Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The news channels are filled with three pronged discussions between AAP, Congress and BJP representatives. While this should have been the case if the state elections of Delhi alone were happening, we are facing all India Lok Sabha elections. Also, anyone observing ground realities knows that the real fight is still between BJP and Congress. 

So, why is AAP getting the limelight? This party whom different poll forecast agencies are giving just around 3% vote share nationally & is virulently anti-media should not have been getting so much media space. This is an interesting question which is being raised by many and we will come back to it towards the end of this blog. Meanwhile have a look at typical twitter exchange on this.

Understanding Mainstream Media (MSM) role in elections
If AAP is so insignificant in real fight between BJP & Congress, why did I bring up AAP in the discussion? For that, we need to go back few years and see the rise of Narender Modi. From being a pariah to becoming the PM candidate of chief opposition party is an incredible story. In last elections of 2009, Modi was just a regional leader and Congress led UPA had won overwhelming victory. Many believe that UPA victory happened due to a successful economy. If that were to be the reason, BJP would not have lost in 2004 when economy was even better. In my view, India mainstream media (MSM) played a significant role in Congress’s victory in 2009. I will mention just few of the incidents & how media treated them below.

One of the biggest news of 2008 was ‘Hindu terror’ and Muthalik’s goons beating few kids in a Pub. The Muthalik action as captured on camera was played in loop for days as if whole nation’s freedom was in danger. The ‘Hindu terror’ was played for a month as prominent news till Mumbai attack happened. MSM went into overboard in 2009 on eve of elections on alleged inflammatory speech by Varun Gandhi. As per one estimate, it was played for 347 times in matter of days. Repeated whole day video runs of Muthalik, Varun intended to scare liberal middle class and minorities of BJP led Govt. and it succeeded. Also, MSM overplayed Manmohan’s ‘Singh is King’ victory on nuclear deal and decided not to play alleged purchase of candidates for voting in its favor.

But all this paled in comparison to the demonization of Narender Modi by mainstream media from 2002 onwards. Countless number of hours were devoted on his supposed mishandling of riots and every critic given divine connotations. Like most of other Indian folks, I too was convinced till 2009 that Modi is an absolute evil. Any mention of him in positive connotation would feel distasteful. So even when I heard few instances of his good development work, they were conveniently ignored. I believe this mindset of mine represented majority of Indian’s.

Rise of Social Media and Modi
Many people could see the obvious bias of MSM but there was no outlet. Media was the king, there were no questions which could be asked and it could swing voters the way as it willed. The anchors who vilified Modi were given Padma awards. NGOs which stood up against Modi got funding from many sources and used it as they wished. Public intellectuals who spoke against Modi became the darling of Media and got invitations for Lit fests. Following tweet summarizes what many felt about this circus. 

And as this tweet above mentions, Twitter happened and exploded in its Indian reach within years. When I joined in 2010, I was amused at first to see that there are so many people who are fed up of one sided Indian media discourse. And surprise of surprises, there were people who supported Modi (The DEVIL!!). His supporters consisted of a variety of successful professionals who provided an alternate discourse. An example with all timelines and data of 2002 riots is here . Slowly and slowly it was becoming clear to me (And many others) even before SIT clean chit that anti-Modi stand of was most elaborate ‘Media hoax’ of last decade. It was intended to benefit Congress electorally and it indeed worked in 2004 & 2009. Congress as well as MSM were confident of this well-established ‘winning mechanism’ but it was about to be broken. 

By 2011, Twitter folks were well aware of Media-Hoax and there was a tremendous anger against certain media barons and Divas(#PaidMedia). When a media icon (Now widely lampooned as Bimbo) coined the term ‘Internet Hindus’, it was not born out of some creative thought process but an anguish on being relentlessly attacked, lampooned and asked questions on social media which she had no answer to. Hypocrisy of MSM in the name of secularism was exposed and they were at their weakest point. Faking News, Unreal times took this lampooning to a new level by their well-read and circulated satires.
Meanwhile as this was happening, Modi utilized this social media bandwagon along with professional PR to demonstrate and popularize his development agenda in the name of ‘Gujarat Model’. Not many in Twitter were aware of what it constituted but nevertheless were convinced that here is one man who is disassociating from lethargic old style politician image. Modi became an icon of young people in India.

