By TS Sudhir
It is a reflection of the sheer bankruptcy of ideas that the nine-member ministerial committee constituted to recommend ways to boost the sagging political fortunes of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, has suggested that the party launch a newspaper and a TV channel.
Not only that, the committee has suggested installing statues of former prime minister Indira Gandhi in every housing colony constructed under the Indiramma housing scheme as a way to counter the flooding of YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s statues by the YSR Congress in different parts of the state. A statue for a statue, these modern-day navratnas of Kiran Kumar Reddy’s court argue, would be the best way to stay in power.
The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating. In this case, the recipe itself is proof that the dish will be a disaster. Someone tell them that if statues could get votes, Mayawati would be chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for ever.
The committee was set up after the abysmal performance of the ruling party in the byelections to 18 assembly constituencies in June, where it won just two of the seats. YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress swept the polls, winning 15 and also the sole Lok Sabha seat that went to polls.
The discussions at the committee apparently focussed on how the “good work” done by the state government was not being properly projected to the electorate while political rival Jagan, thanks to his Sakshi newspaper and TV channel, was able to drill holes in the government’s performance. The ministers also pointed out how every political party, barring the Congress, had its own TV channel and newspaper or at least media organisations sympathetic to its cause and hence the urgent need to add to the clutter and the cacophony.
The recommendation shows how desperate and insecure is the country’s grand old party at the moment. In Andhra Pradesh, the marriage between the media and politics is complete. Most of the TV channels and newspapers are already directly or indirectly owned by politicians (including Congressmen), making ‘neutral news’ an extinct species. My news is not your news and you need to read 3-4 different newspapers or surf an equal number of channels to get a 360 degree take on the news of the day. Political ownership of media has made being ‘partisan’ a necessary virtue on a journalist’s CV and he or she ends up working for the owner than for the viewer.
In such a scenario, the Congress feels the party too should invest in the airwaves and cold print. To blow its own trumpet. What the leaders do not realise is that the intelligent voter can see through such HMVs. And in a fragmented party, the more tricky question will be which Congress news will it project. Kiran’s Congress or Botsa Satyanarayana’s Congress. Will it carry news of the divisions within the cabinet and the party or about the investigation into the liquor scandal or any of the other scams the ministers seem to be getting embroiled in all the time.
Congressmen point to Jaihind channel and Veekshanam newspaper in Kerala, which are owned by the Congress in the state. But they would do well to look at the next to nothing impact both have made on Malayalee voters. Congressmen themselves do not give either of the two mouthpieces any credit for their victory in the assembly elections in 2011 and as a TV channel, Jaihind is nowhere near the other market leaders.
Installing Indira Gandhi’s statues to attract votes shows the Congress has forgotten she was assassinated in 1984 and a good 50 per cent of the voters today are below 28 years of age. She was an iconic figure, no doubt, but to believe that the voters will exercise their franchise for the Congress, impressed by these symbolic gestures exposes the party’s desperation. This is nothing but an extension of the politics of populism, without caring to address the real challenges and problems. What would help Kiran and company is a radical departure from the politics of symbolism and focus on efficiency in deliverables and use a combination of different media forms to get the message across to the voter.
What action will be taken on the committee’s report is anyone’s guess. My unsolicited advice would be to dump it in the nearest dustbin.