Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Lessons from Indian Politics: Drastic decline in Indira, Rajiv Gandhi's popularity in different eras after huge mandate in 1970s, 1980s


Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Indira Gandhi was at peak of popularity after 1971, who could have imagined situation changing so much in few years that she'd have to impose Emergency. 

Rajiv Gandhi had got a huge mandate in 1985. In year or so, at pan shops, one could hear jokes on his language and the oft-repeated, 'hamne dekha hai, dekhenge, kara hai karenge' & 'zimmew(d)ari' jokes. How?

Remember, there were no channels to keep an eye round the clock, that could oppose or criticise. 

Just one DD and its evening bulletin that was more of a mouthpiece and was airing just those positive things and Rajiv was doing things smartly, yet, his image was crashing. 

No IT cell. There was no such concept, no channels. But long list of top Opposition leaders at national level who were constantly in attacking mode.

1. Ayodhya movement, things VHP did, Hindi press aggressive reports to 'prove' that indeed there was mandir, VP Singh, all. But, even earlier, barely a year & when the smartly dressed Rajiv was giving speeches, touring world, people had grown bored, wary. That was real mystery

In seventies, there were not just JP, Raj Narain, Morarji, Charan Singh, Fernandes, but in Rajiv's era too, such a long list. Like it or not, two top leaders of UP parties, are not active-vocal despite their cadre always waiting for their leaders to show. No consistency.

Fact-based, real and strong vocal opposition? Leaders who speak on important issues, on regular basis, it's missing. Some of the top leaders in Oppn limit themselves to issuing statements on days & anniversaries. Then, their Twitter accounts handled by 'professionals'!

Consistency is the key. In 70s-80s, regional satraps were vocal, even if they spoke in English or regional languages. N India too had many leaders. Many voices. That's how momentum built. Not that Tejashwi lose Bihar & wait 3-4 years. Agle election se pahle bolenge. 


2. Now, coming back to how this counter-narrative is constructed. Journalist Shyam Meera Singh, who openly says that he was once a 'bhakt' and later realised how was cheated, spoke at length about this journey in 'Spaces' on Twitter.

He gave example that whenever he speaks to elderly relative but latter comes with strange points on any issue, almost all of them coming from Dainik Jagran. Yes, the same paper that tried to debunk stories about bodies near bank of Ganges and that also published one story 'particular slogan raised' to defame or break a movement--farmers' or students. anyone.

So he gave example of Jagran that has a huge readership, and it's there since eighties. It's a 'mainstream paper' in North India, and it is not considered a mouthpiece. But it does the job more than a mouthpiece, an active supporter. Socialists, other parties, SP, RJD or BSP they were never serious about media. 

3. Congress story we know. BJP understands power of media. Organiser or Panchjanya were there. Dailies like Swadesh & Tarun Bharat in different states. Even when they got in a position to manage most TV channels & national papers, they strengthened own existing ones never shut them down. 

Jagran & others were influential in 80s and they remain so even today. In one state, one paper on a given day, can deflect all with one story. In MP, Jagran was already there. They bought Nai Dunia too. It's not that they have huge circulation. 

But on a given day when in newsrooms, all papers kept on table, if a 'different' story is published even in small paper, it has affect, others forced to follow. You have none. When there are mainstream papers affecting mind, terming any other party's rule as 'Jungle Raj' and the other as 'Sushasan', it works. 

Those leaders of Opposition parties who today rue that media is no longer talking for days and weeks about 'jungle raj' in a state or region, forget that they never invested in creating or running own media. Had there been other channels or big papers as rivals, won't be one sided.

4. 'Socialists' remained in power in UP-Bihar for decades but were happy with media houses like Jagran groups. Who had stopped them to set up own media houses? In Southern states, parties have channels & newspapers aligned to opposition too, hence, possibility of criticism. 

By giving directions to go slow and by stopping 'follow up stories' from the next day, it can be ensured that the issue doesn't become big. The potential for a story to become a symbol of state failure and leading to anger or movement, is brought down by a few phone calls. 

You can't control people's mind to such an extent if there is other side too shown in TV, papers etc. Actually, Temple movement in 80s, division in society won't have been possible had 5 major papers in entire N India, not actively become part of movement. 

This part of India--the North, has huge political power due to number of MPs. Hence, the role of Hindi newspapers is important. They ensured that Indian public shifted from centre towards right, through consistent reporting in a manner that people came towards BJP on all issues--Bangladeshi infiltration, Artcile 370, Temple.

5. It's basic for any movement or party to have their own supported groups in media. Every party needs to reach to people. Since 1800, every reformer or leader tried to start a paper, either Raja Ram Mohan Roy or Maulana Azad, Gandhi or Maulana Mohammad Ali.

READ: How Congress' failure to understand 'media power' caused its decline

The right-wing understands power of communication, importance of media, how to reach people. It takes even a weekly of 2,000 or 5,000 seriously, doesn't shut it down. It ensures the weekly reaches each panchayat or main reading room of town or places where people can take it forward.

Even a daily paper that has a circulation of less than 10,000 but published from capital, one counter-narrative story, forces other papers too to think over that aspect. But if you don't have trusts, not even most basic investment to support your own people and run papers, it's a tragedy.

READ: How fake news is planted in newspapers, role of vernacular media in misinformation