MSM was enraged, Godhra riots bogey was re-tried and it failed miserably. MSM latched on to anything it could get but Modi was gaining all over. Finally MSM anchors (Free speech supporters) tried to coerce Indian Govt in putting restrictions on Social media or ban Modi-friendly handles but there was a massive backlash(#Emergency2012) . MSM had resigned to its fate and the nightmare of Modi’s victory in May 2014 looked like a possibility (Horrifying to MSM). Many tried to do a buck up to Congress but it was a lost cause. Congress had not been serious on development agenda and with massive corruption and useless social schemes, had caused uncontrollable inflation. It did not help the cause that it’s nominee was Rahul Gandhi who was proving to be intellectually inept & incapable of aggression to counter Modi. The MSM efforts to ‘evolve him’ were also failing and he was becoming the clearest example of failure of dynasty based politics.

So, when Modi arrived in Sri Ram College in early 2013 with his development and youth oriented agenda, the whole country was spellbound 

Now, it was more a matter of formality when his popularity would be recognized and he becomes a nominee for PM post. Winning was still a question but tremendous momentum was clear.

Kejriwal becoming a challenger to throne
Great thing about life is that it is never static. It surprises you when you least expect it. That’s why this blog post on Modi’s chances in elections started with discussion on a guy named Arvind Kejriwal. He arrived on a scene as God-send savior (Not for common man, but for MSM). Kejriwal was charismatic and at peak of Anna Andolan in 2011, he was the guy people really wanted to listen to. He talked the language of common man. Highlighted the issues of root level corruption which many had become accustomed to and endeared himself to people when Janlokpal was presented as panacea. BJP had failed to highlight the massive corruption scandals of UPA govt as vociferously as being done by AAP. Kejriwal intelligently used this to carve out an equivalence between BJP & Congress on the matter of corruption. Many bought his idea and believed him to be the man who would provide an idealistic alternative.

Just when it seemed that Modi was unstoppable, Aam Aadmi Party received a very good response in Delhi assembly elections. Many in Media become overt and covert supporters of his bandwagon as he looked like a man who could dent Modi. Not just his personal charisma, Kejriwal had one thing in his favor, the deft handling of social media. AAP became a contender for youth vote and indeed was successful in building a team who could provide an equal battle to Modi machinery on social media. This was clearly visible in Delhi state elections. 

During Delhi elections in Dec 13, Modi’s popularity was at it’s peak. Even Yogender Yadav said that 30% of AAP supporters would vote for Modi in National elections. In my view it was underestimated number. Figure would have been as high as 50% of total AAP supporters. So, it was prudent of Kejriwal to not go after Modi and AAP party tried to say that Modi is not going to come & work in Delhi. So popular slogan of AAP supporters was ‘Kejriwal for CM, Modi for PM’.

When Kejriwal got the chair of Delhi CM in December, it got unprecedented publicity on MSM. For few days, he even eclipsed Modi’s popularity as is clear from the below Google trends 

In normal times, such euphoria dies soon and things turn to normal but Media made AAP a sort of reality TV. Each of AAP minister was followed 24*7 and their actions reported. Public had never seen such a happening and were glued to their screens. All reality TV stars commit mistakes but still public loves them as they become like their own family members. So, media did report issues with AAP but that did not result in any dip in Kejriwal’s popularity. Strangely while this was happening, normally active Congress speakers like Digvijay Singh were conspicuous by their absence from TV screens altogether. 

Very soon we saw few MSM reporters (Who were virulently anti-Modi) joining AAP. The remaining were also divided in different camps. First time, most of the users are aware that reporters are in different camps. It may look too natural today but 5 years back, no one was even murmuring on MSM being biased. Many in MSM started pitching Kejriwal as contender against Modi. 

Kejriwal was becoming well aware of his rising popularity but people had started to ask questions. It was also becoming clear even to his enthusiastic supporters that he is inexperienced & really never wanted the CM job. His DNA is of an activist who is not used to provide answers but can do great audits, find mistakes and ask questions to public representatives. Kejriwal is not the typical ‘work silently and deliver’ types. So he went back to his ‘Core competency’ of Dharna while being in Govt and it backfired spectacularly. Being in media limelight was not helping when minister’s like Somnath Bharti committed mistakes. It seemed that more Kejriwal’s Govt continues, it will keep on losing the support of public.  I would like to use the words of Ramalingum Raju of Satyam in this context.

"It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten"

Resignation was expected and it was just a matter of ‘when’ instead of ‘why’. Kejriwal prepared for it to gain maximum possible sympathy by using his pet card of Janlokpal but the steam from it was already taken away by Anna who accepted Congress+BJP version of Lokpal. So, while Kejriwal hogged sympathy from certain sections of Media post his resignation, most criticized his actions. In general public, he was pronounced as Bhagoda (One who shirks responsibility). 

