Skip to main content

How Narendra Modi honed his media "management" skills during his almost 13 years of rule in Gujarat

By RK Misra*
Humankind craves freedom, power demands servility.
The tussle between the two creates mental fissures and physical fragmentation. When creeping intolerance and crawling ambition intrude to usurp free mind spaces, the media, which seeks to protect the right to project the wrong, is a sitting duck target.
It, nevertheless, has its own defence mechanism, evolved over ages of dealing with both subtle and crass attacks on its own turf. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not but the battle continues.
This is most glaringly manifested in the changes that have taken place in news coverage and governmental access to the media in the country’s capital, New Delhi. Narendra Modi’s advent on the scene as Prime Minister has marked a surgical departure in the manner of government news coverage.
In the past whenever governments changed at the Centre, including the BJP-led NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, there were at best some recalibrations: If the BJP came to power, veterans of the beat were moved to centre-stage while the specialists covering the outgoing party were shifted to the sidelines.
Modi, however, has ensured a tectonic shift. Now it is not media, which is deciding how the government is to be covered. It is Modi who has laid the ground rules as to how it (media) shall cover the government.
The capital’s bloated population of know-alls who possessed the legendary reputation of worming their way into the most stubborn woodworks now find themselves reduced to peripheral players with access to news sources within the government severely restricted. The invisible line carefully etched by Prime Minister Modi is holding firm, keeping the ‘creepy crawlies’ out. Like it or not, that’s how most in the political power structure look at journalists – an avoidable nuisance.
Modi’s concentration of power in his own hands has ensured steamroller domination of governance by the Prime Minister’s Office. This has been further reinforced by the appointment of his old team of tried and tested officers from Gujarat in a variety of key positions in various ministries, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Intelligence, CBI, even SPG .By last count there are around 40 officers – serving or retired – from Gujarat doing duty at the Centre. Modi’s control thus is complete.
In fact, immediately after he took over as the Prime Minister, there was a complete ban on mediapersons’ access to the PMO, leading to panic buttons being pressed in newspapers and TV channels. Correspondents covering the Chief Ministers Office (CMO) in Gujarat were moved to Delhi and even media managements from down South of India began scouring for scribes in Gujarat to cover the PMO and related power corridors in Delhi. Even today it is not uncommon to find the editorial top brass of national dailies in Delhi pestering, even bullying their Gujarat reporters for getting confirmation of Delhi-based stories which they themselves are unable to secure.
Matter-of-factly, Modi has succeeded much more in taming the media in Delhi than he did in Gujarat. Reporters marked out for their anti-government news coverage automatically find themselves left out in the cold both down the line and up the ladder. Those who are obliging are the ones who are doled out ‘news’ with religious regularity to enable them to score over their rivals. The era of ‘breaking’ scandals, is by enlarge over now. 
Official circulars have gone out that those within the system found ‘leaking’ to the media will face swift retribution and action under anti-secrecy laws even sedition charges! The example made out of some websites and journalists therein with charges of industrial espionage also put paid to curb the courage of many others.
Modi honed his media ‘management’ skills during his almost 13 years of rule in Gujarat. In Modi rule the emasculation of the Secretariat as a beat was complete and total. In fact, the ’beat’ had been replaced by the ‘brief’. The time-tested precedence was that the chief minister briefed the secretariat reporters after the weekly cabinet meetings on Wednesdays in his chamber. It was a friendly get together where the seniors exchanged views and pleasantries after the meeting over a cup of tea.
Modi first shifted venue to the conference hall and subsequently receded into ivory towers doing away with the practice. The weekly conference turned infrequent and the two cabinet ministers, Jaynarayan Vyas and Saurabh Patel, appointed official spokespersons of the cabinet only parroted what they were told to. No more no less.
An underlying feeling of fear ruled. Ministers would not speak, neither would bureaucrats unless mandated by Modi. Gujarat was all along an informal set up even in formal matters, as far as the media was concerned. Senior ministers and senior bureaucrats would refer to the chief minister by first name or at best ‘CMsaab’.
During Modi rule it was ‘honourable chief minister’ all the way, sometimes ten times in the course of a ten minute conversation .In the rare event that they parted with information, time and again it was rubbed in ’please do not quote me’. Everything was attributable only to the CM.
Pictures only of the CM in all publicity material, advertisements, even brochures, the ministers only accompanying, smaller portraits ran thereafter. Ministers never walked alongside their chief unless asked to, always two steps behind.
During the 2002 communal riots that followed the Godhra train carnage, Modi had found considerable support from the vernacular media, while the English media found itself labeled as the villain of the piece. Soon after, the Gujarati papers also fell out of favour.
With the 2002 Vidhan Sabha elections in mind, Modi embarked on his statewide ‘Gaurav yatra’ with a one-point agenda of establishing a direct rapport with the majority community. The strategy paid off and he won the state assembly elections single-handed and with a steamroller majority.
The victory was crucial in framing his future media strategy. He realized that the best way was to reach out straight to the masses, by-passing the established media. The state, for all of thirteen years as chief minister, projected only one face across all the medias nationwide, whipped and creamed with generous dollops of full-page advertisements and TV commercials nationwide.
Delhi now is just an immensely improved and vastly resourceful replay of Gujarat. The powerful tools of mass reach at his beck and call are being sharpened –Doordarshan, All India Radio, and a plethora of websites. All the criticism against the misuse of the official media by the previous government is best forgotten for those who hurled invectives-now in power-are much more straight faced and direct in doing so. But trust Modi to transform all and every to deliver precisely what he wants. Like in Gujarat so in Delhi, only one name towers over all.
Gujarat was the crucible of Modi’s media experiments. It is over to countrywide replication and fine-tuning now. A word of caution though: In solo performances when the show falls flat (Delhi, Bihar) you have no one but the sound recordist to blame. Not just yet though with bigger battles ahead. The fall guy, you know who. History is replete with instances!
---
*Senior Gandhinagar-based journalist. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.in/

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.