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Missing the point: Congress could do with a bit of orchestration

Congress leaders have called Modi’s Swachch Bharat movement 'a photo op'. Instead of carping about it, the Congress itself could do with a bit of orchestration, writes HT editor-in-chief Sanjoy Narayan.

columns Updated: Nov 24, 2014 16:53 IST
Sanjoy Narayan
Sanjoy Narayan
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,Indian-Americans,New York

A senior Congress leader and former minister recently said the big crowds that showed up at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s events for the Indian diaspora, recently in Australia and earlier in the US, were “orchestrated”. He is right. They were.

If to orchestrate, as the dictionary says, means to plan in order to achieve a desired or maximum effect, Modi’s events involving Indian-Americans at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Indian-Australians at Sydney’s Allphones Arena were perfectly orchestrated.

Modi’s events, whether they are abroad, or in India, like the launch of the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan on Gandhi Jayanti, when he swept the streets of Delhi, are all planned to get the biggest impact and in that sense, they are orchestrated well.

The thing is that the Modi-led BJP’s strategy for communication or public contact is very different from what the Congress or any other Indian party has been used to. Modi’s Man Ki Baat public radio addresses, his website that allows citizens to interact directly with the government, and even his decision to spend Diwali in the Kashmir Valley, are all designed to maximise the bang for the buck.

Meticulous planning of public events and intelligent use of media, particularly of the digital and social variety, are an integral part of the repertoire of modern politicians. In the US everything from electioneering to speeches and even sartorial appearances are carefully planned, rehearsed and calibrated. It’s not that Modi is doing anything new. It’s just that the Congress isn’t quite getting it.

Congress leaders have called Modi’s Swachch Bharat movement “a photo op”; they’ve ridiculed his Diwali day trip to Kashmir and Siachen as “showbaazi”; and even, rather ludicrously, suggested that the crowds that come to see him when he goes abroad are transported from here.

For what happens when political parties don’t “orchestrate” their moves, you need only look as far as the Congress. Last month, in a laudable gesture, its vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited parts of the Andhra coast seven days after a cyclone had hit the area.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at an election rally in Jharkhand on Saturday. (HT Photo)

Only he chose the wrong date — October 19, a day when the results of the assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra were announced and hogged the headlines, leaving Gandhi’s visit largely unnoticed by the media and, hence, made it a missed opportunity. More recently, at the Congress-organised Nehru conference, many party leaders, including some powerful former cabinet ministers, were conspicuous by their absence, depriving the party again of an opportunity to show strength and unity.

At the crux of this is the fact that the BJP-dominated NDA plays a completely different game from what the Congress-led UPA did. Many of Modi’s pet projects are nothing but repackaged and marketed versions of what were originally the UPA’s schemes: his Swachch Bharat Abhiyan is an improved version of the UPA’s Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan; his Namami Gange drive to clean the Ganga existed under a different name in the UPA regime; and his Jan Dhan Yojana, aimed at making banking accessible to the poor, was part of a UPA programme to ensure financial inclusiveness. The difference lies is how the Modi government positions, markets and, yes, orchestrates these things.

Instead of carping about it, the Congress itself could do with a bit of orchestration. And a good place to begin could be in Parliament. With 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, it hasn’t been able to get the titular position of a Leader of Opposition but that doesn’t stop it from playing the role of the leader in the Opposition.

By that it would mean garnering support of the other parties on its side of the fence — the AIADMK (which has 37 seats), the TMC (34 seats), the BJD (20 seats) and several other regional parties with smaller numbers. Some of these don’t see eye to eye with the Congress but that’s where the challenge lies: to plan and arrange pacts with them to take on the Treasury benches if not on all issues, at least on some of them; or, in other words, “orchestrate” a real Opposition.

First Published: Nov 22, 2014 21:17 IST