Everyman’s best friend Dilip Cherian has fought off Prahlad Kakkar and Pritish Nandy to bag the public relations contract of the Aam Aadmi Party. The element of surprise is in the second half of that sentence. From its roots in Anna Hazare’s movement for probity in public life, AAP rose to power through direct contact and by leveraging cellular media through volunteers. By all accounts, it relied on the force multiplier effect of nameless, faceless fellow travellers who would surface like flash mobs for rallies, hunger strikes and sit-ins, and melt away when they were over. And it seemed to have its finger on the pulse of the media, feeding newspapers and TV channels the right hooks for maximum coverage.
So a sense of disbelief is inevitable when the same AAP appoints Cherian’s Perfect Relations agency to manage its image and interface with the media. While trying to put up a brave face, is AAP tacitly admitting that it has lost the plot? Reportedly, it had allocated Rs 526 crore for advertising in 2015-16, and drew flak from the BJP and the Congress for using and withholding advertising to elicit Pavlovian responses from the media, favouring friendly houses with bigger outlays. If this is a terrible sin, of course, almost all parties must have dabbled in it at some time. But then, the AAP was not supposed to depend on advertising, ever. It was supposed to connect with the faithful through GSM and fibre optic.
If the AAP is hung up on advertising, its basic structure has been tampered with. This is its existential crisis, and it can cure itself only by reaching deep into its political DNA. It knows that in the cities, power flows from the cellphone and the internet, by direct contact. But to quote George W. Bush, it disremembers how to jack in.