Will Indian Netas Adapt To Virtual Meets Like US’s DNC-RNC 2020?

How did Republicans & Democrats transition from on-ground jamborees to the virtual DNC & RNC 2020 in the US?

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Opinion
4 min read
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One of the great rituals of the American electoral process is the National Convention. For those of you whose knowledge of the American political system is worse than mine, here’s a quick guide. America has two major parties: the Republicans whose favourite colour is red, and the Democrats, who favour blue. Hence ‘Red’ states and ‘Blue’ States.

The Republicans are also called the Grand Old Party or the GoP, much like the Congress party here in India. But ideologically, the Republicans are more like the BJP, right-leaning, conservative types, and the Democrats are more like the Congress, centre-left, liberal values and all that.

How Did Democrats & Republicans Transition From An On-Ground Jamboree To A Virtual Event?

Both the parties traditionally organised events called the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the Republican National Convention (RNC) respectively. These events used to be grand, flamboyant, razzle-dazzle events, not much unlike our own political rallies. The purpose of these events was for the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees of both parties to formally accept their nominations to contest the forthcoming elections on behalf of their parties. As you would imagine, there used to be a whole lot of grandstanding, chest-thumping and deriding of opponents at these events.

This year, thanks to the pandemic-induced lockdown and social distancing norms, both the DNC and RNC had to be conducted online.

So how did both parties manage the transition from the on-ground jamboree to the (almost entirely) virtual event format?

First of all, the conventions are painfully long. Each convention was spread over 4 days with approximately 2 and half hours of speeches and videos per day. That’s 10 hours for each convention! That, my dear mitrons, is a lot of politics to watch, even for the most ardent devotees of each party.

According to various ratings agencies, television viewership of both the DNC and the RNC were lower than they were in 2016. But it would seem, that online viewership more than made up for the fall in TV ratings. But as The New York Times says “the size of that audience is difficult to credibly measure,” – ‘that’ audience being the online one.

Big Question: Are Virtual Conventions The Future Of Political Events In India?

We have a few big elections coming up in India, most notably Bihar in November 2020, J&K in January/February 2021, followed by West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Kerala in May 2021.

In a country famous for political rallies being measured by the number of people in the audience, the question is going to be: How are Indian politicians going to adapt to the new rules of virtual campaigning?

As many new-age content pundits will testify, it’s notoriously difficult to keep people engaged, what with declining attention spans and all.

At the first sign of a show not living up to their expectations, they’re going to go back to watching videos of ‘Dhinchak Pooja’ talking about taking selfies. Or worse still, cat videos. Everybody knows it’s well nigh impossible to compete with cat videos.

What Can India’s Politicians Learn From DNC & RNC Conventions?

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Keep it short. The longest duration of any online event, political or otherwise is 90 minutes. And even that’s a stretch. If you can do it in less time, even better.
  2. Master the art of the teleprompted speech. Many of the speeches in the both the DNC and RNC look dull and lacklustre because the people reading off the teleprompter look like they’re reading off a teleprompter.
  3. Please sound like a normal human being saying normal things. Normal people smile, crack jokes, and don’t sound like they’re parroting bland politically-correct lines crafted by a team of speechwriters.
  4. Hire online event managers to manage your event. Almost every Indian event agency worth its salt, has quickly transformed into a digital event agency. Both the DNC and the RNC were super slick productions.
  5. Learn to speak live. It’s extremely easy for audiences to know if a person is speaking live or if it’s a pre-recorded speech. The whole idea of a political speech is for the speaker to draw from the energy of the crowd and to play to the gallery. Not easy to do in a virtual environment.
  6. Pronounce names correctly. You can clearly see that everybody in the Democratic party has learnt to pronounce Kamala as Come-a-la, not Cam-er-ler, as they were wont to earlier. Now, if they could only learn to say Him-ah-laya instead of Himer-layer. ‘Swami Vivekamoondan’ anybody?
  7. And in case you missed it earlier, I repeat, keep it short. Everybody wants to go back to watching (the excellently made) Panchayat or The Kapil Sharma Show or the slew of really cool Malayalam films that are currently all the rage.

(Suresh Venkat is a freelance anchor, editorial consultant and raconteur-at-large. He used to be Technology Editor for CNBC TV18 and before that, has worked with Star TV and Radio City 91.1FM. He tweets @suvenk. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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