Updated: March 6, 2021 8:39:06 am
A Group of Ministers (GoM), made of nine senior ministers, including five of Cabinet rank, holds six meetings, in the middle of a public health emergency that has sent the nation into lockdown, on how best to communicate the government’s message to a media that is already, by and large, not asking the questions that need to be asked. Read that rather long sentence again, to absorb the full solipsism of the ruling regime obsessing over the real and imagined creases and wrinkles in its own image reflected in the media’s mirror. And read the 97-odd pages of the “Report of the Group of Ministers on Government Communication” to marvel at the sheer waste of time and effort expended at the top-most echelons of power, to persuade a media that, by all accounts, needs little convincing, and to preach to the converted. Because if there is a binding theme in the report, underlying the stated “vision”, “positive initiatives” and “action points”, it is this: The government’s determination to identify, talk to and promote those who agree with it. Those who don’t agree with it are to be tracked, not to be engaged in dialogue, but to be, as a minister puts it in an awkward and surely unintendedly ominous turn of phrase, “neutralised”. A GoM, therefore, to help the government make its echo chamber bigger.
Of course, much of the BJP-led government’s will to consolidate its narrative dominance has been seen before. It has reflected in its political success in installing itself as the polity’s dominant pole. For all its affected disdain of the mainstream media, and its clever use of social media to sidestep it, it is also evident that the BJP strategists recognise the power of the media, both new and old. But what is also becoming increasingly clear is the government’s anxiety about “negative” news — even after being elected twice, and even after using its parliamentary majority to extend its dominance to sectors and areas that are not governed by the majority or majoritarian principle.
From key aspects of COVID management to a budget that sends the right reformist messages, from a refreshing national education policy — at least on paper — to the success of flagship social sector programmes, the NDA government has earned many a good headline. If it wants more, here are a few suggestions that those who are quoted in the report — ministers and other “prominent persons”, among whom has been counted, erroneously, this newspaper’s political editor, who attended a scheduled debriefing on India-China, not a brainstorming on media management — did not give. Avoid putting young protesters and comics in jail and charging them with sedition; avoid labeling anyone who expresses disagreement as “anti-national” and a “loser.” That could be a start.
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