By Saurabh Shukla
NEW DELHI: THE Congress seems to have run out of breath in the media race against prime opponent Narendra Modi. This is despite Congress attempts to rope in young leaders and experts as engines of its media campaign.
At the heart of the Grand Old Party's media trouble are ego clashes between senior leaders, as well as spokespersons and party panelists not finding time to defend the party on crucial issues. The choice of Ajay Maken— known for his organisational skills— as head of the communication department seems to have rubbed many leaders the wrong way.
Most have responded with stony silence.
“ There seems an inner sabotage of the Congress's communication strategy. They have got so much of ill- gotten wealth that they need a five- year break to spend the money. How can you run a communication strategy when you have Rahul Gandhi as a reluctant bride? The rank and file of the Congress have given up,” says ad Guru Prahlad Kakkar.
It is still early days for the Congress's communication strategy, but these teething troubles may cost the party dear as the BJP remains far ahead in making use of the Internet and mobile- based campaign tactics. There also remains a huge gap between the Congress and the UPA governments information and broadcasting ministry. Campaigns like the Bharat Nirman campaign could have been better synchronised had the two coordinated.
Bugs and glitches apart, the media management exercise remains on full power at the 10 Pandit Pant Marg residence of Congress General Secretary Ajay Maken. Giant screens beam a host of news channels as a group of twenty- somethings and analysts monitor 16 top news and current affairs channels across the country. Reports are prepared for the party's top bosses; in another room a team of three senior journalists rate the performance of the party's spokespersons.
Maken conducts a noon briefing every day at the party headquarters on Akbar Road, where communication professionals are roped in for expert advice.
“ Media strategy is extremely important for a political party that is going to face the elections, the advice of the communication professionals is important for us as they are specialists in the field who help us improve our performance,” Maken told MAIL TODAY . The BJP is unfazed, “ The Congress's communication strategy can never work, because any strategy bereft of content can only be counterproductive, as they have nothing to say on their misgovernance, stinking corruption and non- development.
With his proven record of governance, Narendra Modi is miles ahead,” says senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad.
The Congress hasnt stopped trying though. Ramesh Muniyappa, a communications professional who has worked with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Karnataka Chief Minister S. M. Krishna, has been brought in to oversee the monitoring of the news channels. This is just part of the strategy; for the Congress party is increasingly relying on professionals in order to connect with the middle class.
At one of the meetings, noted public relations and image management professional Rajiv Desai told Congressmen that they should use the Apple FaceTime app to communicate with party functionaries. The party is now looking to give Apple devices to its spokespersons and state functionaries.
Communications sessions have also been held with A. P. Parigi, another leading media professional.
Another professional roped Rashmi Kant, son of former Vice- President Krishna Kant, Rashmi Kant, who was earlier with an entertainment channel.
The party has also got a number of senior journalists rendering advice on a spectrum of issues.
The party has also has devised a system where the days important political events are mapped through an e- monitoring system, while TV channels have been told to send requests for talk show panelists in advance. One unit in Maken's team checks the availability of panelists. Besides the spokespersons— Renuka Chaudhary, P. C. Chacko, Raj Babbar, Mohan Prakash, Shakeel Ahmed— there are 30 TV panelists who are shuffled according to the topics they have to speak on. This exercise is coordinated by two media coordinators attached to Maken, Deepak Amin and S. V. Ramni.
INTERESTINGLY the mapping is being done to the T, including the issues discussed, the slants of the TV anchor and the line taken by a media house on a particular issue. “ People don't want to see the UPA anymore. Besides, Rahul Gandhi is not the best communicator, so whether they sing or dance it is not going to help. They could have banked on some policy announcement but its too late now,” says sociologist Dipankar Gupta.
Another initiative the party is working on is expanding the gene pool of spokespersons by tapping younger faces in the run-up to general elections. “ The idea is to have better spokespersons and panelists in state capitals who are well- acquainted with local issues and can be more effective,” a party functionary added.
Some within the Congress, however, believe that the strategy is not working, “ You have to be articulate and be visible in front of the media. The communications department is not present most of the time, and there is a lack of coordination with senior leaders,” said one senior Congress leader.
But Maken's team is moving.
Savvy Mumbai MP Priya Datt has been coordinating with state units to implement media strategy in the states. Dutt is re-energising state media units to gear up for elections 2014. She collates inputs from state units on local and regional media coverage and is currently working to open communication centres in every state.
East Delhi MP Sandeep Dikshit, the son of Maken's prime rival Sheila Dikshit, manages the party's research cell, providing inputs on key issues for spokespersons and TV panelists.
Social media is yet another important tool and Khidki, the Youth Congress's version of Facebook, is now being implemented for all Congress leaders. Even senior leaders now face volleys from party workers across the country.
Another key member of the team is Deepender Singh Hooda. He manages the social media cell of the party. The Feku campaign against Narendra Modi was planned by the cell, and the core focus is on penetrating the social media to reach out to young voters.
It is still early days for the Cong's communication strategy, but the teething troubles may cost it dear as BJP remains far ahead in making use of the Internet and mobile-based campaign tactics
- Chairman of communication department
THE Congress general secretary is streamlining the grand old party's media strategy. The New Delhi MP and a former Union minister is known as an efficient organiser since his NSUI days and as the former president of the Delhi University Students Union.
He holds a meeting with his core team and experts at 12 noon everyday at the AICC headquarters, where the days strategy is worked out.
He is close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice- president Rahul. Every morning an e- clip of the top news and a CD containing video footages of the spokespersons participating in TV debates are sent to the two.
The tech- savvy leader, who is currently trying to juggle between his roles as the in- charge of the screening committee for Rajasthan elections and the new media czar of the Congress, wants to revitalise the media strategy relying on key inputs from image management experts, journalists and by using new media.
- Head of research cell
THE MP from East Delhi and son of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Sandeep manages the party's research cell. He works in close coordination with Ajay Maken, who is known to be his mothers bête noir.
Sandeep and his team provide inputs on key issues that the spokespersons and TV panelists address during the day.
They also prepare confidential background papers for the party's top bosses. For instance on the Coalgate controversy, the cell prepared a two- page document that provided key details to the party leaders on how they can counter the Opposition by providing facts. His office is at the Congress war room in Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Road.
DEEPENDER SINGH HOODA
- Head of social media cell
THE Rohtak MP and son of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda works in close coordination with Maken and manages the social media cell of the party.
The Feku campaign against Narendra Modi was planned by the cell, and the focus is on penetrating social media to reach out to young voters across the country.
Armed with a group of geeks and some former journalists, the cell is creating an army of Congress's social media warriors that will seek to expose the lies of the BJP's PM candidate and his statistical charade.
Reproduced From Mail Today. Copyright 2013. MTNPL. All rights reserved.
By Saurabh Shukla