By Bala Sai:
Little over a month ago, the ever-graying All India Radio crackled and roared to sudden life. The nation sat up and listened, as dense, dark cobwebs that had settled in the past two decades finally began to clear, and the Prime Minister of India spoke to his people. With Mann Ki Baat, which just ran its second edition on November 2nd, Mr.Modi has undoubtedly hit the bull’s eye.
Modi understands that the credibility of his program is defined by the range and seriousness of the issues chosen. To reach the common man, it is imperative to address a social problem that affects his everyday life. At the same time, Modi cannot afford to give a miss to a pressing, raging issue dominating prime time news. These are the two facets of Mann Ki Baat.
This week, the emphasis, among others, was rightly on the confusion around information regarding accounts illegally held in foreign banks. Modi makes a sincere attempt to win over the public’s confidence with his pledge to bring back black money to the country’s poor. Even though it is just a re-iteration of his previous statement, his emphasis on it amid contrasting opinions and his acknowledgement of the skepticism around it, does well to assure the citizen that something is being done.
In an age where social media is rapidly growing, shaping opinions and seeking instant answers, Mr.Modi’s decision to revive the dying All India Radio as a vehicle to communicate his views and to include the common man in his vision for the country is a commendable move.
From a marketing perspective, this is a clincher. The All India Radio reaches nooks and crannies of the country seldom reached even by election campaigns. It ensures that every word he utters reverberates in almost every home, without relying on clumsy mediators or other media channels coloring them. Being a monthly broadcast, it makes sure that the people are constantly reminded of Brand Modi, and are reassured that there is a committed government watching over them. A new high for Brand Modi! However, it would be outrightly wrong and severely narrow-minded to dismiss Mann Ki Baat as a mere publicity stunt.
On the outset, it serves three primary purposes:
1. It acts as a publicity vehicle, an avenue for Modi to showcase his government’s achievements and initiatives: Modi used the November broadcast to publicize the HRD ministry’s efforts towards facilitating technical education for the differently-abled, through scholarships and investment in building infrastructure for their special needs. He also used the opportunity to communicate the growing reach and success of his brain-child, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and by producing statistics about increase in khadi sales, he goes on to advertise the reach of his other brain-child, Mann Ki Baat itself.
2. It establishes a communication channel that works both ways, where the PM discusses pressing issues with the public and urges them to communicate their problems. This, perhaps is the icing on the cake. Modi welcomes opinions and feedback. He wants you to participate in moving the country forward. He is giving you a voice and is willing to consider it. In other words, he is telling you that he is a receptive, understanding leader and not the authoritarian dictator his critics make him out to be. Here he is, informing you of his next project and looking for your inputs. This month, he takes up the cause of fighting drug abuse – a relevant, pressing issue that the common man associates and empathizes with. Most importantly, you know he isn’t just building castles in the air, you know he will come back to you next month, clutching a bunch of statistics.
3. It provides a potential vent, a way to clear the air, diffuse any tension, negativity or confusions that might arise as a result of miscommunication or sensationalizing of news – Modi is speaking his mind. He is telling you his opinion about what is going on in the country. He takes responsibility for his promises and tells you he is serious about keeping them. He asks you to have faith in him. We don’t know if he will bring back the black money, but today we rest assured that somebody is at least on it.
Apart from enhancing his visibility, adding to his already gargantuan aura as the leader of the masses, Mann Ki Baat serves a much more important role for both the Modi government and the people of the country.
Perhaps one of the biggest follies that decisively did in the erstwhile UPA regime was its rigid silence over important issues. The Prime Minister appeared meek and powerless, and the public was left hanging, feeling betrayed and ignored. There was very little clarity and transparency, and there always was a cold, invisible wall between the government and the common man.
Modi won because he promised change. He promised an inclusive, forward-looking, and above all, efficient governance mechanism. HeÂ earned admiration by being vocal, and advertising his vision. When it comes to managing the media, there are few as adept in it as Mr.Modi is. Mann Ki Baat is the next logical step. It is all about spreading optimism and raising the morale of the public.
This isn’t to say that the Modi government is sacrosanct, which it certainly isn’t. However, it is heartening to see that the head of the state is at least willing to provide answers to his people, even if he is the one who gets to choose the questions. It is a signal that there is a stable, accountable government around, and they are willing to consider your problems and opinions. The very fact that Mr.Modi is making the effort to reach out to the people directly, and is actively encouraging them to speak up, is a reason for hope and optimism.