The Congress leaders are out of touch with reality or they are plain stupid. If anyone needed any more proof of that, it comes from Abhijit Mukherjee, son of President Pranab Mukherjee. Why on earth would he make the `dented and painted’ remark knowing fully well that there would be a hue and cry in the media over it? Or, did he expect that nobody would take note and he would get away with it? Whatever the case, he ends up looking foolish. Worse, he makes his party look uglier than it is.
A couple of days ago, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had compared the crowds protesting in New Delhi against the gangrape of a paramedical student to Maoists. Soon after that the party’s Andhra Pradesh unit chief had questioned why women should move around in the night. A week ago on a primetime television show, party MP Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam had made derogatory personal remarks against BJP leader Smriti Irani. In a season of self-goals, the party is scoring them heavily.
Something is seriously out joint in the party’s approach to the media. First, none of the top leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh speak to the media. The second rung ones go on making indiscreet remarks on and off the record - remember Salman Khurshid’s heroic `I will work with the pen and also with the blood’ remark? - and the others simply don’t care about what they utter in public. In the age of the hyperactive media, the Congress has lost the plot.
The media has turned into a different beast in the last half-a-decade. It is more aggressive, more intrusive and no more shy of crossing the line between the observer and the activist. It not only barks, it bites too. Driven by its own internal dynamics, competition being the most important component of it, it is no longer a mere conduit for news. The Congress, used to treating the media as the nuisance that has to be treated with indifference and paternalistic dismissiveness, seems to be out of touch with the new reality.
For people close to Abhijit Mukherjee, he is a perfect Bengali gentleman who rarely puts a foot wrong. Salman Khurshid was always the suave, Oxford-educated leader before he indulged in some real nasty stuff in a closed-door party meeting. The reputations of both stand damaged now. If only they had understood the power of the media! Digvijaya Singh, the party’s official loose cannon, despite his habit of putting his foot where the mouth is, appears much more composed on television.
In an age where every word you speak is dissected threadbare for hidden meanings, every slip of tongue makes national news and every wrong gesture travels to news consumers across the country in seconds, leaders should be adept in media manners. They cannot simply hope to escape unscathed after making a loose statement. They cannot survive by hiding from the media either. In some ways, if the leader is not smart enough in media etiquette, he is bound to come across as what he is, maybe worse than what he is.
The Congress’s response to the media shows it is not prepared to accept the new reality or, being a party of aging politicians, it is incapable of changing itself. Rahul Gandhi, for all practical purposes, is temperamentally a leader of the old school. For some curious reason, the other young leaders, who are known to be media savvy have been kept out of the spotlight. Is there a fear that they might overtake Rahul Gandhi once they get prominence in the media? One cannot be certain. But it could be true.
Is the Congress caught in the siege mentality? Maybe that’s what is preventing the party from courting the media openly. The party and the government had nothing to be scared of from the apolitical Delhi crowd, comprising mainly women and youngsters, demanding safety measures for women. Both could have scored big publicity points had they reached out to the masses and sympathised with them. Instead, the leaders preferred to stay indoors and, worse, kept making loose comments.
Something is seriously wrong with the Grand Old Party. By failing to acknowledge the relevance of the media and taking corrective action, it is losing touch with not only young India but also the general masses. Is there hope around? Well, don’t bother. But someone must ask the party loosemouths to shut up.