By Ishan Marvel:
Politics in the Age of New Media
It used to be simple. Politicians made promises, won elections, and then forgot about them. They knew that both – information and its channels – were in their hands, and that the majority wouldn’t bother to take a second look. We, in turn would grumble, shrug our shoulders, and in the end, for all practical purposes, join the act of forgetting. It allowed us a perennial scapegoat for everything wrong with our world, so that we could continue with our secure, boxed-up, and relatively-privileged lives without any shred of guilt.
It was convenient for everyone, and this cycle was repeated with each election. However, with the exponential rise of multimedia and the internet — especially social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook – over the past half-decade — things looked set to change. Facts have now become (theoretically) accessible in a matter of clicks. Meanwhile, TV debates and sting operations became the rage. And, it has become increasingly difficult to try and remain disengaged from news and politics.
Everyone has realized this — the market, the audience, and the politicians. Traditional media houses have ramped-up their online presence, and quite a few veteran journalists are now pushing their own ventures.
And, Politicians too are not far behind.
They have learnt, or are learning to counter all the information going around with their own information — so much so that one is often at the risk of losing all coherence, given the bombardment of manipulated numbers and motivated opinion in the mainstream media. And, of course, Narendra Modi and the BJP are at the helm of it.
The Modi Bubble: Then and Now
From being accused of riot-mongering, allegedly held responsible for more than a thousand deaths and mass destruction, and declared persona non grata in the US, to becoming one of the most popular Prime Ministers in recent history and quoting Star Wars at Madison Square Garden, Modi has come a long way. Back in 2002, in the wake of the Gujarat riots, he told The New York Times that his only regret was not handling the media better.
Then, in 2007 he roped in APCO Worldwide for this purpose — amongst other things, it is a lobbying and image-building firm with known Zionist affiliations, and whose other clients include the late Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha, and “corrupt Caspian regimes”, such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, as per The Economic Times.
Of course, both Modi and APCO downplayed this association, but it is clear that the new BJP understands the dynamics of propaganda in the PR age; be it the use of holograms, hashtags, selfies, or radio, Narendra Modi has done it all, and given the fickleness of public opinion, he knows that it is a continual process. He knows that regardless of everything else, it’s important to keep the people convinced that “acche din” are indeed here.
Thus, given the loss of face after the Delhi Assembly elections, and the recent decline in the Modi wave thanks to issues, such as religious conversions and violence, and the Land Acquisition Bill, the BJP is set to launch a new “perception management campaign” to try and calm the public before it gets too restive.
The Hindu reported that the campaign focusing on the achievements of the Modi government through various advertisements and presentations will begin next month, and it will go on till the government completes a year in office. In addition, it quotes party secretary Shrikant Sharma, “Our government is pro-poor and pro-farmer, and that message needs to percolate to every district and every Vidhan Sabha.” This is a statement that seems understandable in the light of the recent Land Acquisition Bill controversy.
Although, in contrast, Satish Upadhyay, the President of the Delhi Unit of BJP, claimed to be clueless about the campaign, “We are not doing such a campaign, we did this before the elections to inform the public about the party, but after the elections there is nothing of this kind, and we are not going to launch such a campaign”.
To know which way the wind blows
While it is still early to pass a conclusive verdict on the NDA government’s performance, Amit Shah’s six-month appraisal, released towards the end of November last year, looks encouraging at first glance. Yet, like the boy who cried wolf, once you acquire a reputation for playing around with statistics for serving your needs and making tall claims, it is hard to let go. The Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal and its reports on the Gujarat riots, and Hemant Shah’s Sachchai Gujarat Ki provide ample testimonies to this.
Amongst other things, Shah vehemently accuses Modi of spouting baseless facts and numbers in order to propagate false ideas about the Gujarat development model. Meanwhile, with the media pushing a myriad of quotes all around, information abounds but well-informed analyses and opinions are scarce.
Nonetheless, as per the latest reports, six out of the seven bills (including the FDI in Insurance, and Coal and Mining bills) pushed by the government have been passed in spite of a lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha.
The one bone of contention that remains is the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, which for the time being has brought together the various opposing parties (funny how Congress too has joined in. Two words: Remember Vadra?) and it is, in fact, even facing a strong opposition from within the BJP.
The Bill has also been accused of being “anti-farmer” due to some suggested changes to the key points on consent for sale and compensation. As a result, the PM has been forced to come forward and clarify things, accuse the opposition, and try to set a favourable tide again.
In fact, he even seems to be amenable to making compromises, such as retaining consent clauses and giving the states the freedom to make their own decisions. But, as Rohan Venkataramakrishnan concludes: The government’s explanation, “while succinct, isn’t compressed enough to fit into a simple slogan and will be hard for the BJP to spread.”
And meanwhile, all those investors, lobbyists, and voters who have made the Modi dream possible must be getting impatient. No wonder then that the PR-savvy PM has a new image campaign in the works.
Let’s see how that unfolds.