Modi Losing Momentum
Meanwhile, Modi was caught in his own battles. The personality of Modi is ‘All or nothing’ types. He wants absolute control and micro management and that’s why it often seems that he is a one man party. It had worked for him in Gujarat but in national battle, there were many other leaders who had grudgingly accepted his ascendance in party.  However, they were not ready to allow him a free reign. So, this struggle for control kept him busy elsewhere away from election arena. Also, with Congress in disarray and elections still few months away, Modi could relax.

Not Kejriwal, his popularity graph was dwindling. The only way forward for Kejriwal to take this idealistic hoax of a soon coming corruption-free utopia was by taking on a bigger challenge and that required building a bigger villain. He needed a target, the biggest of them all and the answer was clear, it had to be ‘Modi’. It was also a matter of cold calculations. In Delhi election, AAP did not get wholesome support from Muslim community who remained committed to Congress. By Taking on Modi, he could get their sympathy. But even young folks among Muslim community had started to think about Modi due to development & governance agenda.

Being an astute observer of social media, Kejriwal could not have played the 2002 riot card. It would have backfired with all available data. So he played a masterstroke. He declared a war on Modi on his development claims and created arrest drama while touring Gujarat and his supporters attacked BJP office in Delhi. Now, everyone in professional field knows that numbers and statistics can be used in variety of ways. And Kejriwal has been doing so for over a decade with a mastery in striking an emotional chord while using his core competency of finding faults. Media lapped it up and BJP was not sure of how to respond to it as they wanted to ignore Kejriwal and keep focus on fighting the Congress. He upped the ante by declaring to fight against Modi from Varanasi and did so in his characteristic style of drama by ‘asking people of Varanasi who attended his rally’. One of the widely shared comic below captures this.

But Why is Kejriwal’s actions so important in election context when he is known as Bhagoda and for his numerous u-turns. We have to understand basic psychology for that. Most people cannot hold on to too many thoughts in their mind. The limited mindspace of general public was effectively occupied by Modi with his Governance and development agenda and is now muddled by Kejriwal’s attacks. Anger against Congress has subsided as its scams are no longer in news. Also, Kejriwal’s online army is easily able to handle Modi’s army which was used to easily decimate Congress folks (derisively called eNAREGA army). In my general conversations, I have seen many of erstwhile Modi supporters starting to believe all parties are same and have become disillusioned with whole electoral process itself. The will not vote or may use NOTA.

Lets look at what Congress has been doing meanwhile. Rahul Gandhi gave a disastrous interview to Arnab Goswami in January this year and was universally ridiculed. It seemed that Congress has reached its end. But we are finding Congress to be fighting a good battle in many states. Rahul is not under scrutiny post Arnab interview and his conduct is a reason for this upsurge.

With a rejuvenated Congress, attacking AAP and it’s own troubles, BJP has lost it’s momentum. If urgent steps are not taken, it should say goodbye to it’s mission 272.

How can BJP reach it's mission 272

Few days back, I was in New Delhi for a personal visit. This place is the backbone of AAP. I expected widespread support for Kejriwal and I was surprised when I asked people

Less support for AAP does not mean increasing support for BJP. Also the situation is changing fast. With Kejriwal’s successful road show like he did in Chandni Chowk yesterday, he may regain support. So, my prediction on March 20th is likely to be wrong if BJP does not get its act to-gather.

BJP army is trying to fight Modi by using terms like AK-49, Pakistani agent or the poster below 

In my view, these are negative tactics and are not helping win over voters. It can only help in retaining the current set. Modi needs to take this fight in positive sense instead of defensive tactics. Let there be debate on economy, governance, capitalism and Marxism. 

Modi may feel that Gujarat development is a known fact all over India which is not true. Kejriwal has found issues with it, so the development story needs to be aggressively highlighted through Modi’s mouth. However, Modi should not directly attack Kejriwal but should allow an attack from his stage by intelligently using someone like Swamy. BJP should make it clear that  Kejriwal’s attack on ‘Crony capitalism’ is nothing but an attack on capitalism itself which is going to harm business and job generation. People should be told about the issues with hung parliament and effect on their lives. 

AAP supporter's are impulsive, emotional and outspoken. And they are always agitated. Jaggi in had given an example of a kid who makes a scene in a mall. The best way to handle such a kid is by being rational and assertive. This will impress any of the onlookers while any kind of aggression will give a bad impression. When AAP is tamed, especially in its home in Delhi, it will give BJP an amazing fillip towards its mission. 

But as I mentioned before, real story is the comeback on Congress and AAP is just one of the reasons. 

The fight is in Slog overs, this is time to do minimum mistakes and maximum calculated attacks. BJP has placed all it’s bets in Modi. Now, he has to take the fight in his hands. Ensure that no u-turns or any other kind of mistakes are done while stepping up the aggression. It is a difficult task but I believe Modi can do so. 

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