Party cadres seeking to show off their proximity to MDMK chief Vaiko must now micro-invest in his brand equity — the floor price for a selfie with him is Rs 100. This imaginative initiative to monetise the leadership of the cash-strapped party acknowledges a reality that politics generally pussyfoots around — that campaign funds are not donated disinterestedly, but are in the nature of investments, either towards an idea or a business opportunity.
They are much more direct about these things in the US, where lobbying is a respected profession. It is understood that when tobacco or gun lobbyists cross the ruling party’s palm with silver, they are buying a share in the brand equity of POTUS, and will have a say, though via many layers, in policymaking. Over here, electoral bonds depersonalise the issue completely, leaving us with the hazy impression that they are instruments for some higher but unspecified purpose. Of course, Vaiko has taken a nobler route in not seeking funds for instrumentality, but for brand alignment between him and his followers.
But isn’t Vaiko’s floor price anachronistically low for our inflationary age? He might consider working in surcharges for the use of a flash, for the right to share on social media, the right to morph the image and so on — things that people assume are free, but should not be. And he could diversify the bouquet of investment instruments, charging separately to be seen smiling or waving at the camera, and extracting an arm and a leg to be shot hugging the investor. He is not the first southern politician to use his person to bolster party funds. Periyar used to charge his followers on behalf of the party to attend private functions. He was lampooned for it. But obviously, in this too, he was ahead of his time.