Whether the apocalypse comes with a bang or a whimper, one thing is certain: There are those in power who will deny the very existence of the apocalypse and write letters of complaint, hoping to control the narrative. The mighty Government of India appears to have begun its perception management drive with far greater zeal than it showed in its mission to augment health infrastructure during the pandemic lull, or to ensure universal vaccination before the second surge hit. First, it reportedly asked Twitter to remove tweets that were critical of its handling of the current devastating wave of COVID-19. Now, the aggressive PR campaign has gone international.
On April 26, a letter signed by India’s Deputy High Commissioner to Australia addressed to the editor-in-chief of ‘The Australian’ demanded that the newspaper publish a rejoinder to the article titled ‘Modi leads India to viral apocalypse’. The letter lists, as government notes often do, the various schemes and programmes New Delhi has initiated to deal with the pandemic. It does not mention the mask-less election rallies or lakhs attending the Kumbh Mela. It attempts to counter a report high on rhetoric and somewhat opinionated with prickliness and petulance.
The government has a PR problem at the moment because it has a real problem on the ground. And its reaction is reminiscent of Pyongyang when the Supreme Leader is attacked, or the letters to the editor from agitated Chinese envoys. What those countries do not have is a robust and critical media at home. India’s government, with its experience of a noisy public discourse, should have known that complaining about a news story will rebound, and only circulate the article wider. Turns out, there is such a thing as bad PR, and the government seems to be excelling at it.