Need for marketing politics
Congress works more than the Opposition but fails in marketing, said Rahul Gandhi. For a change he is not completely off the mark. A party in government indeed works while those in the opposition selects cases where they can criticise the steps taken. They have no responsibility of delivery but to deride the government. Indeed the opposition depends on communicating the government’s failures and score points. But the more important question is can the government also not communicate and expose the critics?
In 2004, Vajpayee government attempted the same. The India Shining campaign was the result. While the campaign was well conceived it helped the critics to find loopholes. With overwhelming presence of poverty it is well nigh impossible to see ‘shines’ everywhere. Even small pockets of stagnation and relative underdevelopment could be the butt of jokes against the India shining campaign. And the rest is history. The effect of the campaign could be seen in the 2004 Lok Sabha election result.
Before every election all governments attempt to showcase their achievements. One reason for such advertisement campaign is to influence the editorial of mainstream media and block negative reports as much as possible. In the days of social media this may not be as effective as it was earlier. Still majority of the voters judge by what is portrayed in media. Devoid of power of analysing themselves the media analyses influence them most. Rahul Gandhi should admit that governments, too, market themselves. The stream of advertisements is proof. But the end result normally is not as effective as one likes it to be.
In political communication, the negative sells more than the positive. Those in the government help propagation of negative willy-nilly. Corruption in governance is a major issue, as Rahul Gandhi will certify. The controversies over 2G, CWG, Coal to mention just few major ones, did harm the government’s image, which no amount of positive marketing could have erased. Point to note is that in political communication negatives spread faster than positives. Certain measures, apparently positive, also lead to strong negatives for the government. Take the newly appointed Kejriwal’s Delhi government for example. The government in its less than three weeks of existence has managed to stir up several hornet’s nests. The announcement that electricity bills of defaulters would be waived and paid by the state government is a case in point. Kejriwal did not ponder that the same is discriminatory to law-abiding citizens. He also winked at the fact that the state government finances is not exactly his party fund to be squandered the way he deemed fit. Despite an overactive media eager to support Kejriwal the weight of the arguments of the critics to his utter populism was so strong that he had to seek cover. Marketing also needs to be matured and within the well accepted parameters.
Populism does not work. Kejriwal’s well-publicised Janata Durbar is another example. An acquiescent media saw merit in the chaos that was witnessed in front of the Delhi secretariat. But such durbars, vestiges of the feudal system, bring to light the semi-feudalist attitudes of the democratically elected leaders. Media ignore the dichotomy and eulogise such populism unthinkingly. When large numbers of people who crowd such events find nothing comes out of their presentations the negative impact sticks deep into the image. If a government attempts to be too populist without substantive delivery the end result hurts.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee learnt the same fast and mixed populism with delivery mechanism of the government. Mamata visits districts with her officers and ministers, sets targets and takes stock of performances. The effect is seen in the operation of the bureaucracy. Her government has put emphasis on e-governance that has seen improved delivery system. A simple instrument the West Bengal chief minister has created is a yearly calendar of 2014. The calendar serves as a reminder to bureaucracy on the work it committed to complete during the month. This is yet another simple but innovative means of improved governance delivery. Instead of hackneyed populism that Kejriwal is adopting, Mamata Banerjee has shown how simple steps can catch the imagination of the people with better performance of various arms of the government. One may call this ‘direct marketing’ route. So effective has this proved in West Bengal that even hostile media have toned down their antagonism against the Mamata government. Kejriwal will do well to learn from successful leaders instead of always trying to position himself as a benchmark of sorts.
Marketing of politics of the ruling party is tricky. This cannot be done by releasing advertisements with pictures of ruling party politicians or through pliant media. When people in general are satisfied, media and other publicists are compelled to appreciate the good work done. The continuation of three BJP chief ministers in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are examples of the same. The three terms of Sheila Dikshit in Delhi came out of the same index of happiness. But the happiness turned against her party due primarily to the unchecked inflation and the overall slow down of the economy. One of India’s most successful chief ministers had to lose the assembly election as a result of factors beyond the state government’s control. Marketing also depends on the over all circumstances. One cannot sell room heaters in summer.
When the times are right, it would be ‘roses, roses all the way.’ When the times turn sour there would be ‘nobody at the house tops.’ Marketing politics in an ever-moving world is a complicated task. Rahul Gandhi needs to learn the same the hard way. He cannot dictate the course of events from a high pedestal with occasional photo-ops with people on ground. He needs to study the life and works of another Gandhi, the Mahatma of Indian democracy and learn how to market politics.