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Communicating to beat Modi

Communicating to beat Modi
After the curtain raiser assembly elections the stage is finally set for the national general election. Political campaign that started from the third quarter of 2013 is turning intense with every passing day. So intoxicating is the scene that the reticent Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, too could not keep his mouth shut any longer and addressed a press conference. At the juncture of the final round of political activities before the 2014 election, the time is ripe for assessing what had been the messages delivered by the political leaders so far. 

Since the prime minister took the lead role to communicate in the new year, let us check the key messages he delivered. The intention for Singh to come before media for the third time in his 10th year as the PM was to tell that he would not be available for a third term. Thus it would be on a new leader to lead the Congress to the 2014 election. The well-anticipated message was intended to save whatever big leaf of a prestige Singh had as the puppet PM of the largest democracy of the world. That Singh was moving on his own and that only Rahul Gandhi did have the necessary qualification to lead India in future had been the part of the script. What was outside and made headlines in the Modi-baiting media was Singh’s certificate on Narendra Modi, arguably the tallest leader of India today. 

Modi, according to Singh, presided over the much talked of 2002 riots in Gujarat. Coming close on the heels of another court judgment confirming the exoneration of the Gujarat chief minister from any complicity in the sad incidents, Singh’s comments were surprising. More so since a similar rhetoric from the Congress president Sonia Gandhi had cost the party dear in the state election. The more the opponents raise such issues the stronger becomes the latent support base for Modi. Yet prime minister opted for the same suicidal route. Pliant media jumped in with screaming headlines and thus giving the hackneyed statement a new lease of life. The PM, in effect, offered new elixir to the dormant sentiment of religious divisiveness, which has made the word ‘secular’ a laughable one. While creating an ‘honourable’ exit for himself and paving the path for the heir-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi India’s ‘family’s choice PM’ gave a push to the cause of the arch rival Narendra Modi. The message will be apparent, as election campaign turns shriller day by day.

While Singh was doing his bit Rahul Gandhi worked relentlessly in sending the ‘right’ message. This time his party’s government in Maharashtra was the target. The rejection of the report on the Adarsh Housing scam offered Rahul an opportunity to attack his own government and show how concerned he had been for transparency in public life. As expected the Maharashtra state cabinet played ball and accepted the report as wished by Rahul. The caveat was that no politician would be proceeded against. Thus the former chief ministers which included the incumbent Indian home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde were spared. Rahul’s new drama offers a new fodder for strong orators in the opposition BJP. Congress does not need any opposition to pull it down. Its top leaders are more than capable in strengthening the opposition’s cause.

The key message coming from Congress is one of impending defeat. Thus ‘rats’ are deserting the boat and are looking for safe havens. The revamped BJP under Narendra Modi is circumspect unlike the one in 1998. It is difficult now to sneak into BJP and hog the limelight. Therefore many are moving towards the new kid on the block, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party. This illustrates the fact that those who survive being close to power cannot think beyond Delhi. In its present form AAP is a mere city-centric party that has little influence even in the outskirt of the national capital. Yet the ‘rats’ and a large section of media are busy projecting AAP as the alternative to Congress. The oldest national party is also not doing justice either to its reputation or its considerable strength even after depletion. Congress has a brand that Kejriwal will take few generations to emulate. Just by winning (that too as number two) the right to govern Delhi AAP cannot hope to replace Congress nationally. Curiously many have been mindlessly projecting induction into AAP of a failed banker, ousted private sector finance chief or defaulter entrepreneur as a new arrival statement of sorts. Clearly this category has little or no understanding of politics in general and Indian politics in particular.
The fledgling AAP has also been sending uncertain messages. The inability to find a house for Kejriwal is a case in point. Heavy weather is made out of something that is routine. When some people assumes a charge that they never expected and enjoy the attendant hype surrounding the same, such ambiguity is expected. AAP’s coalition with Congress, its principal adversary, will eventually harm the party. By taking up the cudgel against Narendra Modi and intending to contest against BJP in its stronghold, AAP is shifting away from its raison d’être. The party is politically ignorant, over reliant on hype and too much in a hurry. Or it has strong patrons from somewhere who are keen to fund and back them up. Either way AAP is gearing up for a shock that is unlikely to be happy this time.

The other undercurrent message AAP has been giving is the intention of occupying the position vacated by India’s left. Its subsidy-economics is of Communist-vintage circa 1970. The disaster of such a policy saw the eventual decimation of India’s left. How AAP can rebrand the same and make 
the young interested remains to be seen. The communication of Modi-baiters has been like serving the old dish reheated. For media and ‘deserting rats’ the same may taste like nectar but for the majority who vote and live away from Delhi how will it taste will be known in May 2014.   

The author is a communication consultant

Sugato Hazra

Sugato Hazra

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