I have always felt that if Steven Spielberg were to make a film on India's scams, he could jolly well call it 'Swindlers List'! And if a crowd is construed as a barometer of popularity, then the most infamous personalities would be darlings of the masses.
We must understand and accept the fact that most mass gatherings captured by the media whenever scam tainted politicians or champion sportspersons or movie stars make their appearances at airports or theatres or just about any public space, there are two driving forces at play. Money and publicity.
So when A Raja descended at the Chennai Airport or at his constituency in the Nilgiris, the rousing welcome was a result of, at one level, a degree of sycophancy; and on the other, loosening purse strings.
All that it takes to mobilise a crowd today is money or booze or biryani. Or all the above. Special vehicles are arranged to rustle up people in droves. If the road shows resemble an election campaign, we are entitled to ask: Where does all the money come from? As for the rationale, it's simple. Public figures seem to be under a huge misconception that there is strength in numbers; that a massive crowd symbolises mass appeal and popular support. How ridiculous can this line of thinking be? Election after election in this country has proved that a crowd does not always translate into votes. Political party leaders often forget that people can easily see through gimmicks and stage managed 'support'. And those who engineer these shows also incur the risk of rubbing bigger fish in their respective parties who may feel insecure by their 'rise' and 'popularity in adversity'! A crowd may just mean the self-styled 'hero' has a lot of disposable cash.
If anything, such meaningless posturing only inconveniences the common man. And that ought to have been the main story for the media. How many passengers were delayed at the airport when bigwigs out on bail arrive? How many motorists are forced to waste costly petrol in the resultant traffic jams? How many ambulances are stuck because of these silly 'victory parades'? Why do we chase leaders who are not even acquitted but merely out on conditional bail? If you want an honest answer, here it is: Because the other channel or newspaper may headline it. Copycat journalism is well and truly here to stay.
Yes, it is interesting to draw comparisons between the crowd Raja got and the number of people for Viswanathan Anand's arrival after retaining his world chess title for the fifth time.
Everybody loves and admires Anand. Even those who don't understand or play the game, look up to him for his simplicity. To be absolutely dispassionate, even for Anand, you do need to rope in a captive group of school children who will be invariably instructed to land up in their school uniforms and hold placards in which the school name will be bigger than the message on them! Office bearers of sports bodies will cart along monstrous garlands that could well fracture the neck of the recipient and which require at least 3 people to hold when it is presented! And they then pose for that Kodak moment.
Publicity tastes as good as bulk biryani, doesn't it? Minus the cameras, how many people will turn up? There will undoubtedly be a few genuine well-wishers but not enough to block the entrances of Airports and make the man or woman of the moment almost catapulted out, reminding one of scenes of the Jallikattu in Alanganallur! What a circus! Pass me a Crocin, please.