By B. Raman
I have been a strong critic of the media shyness and media silence of the Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh. I have written many articles on it and suggested a more activist media strategy marked by a more articulate MMS.
I have also been drawing attention to the technology lethargy of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), characterised by its hesitation to use the latest media technologies and particularly the social media outlets for interacting vigorously with our netizens.
I have been highlighting the unsatisfactory state of the PM’s interactions with citizens as well as netizens and comparing unfavourably his reticence with the more outgoing media policy of even the Chinese leadership, though China is not a democracy.
After discussions with a wide spectrum of political, bureaucratic and media observers and experts, I have realised the difficulties faced by the PM in working out a media strategy in his colours and to suit his image and interests.
These difficulties arise from the fact that Dr.MMS is not a PM in his own right. He owes the Prime Ministership to Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, the Congress (I) President, who renounced her right to be the Prime Minister after the 2004 elections and nominated DR.MMS to the PM’s chair.
This cramps his style of functioning whether in policy-making or public projection of himself either directly or through the media. All the time he has to be cautious to avoid any articulation or action that could be misread in the party as an attempt to outshine Mrs.Sonia Gandhi.
Dr.MMS is a shy, reticent person. His shyness and reticence are more pronounced when he is in India than when he is travelling abroad. The dangers of a misinterpretation of his articulation or action are more in India than when he is abroad.
This constraint will continue to inhibit and stunt his media strategy so long as he is in office without a political base and authority of his own. This has to be kept in mind while analysing his media strategy.
The best media strategy is through direct and frontal interactions with the media—whether print or TV or journos of the new media such as online publications. A direct and frontal projection of himself and his policies will increase the risks of misunderstanding with Mrs.Sonia Gandhi.
Despite this, Dr.MMS and his media advisers have to find ways of enabling him to indulge in such direct interactions without a clash of perceptions and personalities with Mrs.Sonia Gandhi. Unfortunately, there has been a reluctance even to discuss available options in the light of the political constraint faced by the Prime Minister.
Unless this exercise is taken up and a via media found which would enable the PM to enhance his media and public image without endangering the political authority of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, I do not see the likelihood of any qualitative change in the PM’s media strategy.
The tweet-toeing of the PMO —not the Prime Minister himself— into the world of netizens shows a welcome realisation of the need to take advantage of the social media outlets for providing corrections to the PM’s public and media image.
Such corrections could be welcome, even if not total if the PM himself takes an active interest in his interactions with netizens. The apparent fact that his tweet connectivity will not be direct, but will be through his Principal Secretary, to be assisted by Shri Pankaj Pachauri, the new media adviser, will reduce the value of the attempted twitter connectivity of the PMO.
For a person holding the office of the Prime Minister, Twitter will not be totally shackle-free. As Shri Rajagopalan, the perceptive journalist pointed out in his intervention during a good debate anchored by Ms.Sunetra Choudhury of the NDTV on January 27, the Prime Minister has to be all the time careful to see that he does not step on the toes of the Parliament in his Twitter interactions, if there are any. Otherwise, he may unwittingly commit a breach of parliamentary privilege.
Making the Principal Secretary co-ordinate the Twitter strategy without the PM directly getting involved would provide a safety valve, but it would reduce any value-addition to the PM’s media strategy.
Instead of experimenting piecemeal as the PMO seems to be doing now, the PM should appoint a high-power task force headed by Dr.Sanjaya Baru, his first Media Adviser, to suggest a comprehensive media strategy, which would address all these factors.