Tag Archives | Dadri

Has Modi lost the Narrative Dominance?

Modi’s PR machinery, which achieved such narrative dominance during the elections, has failed to take a hold of public discourse in the recent past.

It’s barely 18 months ago when there was jubilation from all corners when Mr. Modi took the office of Prime Minister of India. In the analytical circles, it was largely commented that the Modi narrative of development won the election much before the results came out in May 2014. Modi campaigned by building on the narrative of development, higher economic growth, rising incomes of the Indian population, etc. He promised better roads and bridges, better educational facilities, healthcare and overall, a better standard of living. He was especially successful in reaching out to the middle class. He tapped into their aspiration and made them believe that he would deliver in realising those aspirations. He also succeeded in getting the support and backing of the business community by his emphasis on governance over government. He made assurances of easier procedures to do business, cutting red-tapism, and improving the investor confidence in the India story. Given all of this and the exhaustive election campaign trail, the result of the elections was decided a long time before the actual votes were cast.

There were other narratives too. Competing, but not compelling – ‘The ‘Harbinger of Death’ and the communal agent. Godhra was thrown about without any hesitation. There were other stories existing as well. A dictator and an autocrat in the making, who would centralise all power. However, these narratives failed to gain traction despite a protracted effort by the opposition and Modi won the election with a comfortable margin. Modi’s PR machine, spin doctors and campaign managers were simply better.

This post is not to deal with whether the promises made by Mr. Modi were kept up; rather, it is to explore how he lost the narrative dominance in India. The issues that have been discussed in the media recently have nothing to do with what Mr.Modi achieved or failed to achieve. There have been a few achievements surely, but that has not gained the kind of national attention that his promises gained. The opposition has been extremely successful in taking charge of the national discourse and has diverted it from economic issues to more political ones. Dadri got more attention that the rural electrification program; ‘intolerance’ over the fact that 2015 saw the largest FDI inflows into India (double than that in 2014), Rohit’s death over Startup India. This is not to say that any of these issues are not important, but it is a cause of wonder as to how the BJP’s PR machine has entirely broken down and allowed their achievements to be sidelined while simultaneously giving way for constant criticism. The very same BJP’s campaign managers who successfully deflected attention away from these very issues and fears of communalism into the development story are failing miserable these days. Where are the spin doctors now?

Modi’s silence has not helped either. An extremely vocal person against his critiques during the election trail, he now barely responds to criticism. When the entire nation is worried, justified or not, over intolerance or minority persecution in the country, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to speak up and placate the citizens. Silence from him is handing over the narrative dominance to the opposition.

There’s also an appreciable lack of ‘chest-beating’ from the BJP about their achievements. People are not barged with full page ads, social media campaigns, etc about their achievements so far. There are a few ‘bhakts’ who religiously try to highlight the economic achievements, but these are not taken seriously as the label itself is designed to remove credibility.

Whether the BJP has actually achieved all that they wanted to or not is an entirely different matter. Achievement, usually, in Indian politics has nothing to do with publicity. And what the Modi government desperately lacks is clear messaging, a publicity strategy, and a hold on public narrative. They have allowed themselves to be sucked into issues from which they would rather stay far away.

Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at the Takshashila Institution and tweets @anupammanur

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Rohith Vemula’s suicide—is it the Rajeev Goswami moment of NDA II?

The recent suicide by a Dalit scholar has all the makings of turning into a powder keg if not handled with seriousness by the government 

The suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula on at the University of Hyderabad may well turn out to be the Rajeev Goswami moment of present Modi government. To understand the issue, there is a need to go back to  an event under the National Front government of VP Singh in May of 1990. Rajeev Goswami was a student of Delhi University when he attempted self immolation as a protest against implementation of Mandal commission recommendations by the government. Though his attempt failed, it succeeded in galvanising a large part of the student community and other sections of the society to protest against affirmative action of the government. The reservation debate in India has been centred around this. The subsequent fall of VP Singh government can be said to have begun with the Goswami incident. To his credit, Rohith has not blamed anyone in his suicide note, but the signs are very obvious as to what led him to take this extreme step.

Modi, who was elected with a thumping majority in 2014 may finally have to do some reality check now. To dismiss this incident as something trivial and not attributable to the administration will be total naiveté. Rohith, along with four other students of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), had been expelled by the university for ‘anti-national’ actions. His fellowship grant had been stopped for the last six months. The trigger for action against him was a scuffle in the campus that he got into with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists on 3rd August, 2015. The reason for the scuffle was a protest by ABVP in Delhi against screening of the documentary film titled Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai. The documentary, which is critical of all the political parties, shows that the riots were engineered by the BJP. This incurred the wrath of ABVP which tried to stop the screenings in other cities by violent protests.

The time has come now even when most diehard optimists and supporters of the present central government will say that enough is enough. Dadri lynching, virulent comments on the social media against activists and civil society members, majoritarian discourse and now this. Unfortunately, each such incident is brushed off as a law and order problem. Reportedly, Bandaru Dattatreya,union minister for labour had asked the university to take action against the students. However, what merited such harsh disciplinary action of expulsion is not yet clear. If universities are autonomous bodies which run on central grants, the fact that a central minister should be so involved does need to be questioned. It is also not clear whether the inquiry that preceded the suspension of Rohith was an impartial one or not. The role of the Vice Chancellor is under a cloud.

By allowing a larger than life role for ABVP and not stopping it, the government is allowing the fringe elements become mainstream—an unintended consequence. Mere cosmetic action of filing of FIR against ministers and the vice-chancellor won’t do. The development narrative of the government is getting derailed by recent happenings. Will this become the trigger for a strong backlash by the Dalits? Will it become the rallying point for the opposition? It has all the makings of becoming one if not handled with seriousness and sensitivity that is required.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Picture credit:Blake Emrys No more hate, licensed from creativecommons.org 

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