The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has released a pro-government-pro-demonetisation radio message which is played every morning and evening – particularly when people are on their way to work or returning from it.
In the message, a host appears to go from one bank to another to report the mood of the crowd. He approaches people who’ve been standing in queues for endless hours and asks them whether they feel that the government has done the right thing through demonetisation. Interestingly, all the people the host talks to agree with the government’s ruling. Even though they admit that the decision might be an inconvenience at the beginning, they stand behind the government’s call for the greater good of society.
Not a single person in the piece sounds displeased. The people who are interviewed are from all walks of life. In one interview, a man calmly reiterates that there is plenty of time to deposit old notes. “Humare paas paisa hai, aur ghabraane ki koi baat nahin hai. 30 December 2016 tak bank ya post office mein jama kar dengein.” (I have money, but I’m not anxious. I’ll deposit the money into a bank or post office by 30th December 2016). In another one, a man asserts that only those who’ve been unscrupulous will suffer, “Jinhonein do number ki kamayi ki hai na, unke saath toh yehi hona tha. Par mera paisa surakshit hai.” (This was bound to happen to those who’ve been deceitfully hoarding money. My money is safe).
At the end of each vox-pop message, the host signs off saying, “Aapko pir milwata hoon, aise hi kisi aur imandaar se” (I’ll introduce you to another honest person soon).
By calling the people who’re not opposing the policy“imandaar”, there is an implicit suggestion that a majority of those who are against it are dishonest and, quite possibly, criminals.
There is something remarkably troubling in these messages. They don’t feature a voice of dissent. While there are a number of people who are pro-demonetistion of course, there are several who are against it. The ad conveniently forgets to include the opposing voices – leading many to believe that a majority of Indians are complying with the government’s decision and therefore, so should they. And that is misleading.
Moreover, the interviews sound stunted; the interviewees are apparently actors who’re reading from a script. The messages would have been convincing had the I & B Ministry made a committed effort to interview people on the ground in order to assess the overall mood of the country.
This isn’t the first time that Indian governments have employed the radio to connect with people. Delhi, which is estimated to have a population of 18.6 million for example, has approximately 16 million people who tune in to the radio every week. Therefore, the radio is a convenient medium to influence and mould the collective thought of the people. Of course, one cannot hold the medium entirely responsible for influencing someone’s decision/perspective on issues, but it does play an immense role in contributing to an individual’s information diet.
In the past, Arvind Kejriwal reached out to the common man through the radio. The Aam Aadmi Party reportedly spent approximately Rs 12 crore between April and December of 2015 promoting schemes that had been introduced by the party. During the introduction of the Odd-Even road scheme in 2015 that was aimed at reducing the number of cars on the road, however, the APP did not release promotional ads masked as vox-pops; instead, it had Kejriwal taking the mic and requesting Delhi residents to cooperate since the pollution levels had risen to an alarming degree.
The battle to weed out black money has been destabilising for the country. The success of the drastic step taken by the government will be attributed to how quickly the country is able to re-monetise itself. One cannot argue, however, that the decision has imposed innumerable difficulties on the people. To have messages sent out by The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting suggesting that people are predominantly happy and grateful about demonetisation is a grave assumption.