Bengaluru FC led by Sunil Chhetri recently won the Durand Cup football tournament in Kolkata. But the acting governor of West Bengal appears to have played a different ballgame.
In a video that has gone viral, La. Ganesan, the governor, appears to push Chhetri aside to better fit into the photo op. Chhetri agreed but social media exploded in outrage. Cricketer Robin Uthappa tweeted at Chhetri: “You deserve so much better than this!!” The West Bengal sports minister has also come under fire for a similar moment with striker Sivasakthi Narayanan. Sports professional Joy Bhattacharjya tweeted the video of the politicians saying, “Five seconds that show you everything wrong with Indian sports. Apparently they won the Durand Cup, not Sunil Chhetri and Bengaluru FC!”
It’s not just sports. Clubs in Kolkata are vying with each other to get politicians to inaugurate their Durga Pujas. As soon as politicians take center stage, the event inevitably becomes all around them. This results in a mad media scrum for the neta while the artist who created the image is often relegated to the sidelines. At least Chhetri is a star himself. I’ve seen photographers ask a more unlucky winner to get “on the side” for the VIP politician to get the center frame. Sometimes the audience only sees the back of the jostling photographers instead of the honoree when the VIP politician appears.
Everyone knows that a politician should always present his best angle to the media and in this age of 24×7 news which also includes camera angles. Many often remark on how camera-friendly the prime minister is. He once gently adjusted Mark Zuckerberg, whose own products fuel our selfie addiction, and who inadvertently blocked the camera at a town hall-style event. But the Prime Minister was the guest of honor at this event. The larger question remains: why do so many politicians have to be on stage for a non-political event? Is this Durand Cup ceremony another example of how everything from sports to film festivals to cultural programs has been politicized? Organizers are beholden to politicians and then curry favor with them with photo ops and bouquets. Sometimes the politician does not even need to be physically present. I’ve seen bends for wedding announcements in some parts of the country where the happy couple are surrounded by mug shots of a galaxy of politicians ranging from CM to local councillor.
It is easy to criticize politicians. Awards ceremonies always have crowded stages as vice presidents of corporate sponsors and club secretaries are summoned for their moment into the spotlight and asked to say the dreaded “few words”. Being hungry for publicity is not the prerogative of the political class alone. A picture in the diary is a universal picture of self-esteem. Instead of fifteen minutes of fame, we suck two square inches.
We live in the age of the selfie where we are expected to insert ourselves into every photo opportunity. If we didn’t selfie it, it didn’t happen. I know someone who comes to social gatherings and religiously takes a selfie with guests that matter almost before saying hello. A friend insisted that we turn off the mood lighting at a dinner party and turn on the fluorescent tubes so she can take selfies with the other guests. I see Instagram posts of gallery openings where the art is half obscured by those who have to smile at the camera and mark their presence. Some food bloggers share more photos of themselves than of the dishes they blog about. I sometimes wonder what self-flattery tricks us into thinking the world needs visual proof that we had a cappuccino today. But I realize that social media rewards us when we post our own photos. The likes skyrocket, the endorphins kick in, and the cycle continues. It’s how we tell our followers that our lives are fabulous and enviable. Now, some of us can’t take in a vintage window or a sunset without mentally choreographing ourselves into the frame for the perfect Instagram shot. The world has become our red carpet and if it’s not red enough, there’s a filter for that.
Politicians have just learned to do it better than many of us. My photographs are always a parade of disasters – either I’m looking in the wrong direction, or the angle is unflattering exposing my baldness or giving me a double chin, or I have my eyes closed while my mouth is open. As someone who has yet to master the art of looking at the camera, I actually have a sly admiration for politicians who understand the mantra – don’t ask who the camera clicks for, it clicks for you.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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