Pushkaram deaths: Will Chandrababu Naidu pay the price for being publicity hungry?
Is Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrabau Naidu’s obsessive weakness for media attention proving to be his undoing?
Hyderabad: Is Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrabau Naidu’s obsessive weakness for media attention proving to be his undoing? With a powerful section of the Telugu media staunchly behind him, almost everything he does – starting from simple announcement of administrative decisions to his foreign trips to his grandiose plans for the state – become larger-than-life events. On his part he has been more than eager to court the media. However, after the loss of 29 lives at Rajahmundry in Godavari Pushkaram, the question is whether it's going too far.
A contract purportedly given to National Geographic channel (the deal details kept highly confidential) by the Andhra Pradesh government for the shooting of the Godavari Pushkarams, with an eye on eventual global publicity, is now in the eye of the storm.
Critics of the Chief Minister have held him squarely responsible for the deaths at the event. They charged him with giving in to the “shooting requirements” of the channel and going to take a dip at the public bathing Ghat No. 1 at Kotagummam, giving a quiet go-by to the original plan of taking a dip at the VVIP Ghat.
Naidu and his family stayed for over two and a half hours on the first day at the public ghat for the auspicious hour of 6.26 am. The reason: the director of the shoot sought to show the chief minister taking the holy dip amid mammoth crowds. The previous night, a Telugu movie director Boyapati Seenu was seen along with Mrs and Mr Naidu at the ghat when the couple offered aarti to the river on the eve of Pushkaram commencement.
A report in Sunday’s Deccan Chronicle embarrassed the TDP as it quoted a Superintendent of Police G Vijay Kumar as saying that the chief minister was “very much present” at the ghat when the stampede occurred and that Naidu left only after he had been informed about at least 11 deaths.
While his harshest critics have held the hype and hoopla created around Puskarams by Naidu responsible for the stampede, the contrite Chief Minister has chosen to use self-publicisation to show people that he is working over time to “personally supervise” every arrangement.
Being media-savvy has proved to be his biggest asset for several decades now. He had faced severe criticism for spending “too much” on publicity during his previous stint as chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh. He was accused of sending large contingents of journalists to Dubai, Singapore, China and South Korea at the cost of the exchequer. This time too it’s no different. He has a battery of media teams working within his party and government. The fact that the media advisor of Andhra Pradesh government holds a cabinet rank and remains present in all meetings indicate Naidu’s obsession with good publicity.
Naidu is a second generation politician in Andhra who has made the media his strongest partner in politics. The first was his father-in-law, the late NT Rama Rao, who was himself was a larger than life personality from cinema and made use of media to ride on a wave of popularity in his ascent to the top job in the state.
It was at Naidu’s behest that NTR had asked for the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting to P Upendra of the TDP in the National Front government of Viswanath Pratap Singh in 1989. Media also came in handy for Naidu during the TDP’s palace coup in 1995 during which he usurped power from party patriarch NTR and ousted him from the party as well. In fact, the deposed NTR had not minced words in accusing a section of the press of hatching a conspiracy against him in connivance with Naidu.
A year into power, in his new stint Naidu does not have much to show in the form of achievement. While his foreign trips to woo investment for the state has drawn media hoopla, any concrete result from the visits is still to be visible. The same is true about his plans to create world class cities in the state that would be comparable to London and Singapore, and his announcement of profligate pro-poor schemes when the exchequer is bleeding. A friendly media covers the gap between hype and substance but he should be careful. He took the hype created by the former too seriously and was thrown out of power last time.
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