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Is BJP the new Congress as far as handling media is concerned?

If you are like me and watch nightly debates on prime-time shows, there is a certain ineptitude visible in BJP’s approach to issues. If you have started making comparisons between a Sambit Patra with a Sanjay Jha, I wouldn’t blame you.

I always sympathize with spokespeople (of all political parties), as I consider theirs as a thankless job. I compare them to “the Guard” in a goods train in the last bogie, who has no idea what the train driver sees ahead of him. However, he has a job and kids wave at him on finally seeing a human at the end of a long train and at the same time, he also gets blamed for any accidents.

I am fairly certain that a GVL Narsimha Rao has no power in the decision making, but has a job of appearing on TV every night. Other than mouthing talking points, I hardly see the BJP spokespeople come up with reasoned analyses. When they make a humorous quip, twitter explodes with appreciation and otherwise, they are panned regularly. They are rarely well read in the topic at hand, and never come out with facts and figures to counter allegations. If BJP has any intentions of changing the political discourse, it has to prepare these spokespeople with solid arguments. I will try to illustrate a few examples, where the BJP has miserably failed.

Example 1: Targeting of Christian Institutions
Immediately after the attack on Churches and a school on Delhi, the media went ballistic about the communal hand in the attacks. Some incidents, as was reported here, were not even communal by any stretch of imagination. Knowing very well that the first reports in situation of chaos are usually wrong, instead of waiting for the truth to come out, the spokespeople were promptly present on prime-time shows. Needless to say, they started on the defensive and allowed the “secular” participants to pounce on them.

It has been over a week since the Delhi elections, why hasn’t the BJP organized the press conference to give a detailed response to each of the incidents? It has been clear that these incidents were cases of theft, short circuit and acts of drunkards. It baffles me that BJP is now accepting these charges to stick on them. Let me be explicit: if a spokesman, in a chaotic debate, tells the truth – it does not get registered. Concerted campaigns are needed to address this issue powerfully in a press conference and, preferably, by senior leaders.

Example 2: The Rs 10 Lakh Suit
Most of India now believes that PM Modi’s suit indeed cost Rs 10 lakh. A party won an election on this lie. Cartoonists and satirists are having a field day with this. The culprit, the Times of India, has issued a correction to the story too. Yet, the BJP is still in slumber. In situations like these, I wonder if BJP misses a Ahmed Patel to plant a “Modi is disappointed on these false allegations” story.

BJP has tried to give a spin to story claiming that the Prime Minister will auction the suit. Great idea! But, can anyone please explain to me how this changes the narrative? A Rs 10 lakh suit can be auctioned at Rs 10K (if a base price is not set) or may be Rs 1 Cr. If it is Rs 10K, the narrative will claim Modi’s stock has fallen since Delhi elections. If it is Rs 1 Cr, the narrative will simply be – “Modi’s suit – Rs 1 Cr”. Don’t underestimate the media to spin it the way they want to. This was a self-goal, where the opposition wasn’t even on the field.

Example 3: Obama’s Sermons
There’s an unwritten rule in politics – “Any criticism/allegation must be responded by person of the same stature”. Obama started giving sermons to India after his return from the Republic Day celebrations. As expected, the Indian media spinned it, as if Obama was rebuking Modi. Unsurprisingly later, it was the usual herd from the BJP that started appearing on media trying to spin what Obama had to say – in vain. Firstly, when Obama says something on India, it is PM Modi who has to respond. Secondly, if India needs to be seen on equal footing with bigger powers, respond with gusto. Else, you will be seen as the minor partner. Thirdly, if you are afraid of offending Obama, let me be clear – that is not the Modi India elected! Fourthly, now that there has been no Prime Ministerial push-back on Obama’s statements, the allegation will stick.

My suggestion to the BJP media cell is clear. Don’t try to win daily news-cycle – this is not election time. People will hardly care if you skipped a news show. Have a better argument and clarify those in a media interaction on the next day based on facts. It is imperative to “kill” the narrative than allow a drip-drip to stick on you. “The nation” expects BJP to be as deliberate and logical in its responses, as PM Modi was during the campaign. I would like to see a Prime Minister’s press conference, as soon as possible. Once the budget session starts, the cacophony of reforms will dwarf any clarity the PM can give.

If BJP continues further with the same strategy as now, twitter will have a field day mocking Sambit Patra as the new Sanjay Jha! PM Modi is remaining silent on various issues, by letting the party speak about it. This sounds awfully similar to one Manmohan Singh. Apparently, MMS used to give private audience to newspaper editors (as mentioned by Sanjaya Baru in his book) and we see PM Modi doing the same. By what is on evidence, BJP is inching closer to the Congress media strategy. If arrogance of the Congress spokespeople comes in, we will see the complete metamorphosis of BJP into Congress. If the BJP media cell does not foresee this, then what’s the point in having an expert team?

Postscript: There are many other recent examples that I have not mentioned viz., Rajyavardhan Rathore statement on women, Rahul Kanwal’s lies on AAP oath taking ceremony, countering AAP’s Free WiFi promise, etc. You can find an earlier list of lies by media that have not been well defended by BJP here:  But, the criticism to the BJP media strategy holds.

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