Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Political Billboards

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

In the just concluded elections the entire country witnessed a mushrooming of large hoardings displaying pictures of politicians. Hardly any major road or intersection was spared in the major cities and even the remote villages overlooked. Wherever these large billboards couldn’t be accommodated, banners were placed and at places where banners could not be put up, stickers decorated with faces of politicians covered those spaces. The nation was forced to repeatedly watch certain faces while traveling on roads hundreds of time. For much of the election campaign this was the only activity suggesting impending elections. Now that elections are over and expensive billboards are removed, the banners and stickers are slowly perishing spoiling the look of the city. I am not sure what purpose did they serve.

Supposedly they help mobilize the voters and winning them votes by making politicians popular. This line of reasoning is difficult to comprehend because I don’t think anyone votes for someone on the basis of his or her looks or the size of the hoarding displaying his picture. If looks is the criteria of voting then most of our politicians might simply risk getting banned. Advertisement agencies use these big expensive hoardings to sell their flashy and attractive products with the help of gorgeous models but who is the model in these political hoardings? I am not sure but maybe some of the candidates after being surrounded by the sycophants, featuring on the corners of the board, really start believing that they are attractive enough to act as models.

Politicians do not sell material products but their credibility and programs to the voters which can certainly be much more valuable and worthwhile. Still they do not need to be pushed or sold like material objects. It can be construed as an offense to a candidate’s plans or manifesto, if it is worth anything. Knowledge of human nature is the beginning and end of political education and these hoardings clearly expose its deficiency in our political class.

A closer study reveals that in our peculiar political atmosphere these tasteless expensive hoardings do serve a few purposes. To begin with they show beyond any doubt the wealth and opulence of the political candidate, an important prerequisite in our existent political culture. Then it also shows the strong connections and power of the candidate enabling him to get the prize spots mostly against the law. Unfortunately due to repeated interruptions our political culture has developed in a way where success is valued while the means deployed to achieve it are conveniently ignored, making the blatant show of wealth and resource useful.

The small pictures stacked in corners of the hoardings reflect the many sycophants the candidate might be having. This suggests that many people are pinning hopes on this candidate making him appear more winnable. Everyone likes to associate with the winners, especially our political players and even the voters.

In addition to its above-mentioned utility these huge hoardings also show another aspect of the candidate even more undesirable. It shows that he possesses a larger than life vanity and is very conceited. It also shows his bad taste and aesthetics. Conceit is nature’s compensation for inferiority. These advertisements pay, but only the ad agencies.

Laws are as good as they can be implemented and the laws that cannot be implemented must be discarded. We have legally put sealing on the expenses we permit in political campaigns but tolerate expensive hoardings that singularly can exceed the allowable limit. It is a blatant show of wealth, which is mostly ill gotten, and we must discourage this trend. Governments and institutions that consider it its duty to regulate the type and quantity of food served in marriage parties must check this more serious and harmful show of wealth. Only by making election campaigns cheaper we can attract the honest middle class politicians who cannot enter politics due to their limited means. People with merit as their strength and not wealth earned of dubious means. We must induct this class in politics to clean and revitalize it.

These offensive means of show of wealth must be banned like we banned the popular festival of basant. They cost much more while posing equal if not more hazards. Recent elections once again proved beyond doubt that these improper ways of display of wealth doesn’t win votes as most of the politicians with faces on these large hoardings lost. For the time being these politicians might be given the task of cleaning all this up or pay for it. It might be in their own interests as someone might sue them for defacing and spoiling the face of our beloved city.

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