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Thursday 4 June 2020

Clumsy Communication

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or 48 hours, the Union government kept the people of the country, its womenfolk in particular, on tenterhooks by issuing a press release that created an impression that every household was going to be raided by the tax department in search of gold. This was supposed to be a communiqué that had to notify the people about nothing more than a proposed Bill to amend an old law to plug a hole that allowed tax evaders to invest their unaccounted cash in gold in the recently demonetised economy. However, the message read as though the BJP-led NDA government was introducing an idea that gold possessions beyond “500 g per married lady (sic), 250 g per unmarried lady (sic) and 100 g per male member of the family” of any citizen was acquired by questionable means. The carelessly drafted release failed to mention that this limit was nothing new. By saying that one’s possession of the yellow metal beyond this limit had to be accounted for, every woman was left wondering where from she could retrieve the bills of jewellery that were, in most cases, not handed over to her with the gift at the time of her wedding or other special occasions in the first place. Where the ornaments were inherited, they belonged to an era when traditional goldsmiths serving certain families for generations would serve any design, weight and carat of gold to the customer according to the order placed — no questions asked.

Having realised the gaping hole in its communication, the government fielded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Information & Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu to issue one clarification after another the whole day, with the process of firefighting spilling over to the next day. The Soviet-style government mouthpiece, the Press Information Bureau, which normally issues one report a day on a given topic, was forced to release several statements trying to address the misgivings and allay all apprehensions. This was one of the classic cases of bad communication skill that the BJP government has betrayed in the two-and-a-half years of its tenure. Once again, it is a reminder to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his nature of being beholden to bureaucrats is not endearing him to the masses. Managing the civil servants of a small State of Gujarat and dealing with the IAS cadres from across the country are two entirely different ballgames. If, earlier, Modi’s dispensation faced embarrassment when the glorified clerks of one ministry drafted affidavits against the head of another ministry in the Supreme Court, here we have another set of clerks, with no training in journalism, informing or misinforming the people about the routine deeds of the government. A sub-editor barely out of a mass communication school can tell these babus they do not know even the rudiments of reporting. In fact, most reports on the site suggest that these clerks cannot articulate, let alone adhere to a style.

Now that Modi’s fascination for communist-style governance, where henchmen of the state breathe down the necks of the people — just the opposite of his promise of “minimum government, maximum governance” — is understood, can we expect him to place the right people in the right places? If India must have a TASS-like PIB, can we at least see journalists rather than clerks filling its ranks, where the job of reporting government activities as well as that of editing those reports are done by professionals? Communism-socialism lurks, of course, behind several policies and attitude of this government, which must be addressed one at a time as contexts surface.

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