During the gruesome 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Shivraj Patil, the then home minister of India, faced lot of flak for changing his clothes frequently for television appearances. He was panned from all quarters for what would seem a rather innocuous move. One would expect the Home Minister being attacked for actually mishandling the anti-terror operations or some major security lapses, but along with the above, his clothes too came under fire.
During the recent terror attack on the Pathankot air-base, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Parrikar had a similar moment. Having won 2014 largely based on his communication skills both in mainstream media and social media, we saw a massive fall in his grasp of the mediums in 2015. And he has begun 2016 with possible one of the worst gaffes he could have committed.
As anti-terror operations were going on in Pathankot and Indian jawans were losing lives, PM Modi was busy with pre-scheduled engagements like Inauguration Ceremony of 103rd Session of Indian Science Congress in Mysuru, Foundation Stone programme for New Helicopter Manufacturing Unit at Tumakuru and later speaking at a Yoga Conference. Accompanying him at Tumakuru at least was none other than India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar:
Yes you read that right. India’s Defence Minister and Prime Minister were busy laying a foundation stone while the army was battling it out in Pathankot. And this was not done in a hush-hush manner either. Press Information Bureau of India, a Government agency was live tweeting this.
What could be the excuses for this? Pathankot operation was declared over much before this event, and it was just bad luck that the army realized some more terrorists were remaining to be neutralized. So Parrikar not being in Delhi was just plain bad luck. Plausible? Maybe. But could he have cancelled the event and headed back as soon as he heard of the 2nd round of anti-terror operations? Or maybe he could at least sit in Karnataka but monitor the events constantly via phone?
What about the PM then? He had events on the 2nd of January when the 1st attack happened and also on the 3rd of January, when there was the 2nd incident. Could he have cancelled his events? Were the events so critical that they had to be attended?
For arguments sake let us assume the events were more important or that Modi had no role to play in the handling of anti-terror operations. Could he have cut them short and left as soon as possible?
Let us assume even that was not possible? Could he have at least asked the person handling the PMO handle on twitter to stop live tweeting his speech about the benefits of Yoga while army men are getting martyred?
The above shows that Modi and the establishment have not learnt any lessons from 2015’s abysmal media strategy. Modi, who once understood social media so well is now being humiliated on this very medium:
To neutralize heavily armed terrorists, Two swift Surya namaskars to the right, and a Anulom to left. Shavaasan. https://t.co/rJMRQmbzI6
— Gabbbar (@GabbbarSingh) January 3, 2016
Dear @PMOIndia. This is NOT THE TIME to talk about Yoga. Our boys are battling it out in Pathankot.
— Vande Mataram (@UnSubtleDesi) January 3, 2016
My problem is with optics and communications. Tweeting about Yoga when soldiers are fighting…just not good
— Deepak Singh (@smarket) January 3, 2016
Be it Yoga, Yoda or any function…nothing is more important than a combing operation which is still on…set your priorities right…
— Paresh Rawal (@Babu_Bhaiyaa) January 3, 2016
Sure, these are just optics. Maybe Indian agencies did the very best to handle the attack (unlikely, but let’s assume this). Can anyone then say it doesn’t matter what the Defence Minister and Prime Minister are seen doing while we have a terror situation at hand? It does matter. Modi of all the people should know that optics matter, sometimes even more than the actual ground situation. These bad optics are just another addition to the laundry list of bad media strategies this Government has adopted.
And yes, there are other issues which need to be discussed too: India’s overall strategy with Pakistan, the preparedness of our armed forces, why the number of casualties could not be controlled better, but these are issues to be raised by defence experts. And the Government will have to answer them too.