The writing on the wall is loud and clear. The communication machinery, method, strategy, substance and speed of the Government of India (GoI) require a complete revamp. If the Anna Hazare agitation was an egg in their face, GoI had not fared much better when terrorists laid siege to Mumbai in 2008 and during the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, 2010.
Those in PMO, North Block and Shashtri Bhavan need to admit their failures first – those who don’t take lessons from mistakes are bound to commit them over and over again.
Neither they took lessons from the communication strategy of their past role model – USSR (their Peoples Publishing House dotting Indian cities, their cultural centres for ideological indoctrination or their freebies and largesse to keep Nehruvian intellectuals under their wings), nor do they take clue from their present one (USA – their commissioning of more than 1,000 Hollywood films to handle Pentagon’s PR after they bombed Hiroshima and wanted to turn world’s opinion in their favour by showing how America and Americans fight only for restoring democracy, justice and freedom).
They even buried the home-grown communication strategy developed by Gandhi and Asoka. The result is for everyone to see. They acted like Tom (big body and little application of mind) and Anna (Jerry) had the last laugh at the Ram Lila Maidan. All the GoI seems to be doing is to hide behind the facade of democratic resilience. Their opponent had its communication strategy right – it was premeditated, focused, timely, emanating out of their one brand ambassador.
Let’s see how this modern Gandhi, as he is being touted, picked up his lessons of communication from the original Gandhi.
Anna’s communication ingenuity lies in being glocal – rooted in local communication tradition (adapting Gandhi’s communication strategy) and borrowing majorly from the new global communication platforms – websites, facebook, twitter, blogs among others.
If you look at Gandhi’s communication strategy closely, you will agree that it is rightly combined as ITM – Interpersonal Media, Traditional Folk Media and Mass Media. Gandhi’s use of interpersonal media consisted of prayer meetings, public meetings, padyatras and roadside interactions.
Both in round one and in round two, Anna had all the three customised to suit the times (what in advertising parlance we call below-the-line activities). Direct mass contact programmes had huge success and its impact was multiplied by such footages shown on TV channels. Anna encouraged his team to get in tune with the people by all means and engaged the media well enough.
Gandhi was very successful in using traditional folk media in a way that each of his meetings or mass contact initiatives would essentially have bhajans-keertans and other kinds of devotional songs and music. Gandhi knew the power of music – in bringing about the necessary change in people’s heart.
Anna too knew this very well. In both the rounds at Jantar Mantar and at the Ramlila ground, we saw a lot of popular acting and singing talents descending from Bollywood. Traditional folk artistes – puppeteers, snake charmers etc – also charmed their way into people’s hearts. The audience was under the influence of a heady mix of art and politics.
Anna, however, as an intelligent public figure, made sure that the music and art appeared secular. He was quick to change the Bharat Mata image as the backdrop of his stage at Jantar Mantar as he realised it can alienate the most important minority. He patched up this slip while breaking his fast at Ramlila ground by involving children of poor Muslim and Dalit families. Delhi perhaps taught him how to be politically correct.
Gandhi used mass media to his maximum advantage. He had his own newspaper and several nationalist dailies on his side. He used the radio most effectively- so much so that his use of All India Radio (AIR) to quell communal riots on one occasion was declared as national broadcasting day. Anna’s movement, similarly, had its own Website. Some channels and newspapers became votary of his cause. Those, who did not, felt alienated. They were called Sarkar ke Chamche.
Anna, in tune with time, however, moved beyond Gandhi. He knew the power of new modes of communication. He knew that this media is not controlled by editors – the out-fashioned gatekeepers of content and sobriety. He and his team kept his byte ready before he was arrested by Delhi Police and circulated the CDs immediately after the arrest, leaving the Delhi Police top brass shell shocked. He tweeted to create the right and timely buzz.
He had all his logic and rebuttals loaded promptly on Websites. His spokesperson – Arvind Kejariwal -was spontaneous and minced no words while speaking to people through TV channels round the clock.
All major channel heads had direct mobile number of all the members in the gang of four but they had little clue about the government’s coordinates. Pranab Da popped out once a in a while on channels. On the other hand, peoples’ media was being orchestrated by the gang of four. Thousands of creative flowers had bloomed. Online world was buzzing with Anna fever – cartoons, caricatures, jokes, YouTube clippings, jingles, caps, T-shirts, key rings and off course the Radio jockey – were all jostling to scream “I’m for Anna!”.
Anna realised the power of the new media. He knew his opponents had very little clue of this world. Actually, from round one itself, the tone was set by new media – TV jumped into the fray when the Tamasha and Mela was getting too big to ignore. Print media – more so its English version – was panting to cope up and its bid to catch up was severely restricted by its scepticism on the issue.