Thursday, June 01, 2006

The indefensible posture of Defence Minister

Most newspapers, yesterday, carried the photo of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, inspecting a guard of honour after signing a MOU with his Chinese counterpart, General Cao Gangchuan.

What struck me first about the photo was the glaring difference in the postures and the general body language of the two Defence Ministers. While General Cao Gangchuan was in formal military dress, chin held up, shoulders pulled back and imposing, Pranab Mukherjee was hunched forward, tense, choking in his Jodhpuri jacket, struggling with his salute and making heavy weather of the task of touching his forehead with his three fingers.

In my first job in a sales organisation, I had to learn the rudiments of body language- to demonstrate passion, exude confidence, dress appropriately, stand erect – to make the right impression on the customer. Clever use of the body language, I was taught, helps to manipulate the attitude of the other person, but leaves the latter believing that the opinions were formed by his or her own good judgement and taste. This indoctrination has left me a strong believer in the importance of ‘body language’ as a communicating and controlling medium. So, when I saw the photo of the weak Pranab Mukherjee alongside the towering Gangchuan, my first reaction was, “ God ! Is this the person in charge of the country’s Defence?”

In this television age, politicians in western countries ( and in China too, I guess) undergo crash courses in non-verbal communication, how to transmit the right signals to the public and how to interpret and pick up cues from an opponent or a counterpart. It is recognized clearly that ‘body language’ is as important as verbal communication. George Bush and Tony Blair are regularly provided training and feedback on the movement of their hands, on their posture, on how to maintain eye contact, etc. They also try, quite consciously, to look energetic, confident and relaxed and to convey the general feeling that they are in control. When they fail to do so, the public and the media are quick to pick up the signals.

Unfortunately, when it comes to politicians in India, we associate old age, frailty, drooping posture, etc as reflective of wisdom and actually venerate these persons. They dodder and dither and falter and we accept this as par for the course. We elect senile, even demented men in their eighties and nineties, believing that older is better.

When these frail characters go abroad to negotiate on our behalf, we send out wrong signals. The message that we convey is “If the Defence Minister looks so timid and docile and barely manages a salute, then the country that he represents cannot be much of a force to reckon with.” Or, is this too critical a view?


Anonymous said...

As the saying goes, "sau khoon maaf" if they did their job sincerely. But alas, the job they do is sloppy as their appearance.

Anu said...

You are right! I constantly wonder at what impression our leaders give outsiders with whom they have to intereact and negotiate. In the west every aspect of a person's life is scrutinised by the press and public when he/she stands for elections. Image is extremely important. In our case, so many other forces play a role and the image an individual projects is not paid much attention. Sad. Atleast they should be 'groomed' after they are elected to office. India Inc. should learn how to sell!

Chilla-Bong said...

We were taught that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.Then again this is the cable TV age where Abraham Lincon wouldn't have even made it to the Republican primaries. But as anon said we wouldn't have nitpicked into the minister's kurta if he was doing his job properly.

Raj said...

Anon, maybe the wrong posture and body language lead to more sloppiness in their work.

Anu,yes,people holding public office and those negotiating on the country's behalf, must be more savvy and equipped with latest techniques

chilla-bong, exactly, times have changed, attention span is lower, quick impressions matter.

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