A hyper jingoistic media that sees war as ‘good for ratings’, and politicians jumping the gun and putting election prospects before national interests – has damaged India.
For a party that was so good at controlling the narrative in the pre-2014 scenario, the BJP has been floundering on the communication front.
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Be it dealing with the agricultural crisis, demonetisation, fall out of GST, job crisis, or about the economy or citizenship register – the otherwise vocal members of the government would go strangely silent and disappear from the public eye, or worse put out different stories that have no relationship to ground reality.
Nothing exemplifies it more than the handling of the narrative in the post-Pulwama attack.
At first, the government went silent, then key members went campaigning, and while rumours roared about a possible war there was absolute radio silence from those in charge. And, things became worse after the Balakot strike on terrorist hideouts.
They are called terrorist hideouts for very good reasons. It is supposed to help terrorists hide out. They are not likely to be in crowded public areas. And, they don’t have a large “X’ on the roof that reads “bad guys with bombs here”. They are not likely to be on Instagram, nor are general populations likely to check in via four square.
There is no biometric system that monitors their 9-5 activity. And, they aren’t posting minute by minute updates on social media. It would be difficult to know exactly how many people there were at the location. Expecting an exact body count would seem, like most, to be an act of futility. And, the simplest thing that the government can do is to say precisely that, and tell the press that giving out more information would put future operations at risk. And, yet they went silent.
If the media went to town after the Pulwama attack, it just got worse after the Indian Air Force (IAF) strike in Balakot on February 26. After announcing the strike, it seemed like the government machinery went silent, as its members moved off to campaign for the elections; and the media took over the narrative full swing.
For the media, it was Diwali come early. Their anchors could turn up in battle fatigues, they could pretend to understand military strategy, they could have conversations with former armed forces, and they could pretend they knew the difference between one variant of a Mig and another. But, the cost to India of the government going AWOL, and the media going nuts, is steep.
To make matters worse, senior BJP leaders began putting out ‘guesses’ about the number of terrorists killed. Amit Shah, the BJP president, said 250 terrorists were killed; agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh claimed that the Modi government retaliated for the 40 CRPF soldiers murdered, by killing 400 terrorists.
While more measured voices tried to clarify, the damage was done. It took six days post the air strike for the air chief marshal, BS Dhanoa to inform the public, “We don’t count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit.” Which is precisely what the government should have said on the day of the airstrikes. The defence minister should have been brought into play, to lead from the front, and handle the communication. Afterall, part of the government’s job is communicating with the people. And, this is where they have been found terribly lacking.
A hyper jingoistic media that sees war as ‘good for ratings’, and politicians jumping the gun and putting election prospects before national interests – has damaged India. For a group that is busy calling other Indians anti-national, and damaging the nation, this is exactly what they have done.
One of the things that have been impacted is India’s credibility in terms of the world at large believing the narrative we put out. Unfortunately, that narrative has been commandeered by a hyper jingoistic media, and politicians who cannot look beyond getting re-elected.
One of the things that India needs to learn from the west is how they cover a war. And, how the entire establishment works together to control a narrative that does not cause panic amongst the general public. In India, we have not learned from the post 26/11 communication debacle. The government has to set up machinery to control the Indian interest perspective during times of emergency. This government too has failed to do this.
First Published: Mar 7, 2019 6:08 AM IST