The circus has meandered to a midway stage and pundits are already sure of the winner; thus a certain amount of voter apathy and ennui has already set in. Real issues had been rolled over long ago in favour of name-calling and debates on āfamily tea partyā and ātoffeeā. One segment, though, shows no abatement of desire. This is the quintessential party worker: keen on climbing the ladder, show himself as active and generally be a nuisance to his immediate society. He has an inalienable ally ā flex banner. They can be printed at a momentās notice, any size, shape, colour, easily pasted or hung anywhere. Most importantly, a large photo of the worker smiles down benignly from it on the electorate he has chosen to bother.
As soon as a netajiās tour programme to an area is announced, hundreds of banners line the road he is supposed to take. The roadshow works both ways ā the leader is seen by the masses and the leader sees the flex hoardings of his supporters welcoming him. It works on the terrible visual media principle of more you see the face, more likely the recall. The worker will be termed active if the āfan clubā he heads has the most number of flex banners in the area supporting the leader. Our lovable tendency to wave vigorously as soon as the camera turns towards us has found a new expression, and at Rs 8 per sq ft, it is the cheapest option to impose and expose ourselves. Flex it, put it up and then let them suffer your grin for weeks together.
Flex material, which is derived from PVC sheets, arrived in India some time ago but the easy availability of digital printing in almost every biggish village lately has changed the landscape. A needless poster war is forever taking place in every street corner at every given opportunity in every habitation. Some bhaiya is welcoming some bigger bhaiya, someoneās birthday is being celebrated very publicly. You may miss the tagline but canāt miss the mugshot of the man who has put it up. Small newspapers believe flex has been a revenue killer, while municipal corporations and outdoor advertisers have regular units charged with removing offending posters. The poor believe discarded or looted banners can be used as rain shelters.
Ever the spoilsport, the EC mandates that each poster, banner and flag be counted and added to a candidateās expense account. It was aimed at cutting poll costs and misuse of public property. The wall painting menace was controlled to a great extent only to be now replaced by the flex menace. Since the EC continues to monitor expenses, the flex warriors have come up with a new strategy. Use every religious occasion falling within a campaign period to douse the town in flex. So, the Navratras and Hanuman Jayanti were observed with more fervour than usual, with usual suspects crowding the walls with their mugs.
Like any other plastic product, PVC is indestructible. The environment impact may eventually be huge, but for the moment, itās sustaining families by providing employment and small business opportunities. The only visible harm it is apparently inducing is a neurosis derived from being forced to suffer someone elseās narcissism on a daily basis. One day in a central Indian town, townsfolk saw a lifesize cutout of a minor municipal councillor on one of its main squares. Dressed in kurta pajama, the councillor continued to smile at passersby, obtaining their greetings on his own birthday. People suffered him through the day but by next morning, some people felt the neurosis setting in. By evening, one of the legs of the cutout was gone, and by next morning, the head had been stuck on his white pajamaed arse.
For the flex lovers though, Baba Ramdev is an inspiration. He has shown immense ingenuity by streaming live his yoga show from Ramlila Maidan. These shows were heavily advertised using flex hoardings for days in advance. His strip ads alongside furious political discussion on news channels are well designed. For the money spent on ads, the channel obliges him by getting his real soundbites in news where he appears and advises us on Modi sarkar and black money. If Ramdev can do it on national TV, what is the problem with some pappu advertising himself or his netaji at a village dhaba in full colour on flex? Itās about visibility and means, and balancing them for maximum benefit.