Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s media management has developed a snag, and suddenly it’s running like a vehicle with punctures. The top of the hour question is, why is no one changing the tyres?
For over two years, or ever since his victory in the Gujarat assembly polls of December 2013, Narendra Modi’s media motor has run so smoothly and swiftly it left all other political parties in its wake. It’s been on perpetual auto-drive, no Lewis Hamilton from Formula One required to rev its engine.
Remember the live feeds of Narendra Modi’s speeches before and during the Lok Sabha campaign? The chai pe charcha (which metamorphosed into Mann Ki Baat)? The virtual 3D campaign, the social media onslaught? All worked in unison like the various parts of a well-oiled machine. After he became prime minister, the twin engines of Doordarshan and AIR on domestic and foreign trips have kept Narendra Modi in the spotlight, creating the impression of a man constantly on the move, one who will drag the country along with him, kicking and screaming (on TV) if need be.
Lalit Modi appears to have driven a wedge between the Narendra Modi government and the viewers. Lalitji, with his frequent Twitter barbs, release of documents, etc, has punctured and deflated the government’s, and the prime minister’s, image. In the last three-and-a-half weeks, a day hasn’t passed without TV news — especially Times Now — needling the government with daily accusations of misdemeanour. Even as this is being written on Wednesday afternoon, NDTV 24×7 is levelling fresh allegations against Sushma Swaraj’s husband. Smriti Irani, Vasundhara Raje, Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde, all BJP leaders at the national or state level, have been accused, falsely or otherwise, of impropriety in the last week.
Suddenly, that smooth media ride has stalled on these potholes. And the party doesn’t know how to move forward. It has continued to field its usual spokespersons on TV — Sambit Patra, Nalin Kohli, Shaina N.C. and Sudhanshu Mittal — who blame the Congress and bravely battle it out, but without the fire they earlier had in their bellies, when they were on the attack. On the defensive, they’re wilting before the combined assault of TV anchors and Congress spokespersons. More and more, they’re beginning to sound like the Congress of yore.
What’s worse, the prime minister is silent on these issues. He is not firing on all cylinders, as was his wont. His tweets address everything but the “manufactured” controversies. In Mann ki Baat, Sunday, he spoke on female empowerment and encouraged taking selfies with daughters. Previously, he always took the Opposition head on with headlights blazing. Now, he ignores them and gives the impression that for once, he doesn’t know what to say.
That is very much the Manmohan Singh roadmap with the 2G and other scams. Perhaps it’s a strategy those in government must follow — if you don’t speak, you don’t incriminate yourself or reveal something you may have to explain further or retract. However, the Congress ended up at a dead end with no way out or back as TV news debates drove it into a corner every night.
For Narendra Modi, who has, thus far, projected an image very different from his predecessor’s, the comparisons with Singh and the Congress must be odious. So he does need to change his media mechanics. He needs a new vehicle with a brand new message — one that conveys concern for the “revelations”, suggests the government is doing something about them, and then changes the direction of the discourse.