Communication in Zuckerberg’s age
Communication is an art. Like any art it is complex. It is more complex, in case of political communication where same formula may not suit all. Here one must change tact with the change in time and events. Unfortunately the advisors of Rahul Gandhi have failed to realise this. Thus Rahul is again acting as the watchdog for Congress. Be it Lokpal Bill or Adarsh Housing Society Scam, Rahul Gandhi is trying to project himself as the conscience keeper of Congress. The pliant media is too eager to consume such feed. The latest headline in one mainstream newspaper for instance declared, Rahul Gandhi slams Maha govt for rejecting Adarsh report. The question is, are people so stupid as not to see through such plants?
Rightly the three-time victor Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan asked through tweets where was Rahul and his conscience when scams like 2G, Coal Allotment, Choppergate etc. were taking place. Or is his recent activism an effort to turn the limelight towards him? Chouhan has a point. Did the Congress vice president not try the same formula in case of the ordinance on continuation of the tainted lawmakers? Even then many criticised Rahul harshly. Despite that his publicity brigade is attempting to use the same formula of dubious success. Did they not realise that people are more intelligent than they like to accept? Communication is not merely some attractive stylised power point presentations.
The major ignorance of the Rahul brigade is their refusal to accept the fact that we are now living through a radical transformation of our communication environment. Here media, too, is a suspect. People know how media and media persons play games with information. In the age of Internet, communication no longer is a one-way traffic. People can now publish their views on events unfolding. Thus a well-timed blog or a tweet attracts more attention than the headlines of many mainstream publications. In the age of instant information, people are more interested in what goes behind the news than what the publications dish out. Electoral success of Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi is a case in point.
Team Rahul should take a lesson or two from Aam Admi Party of Kejriwal. AAP had no option but to form the government once Congress extended its support and helped the newly formed party gain majority in the Delhi assembly. The party, with many new MLAs who never imagined winning an election, otherwise would have been a fertile ground of defection. Evidently MLAs were keen to be in the ruling party. Sensing the odds in a careful spin, AAP had painted itself as a reluctant occupant of the Delhi Sachivalaya. It went through the process of consulting people and then succumbing to their wishes. This is smart communication unlike what Rahul’s team is doing.
Rahul also tried to present himself as a man for the common man. He also travelled by train. But Kejriwal’s travel to Ramlila Maidan for oath taking ceremony in Delhi Metro received more attention than Rahul’s travel to Chandigarh or in Mumbai. Kejriwal and his newly appointed ministers did not travel surrounded by bodyguards in empty compartments. They took the train as ordinary passengers do, though with much publicity. This was another intelligent way of communication.
Immediately on assuming charge the newly appointed health minister of Delhi, Satyendra Kumar Jain, visited LNJP Hospital.
The message communicated is that the newly formed government cares. His choice of hospital was also well thought out, LNJP instead of RML Hospital. Perhaps a visit to Lalbahadur Shastri Hospital next will be on the cards. The West Bengal’s popular chief minister Mamata Banerjee had shown the way when she made visits to the state-run hospitals and ensured improvement in services. Jain’s gesture will also earn the party positive points. Rahul Gandhi should learn from such gestures of his opponents.
No less important is the way the newly appointed chief minister shuffled his bureaucrats. Many of the senior officials were suspects for causing many irregularities. By reshuffling them and also by appointing a new head of critical Delhi Jal Board Kejriwal has delivered a strong message. Mamata Banerjee goes to districts and reviews progress of the government sponsored schemes. She even has packed off her close confidant and the state Industry minister Partha Chatterjee for sluggish performance. Both the Congress president and the vice president should take careful note of the key messages delivered by effective political leaders. Only such performances saw two BJP chief ministers, in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, to come back for the third term. Mere gimmicks do not deliver any more. One likes it or not Narendra Modi is receiving popular attention for his performance in the state of Gujarat. Instead of learning from the environment, Congress enjoyed deriding the claims with the support from a pliant media.
Political communication is an art of creating noticeable opportunities. One simply cannot jump in the arena when it suits and vanish when it does not. Rahul Gandhi follows this process and attracts ridicule. The effectiveness of the key message also depends on the person who delivers the same. For Mamata regular performance appraisal meetings, in the state and in districts, match her style of operation.
Naturally despite presence of hostile media in Kolkata the West Bengal chief minister keeps on earning admiration from those who vote. Kejriwal, a master communicator, has adopted the same route from the very beginning. Narendra Modi, Shivraj Chouhan and Raman Singh have done the same successfully. None of these leaders depend on media created hypes to send their messages but use all opportunities for people to see.
In the age of inter-active communication this is possible. Instead of learning from the changed environment, team Rahul remains a prisoner of the age of Zuckerberg.
The author is a communication consultant