as besieged as they can be in a period of non-Emergency.
And deflection has clearly become the most useful skill to have.
To demand a sedate, mature political discourse is possibly too much to ask for. We’ve grown used to the pomp and histrionics fed to us, and we thrive in the chaos as much as it thrives in us.
But is a small amount of educated cognisance too big a dream? It’s rather reductive to beg for awareness in an opinion piece woven around the most ludicrous news item of the week, but maybe that’s what we’ll have to do now. Much like how my mother grates vegetables into delicious paranthas in order to get them down my gullet, I’m going to start referencing matters that worry, terrify, and sometimes enrage me in the middle of all the fluff social media readily provides.
To assume that audience attention spans have shortened is to absolve ourselves of the absolute mess we’ve created. The fact that a political leader’s jacket is news is because we let it be so. We pander, yes. Not to the lazy audience, but to the lazy idea of ‘reportage’ we’ve created for ourselves. We’ve convinced ourselves that this is all we can create — and we just assume the readers won’t call us out on our bullshit.
For now, of course, jacketgate (as this incident shall now be referred to) has captured the collective imagination. At least till the next Bigg Boss episode comes out, that is. Should we really mount an investigation into how Rahul Gandhi could afford a Burberry? Do we believe him when he says he borrowed it from a friend? Where do I find friends who’d loan me their Burberry jackets? Should we trace back what exactly happened to the Rs. 4.3 crore Modi’s garish suit was sold for? Should we inform Rahul Gandhi that we would look much nicer in a woollen trench?
The possibilities are endless, honestly. There is clearly much to discuss, dissect, and dismember as our political leadership’s sartorial choices come to fore. First things first — could I hire the person who managed to narrow down the jacket to its alleged origins? It would be such a fabulous resource, to have my very own personal style guide following me on Twitter and sending me names of all the brands I have absolutely no reference for.
Maybe I’ll get myself a conversation-creating black jacket too.
Harnidh Kaur is a poet and feminist.