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Communicate, Please

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ommunication was what brought Narendra Modi from Gandhinagar to Lutyens’ Delhi. Communication is what is pulling Narendra Modi down. The good work by his government gets overshadowed day after day by a cow killed somewhere, a BJP member getting provoked by media machinations and putting their foot in the mouth, or some had-been beneficiaries hogging the obliging media limelight for returning some award that they did not deserve in the first place. The powerful Narendra Modi is defenceless against such shrewd attacks on his government.

What are the factors that are impacting the perception? First and foremost, the motormouths in the BJP set up, including certain ministers and also Chief Ministers, and their actions. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had no business to give that interview to a hostile and agenda driven newspaper. In any case, he should have simply said “no comments” and limited his statements to policy measures relating to his State’s economy instead of sermonizing on beef eating. If he did not know that a simple twist of what he said would create a nice anti-Modi report, he did not know General VK Singh either.

Second, among the leadership barring Arun Jaitley there seems to be no capable spokesperson at present. Jaitley is seen talking rarely on the economy, which is his portfolio; he dwells more upon other issues like NJAC judgment for instance. But then, he is rarely intemperate in whatever he says. The prime minister, therefore, needs more people like Jaitley so that the most competent debater does not face the first onslaught of adversaries. Fielding Jaitley for all issues is a wrong strategy.

Third is the lack of proactive measures in the party or the government against adverse situations. Was there any preparation beforehand for the possible adverse judgment on the NJAC? The reactions show clearly there was nothing. What was the proactive step initiated by the government in the wake of the Dadri lynching? The response or the lack of it shows an utter lack of an action plan or delegation within the party and the government. When there is an attack on an SC, ST or a religious minority, the Centre can act immediately. This incidence happened just 50 km away from the national capital. Did we see any responsible minister — the culture minister was utterly irresponsible — rushing immediately to the spot for investigation? What was the minority affairs minister doing?

Fourth and no less important is the fact that Modi has a penchant for big events and long lectures. He excels in that, no doubt, but when the target is the headline hunters and byte brigade with anchors who want to prove themselves as better orators than Modi, shouldn’t there be more attention to small events, incidences and talks? The English language media does not matter in elections, but they create opinions abroad. Due to continuous negative media reports, all efforts of MrModi to build a global image of India are losing shine. Doesn’t the prime minister understand that?

No less important is the utter failure of the government to take charge of the flow of news. During the 2014 election, Modi’s campaign cleverly outwitted the Indian media and not only set the agenda for the entire election but also the day to day discussions. What has happened to that now? Day in and day out, the adversaries are setting the agenda and the BJP is gasping for breath.

This celebration has ended prematurely less due to bad governance and more due to bad communications
This celebration has ended prematurely less due to bad governance and more due to bad communications

The media strategy is evident — giving the adversaries an upper hand in hitting the government below the belt on a daily basis. What could be the solution?

Clearly, the party and the government need a 24X7 crisis management centre. Any corporate house hit with a crisis does it. The Centre must have persons with relevant communication experience and expertise. Point to note: Past work as a journalist does not qualify a person as a good communicator. In PR, many journalists have cut sorry figures.

The team must have its eyes and ears on the ground. It must collate information from every corner of the country. In communication, information is the king. An incidence of, say, stone pelting in a small town is as much important as lynching in Dadri. The information should be sorted, processed and released by appropriate levels in the government or the party.

The first mover in a crisis situation has the advantage. The 24X7 crisis management team must alert the persons at appropriate levels and move fast. Even a TV channel is constrained by logistics to flash a report. If the BJP crisis management team can match the speed, adverse effects can be neutralised. In corporate communication, it is what the communication team does. Rules are the same for government and political parties as well.

Attack is the best defence in a case of ‘tu-tu, main-main’. Not all incidences in the huge country are attacks on minorities. There are hooligans everywhere in every community. For example, the BJP seems to be impervious to incidents of lawlessness in, say, West Bengal. Is it not the duty of the party to bring these incidences to the national mainstream instead of leaving the same to some local operatives? If the RSS claims to be a Hindu social organisation, why can’t the Sangh take care of the people under attack from hooligans of some other community? Where is the seamless connection between the party and its sister organisations?

Those who bought the Modi 2014 campaign feel frustrated at the utter failure of the same leadership in managing a hostile environment. But does Modi care, given his big ticket events at Wembley, Madison Square Garden or San Jose? While supporters feel elated seeing Modi at his best, when they look at the newspaper next day and find some Dadri or little-known award winner featured prominently alongside on the front page, they feel disheartened. Modi has a responsibility to cheer them up.

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Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

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