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Modi Government’s Communication Failure

Narendra  Modi is a master orator and communicator. Even his worst enemies can’t deny this fact. In 2014, before becoming PM, he had addressed hundreds of election rallies where he directly communicated with people of India through media and told them about his ideas and things that he wanted to do if he becomes PM. His speeches and communication skills were mesmerizing which played a major part in bringing BJP a majority and elevating him to PM’s post.

But fast forward to 2016, and you see a completely different Narendra Modi. The one who doesn’t speak much except speeches during various inauguration functions. The one who rarely speaks with people except answering some questions in his radio addresses “Mann Ki Baat”. Why is he not speaking? Is he also bitten by a statesman’s bug? Where is that fervor with which he used to expose opposition? Many BJP supporters like me today are asking these questions. Sadly, no one seems to know the real answers.

Modi’s distrust and contempt for mainstream media is well known. Many supporters make this as a point for not talking with media and ignoring them. Though there is some truth in this claim with some media houses wearing their biases on sleeves and some journalists having made a carrier out of opposing Modi, I refuse to believe that entire media is anti-Modi or anti-BJP. Our media in general is TRP hungry and financially driven. They will take up anything that can grab more eyeballs to generate TRP and revenue, be it anti or pro-BJP news item. But even if for a moment, we believe that entire media is anti-Modi or anti-BJP, it still should not be an excuse not to talk with them.

Social media is a powerful tool. It has given voice to many people whose opinion went unheard in exposing lies of mainstream media. But it has its limitations. At best, social media can supplement mainstream media but not completely replace it for foreseeable future. Millions of people in India, especially middle aged and elderly, who form a sizable chunk of the population,  still rely on the news channels and news papers to get their daily dose of news. They don’t know how to use Twitter or Facebook. They don’t read independent blogposts. They rarely and infrequently utilize social media either due to lack of interest or due to lack of technical knowledge. This gullible section of people will believe whatever the news channels tell them or whatever is printed in newspapers. Even many young people who are avid social media users, but are not interested in politics, will read headlines and move ahead, never bothering to go into details. In this scenario, where we have 24X7 news channels and hyperaware media, people start perceiving and associating the constant silence or absence of communication from their leader, as a failure of performance by him and his government.

This unfortunately ends up creating a situation where people eventually get frustrated and start losing faith in their leader. They then start listening to those who are talking, and it doesn’t matter whether they are talking truth or telling blatant lies. This situation reminds me of an interesting conversation between Michael Fox and Michael Douglas from the movie “The American President”. You can watch the video here. (Watch from 2:13). I fear that the same situation is folding out today in India.

People of India are desperately looking for their leader to communicate with them. They still have faith in PM Modi but this faith has slowly started to erode with lengthy absence of credible communication from him. Defeat of BJP in Delhi elections could have been a fluke but Bihar election was certainly not. In absence of effective communication from PM Modi, some media houses and opposition leaders and charlatans like Arvind Kejriwal have started setting the agenda with help of some “intellectuals” and journalists who have always opposed BJP and hate Modi. Those voices are ganging up, getting emboldened day by day and common people are becoming disillusioned.

We have all seen the constant propaganda of Award Wapsi brigade which was not countered until it became a national crisis and eventually ended up costing BJP a state election in Bihar. This manufactured campaign ended up maligning India’s image on a global stage with non-stop adverse and hostile reporting by Indian media. The only person that lately but somewhat effectively countered it, was Anupam Kher and he was not in the government. We saw how PM Modi and BJP were made responsible for Dadri lynching and murders of several rationalists when they didn’t have to do anything with those crimes in first place. Again the government was silent till it became a huge controversy. There are many other small crimes for which media blamed BJP directly and PM indirectly but no one bothered to counter them.

Recently, terrorist attack in Pathankot Air Force Base took place and North East India was struck by an Earthquake but we haven’t heard much from the PM Modi. In USA, President addresses the nation on important occasions but our PM despite being an excellent communicator hasn’t spoken a word and instead has chosen to remain totally silent. Today, even some die-hard Modi supporters have started comparing Narendra Modi with Dr. Manmohan Singh on Twitter. While it may be just their sign of frustration, but this comparison speaks volumes about the terrible media strategy of this NDA government.

No one is expecting the PM to speak on every issue but when the falsehoods or lies are being spread by opposition and allegations fly thick without any genuine basis, it is the responsibility of the leader to counter them strongly. Similarly in times of national crisis e.g. a natural calamity or a terrorist attack, it is imperative for the PM to address the nation and calm agitated nerves. People want to hear PM Modi and not Venkaiah Naidu or Rajnath Singh or Arun Jaitley, at least during events of national importance.

I personally hope that PMO appoints an official spokesperson and starts carrying out daily media briefings at 4 PM every day, just like the White House does in USA. This will serve several advantages. It will allow the government to communicate directly and effectively with people through media. It will allow media people a chance to ask questions and satisfy their needs. When major news channels start covering this, every media channel will have to show this. Once the government has officially communicated and answered some of the questions, it will leave very little room for anyone to insert their own agenda and give it a twist. It will also make officials spokespersons’ work easy to defend government’s stance.

It will shutdown motormouths like Sakshi Maharaj and Yogi Adityanath since now media wouldn’t need to go to them to get a provocative statement. And even if they do, Government will be able to counter it effectively. It will allow government to inform the public about the work that is being done and projects that are being carried out. For example, how many people know about the excellent work Minister Piyush Goyal has done for rural electrification so far and that there is a mobile application to track a real time progress of this work? May be few lakhs? Imagine how many people, government can inform through these daily media briefings instead of just twitting about them randomly.

2016 is a make or break year for the NDA government. Its media strategy requires urgent course correction. Time is running out for BJP and if PM Modi just carries on silently like this for 1 or 2 more years, I am afraid to say that it will be impossible for him to win majority again in 2019. Many of us don’t doubt the fact that he is working for betterment of India but it is also important to be seen to be working by communicating with people and informing them about the work that is being done.

We want the real Narendra Modi back – the one before the Lok Sabha elections, and not this new silent version. That is the real Narendra Modi we have always known. We all hope he is listening.

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