Important 10 days for Modi Government’s PR Machinery

As PM Modi embarks on a three nation tour to shore up India’s improving foreign policy credentials, his government could be in for some trouble at home. With media threatening to come together to counter MoS External Affairs General V K Singh’s tweet against Arnab Goswami and Times Now, the next 10 days are likely to be a huge test to the government’s PR machinery. Unless PM Modi strikes historic deals during the visit, the narrative is unlikely to change in the national media. With the Parliament session to begin later this month, the government would have liked the focus to remain on its achievements. However, handling of the present situation may well dictate the direction in which the upcoming parliament session will go.

If twitter is assumed as a fair representation of the mood of the nation (by the way, Arnab Goswami assumes this when he quotes top trends), the General has huge support for his statements. After all, #TimesNowDisaster, #Presstitutes and #HatsOffGeneral have been top trends over the last 3 days. Common populace consider Gen V K Singh’s statement solemn truth to the bone – however, BJP is not toeing his line. Other than looking lame in TV debates, the party spokespeople haven’t come up with smart retorts to this controversy. Opposition will accept this unexpected gift and will continue its criticism of the government, deviating from the key legislation at hand – the Land Acquisition Act which will fall down the priority order.

The government and BJP must use to its advantage the new announcements made by the Prime Minister – increasing subsidy to distressed farmers by 50% and also making distressed farmers eligible for subsidy even when only 33% of their crop is destroyed. This will increase the quantum of relief to the affected farmers and will also increase the number of farmers receiving the benefit. The RBI has also directed the banks to restructure loans to farmers in distress.  Also, the Agriculture ministry has asked all state governments to provide immediate assistance from the “State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF)” – a fund where three-fourths of the contribution comes from the Center. In addition, the Center has also promised to increase the corpus of SDRF if more help is sought.

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These are important announcements that are likely to be drowned in the shrill of mainstream news.

However, this also gives the government and the BJP the chance to change their media strategy. It is already established in the past 10 months that, within the government, only PM Modi has the wherewithal to alter national media narrative. PM Modi has set a good platform for the party with his interview with the Hindustan Times. He has smartly downplayed his industry friendly credentials and highlighted the common man led growth. With him out of country, the party must deploy its local leaders to the ground with these messages. To ensure that the message is heard, the party must by-pass the national media and talk exclusively and extensively to the local/vernacular media. After all, PM Modi did the same during the early stages of the election campaign by talking to TV9, E TV and Thanthi News.

The BJP must also seek help from leaders of coalition partners. Local leaders will have more sway in getting the message across, as they do not have to fall to the trap of national conversation. In poll bound state of Bihar, this can also work as a good ground work prior to the real battle. The new announcements to the rain-affected farmers – along with the prior announced schemes like Soil Health Card, Per Drop More Crop, launch of Kisan TV (24/7 channel for farmers), etc gives the karyakartas ample ammunition to get support from the agrarian community. If the misconceptions of the Land Acquisition Act are cleared and bill is successfully passed, it will represent as a huge win for PM Modi and will further demoralize the opposition ranks.

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