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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Will Rajinikanth’s entry into politics kill the Dravidian parties?

Will Rajinikanth’s entry into politics kill the Dravidian parties?

The political situation currently obtaining in Tamil Nadu is akin to a rudderless ship lost in a stormy sea. The splits in the ruling AIADMK, the naked power struggles among the feuding groups, the holding of MLAs at secret resorts, cancellation of the bypoll for the deceased chief minister’s constituency due to corruption, income tax raids on an incumbent state Chief Secretary and more – all have only made a laughing stock of the state.

With all the drama and breaking news going on, the governance of the state does not appear to be on the agenda for the ruling party leaders. The state had a 62% deficit in monsoon rainfall as of December 2016. Further, the shortfall in Cauvery water receipts in 2016 has adversely impacted samba crop. The state’s own revenue (SOR) has shown sluggish growth thanks to years of populist schemes and handouts. The current state budget (2017-18) has a 2.9% revenue deficit i.e. of almost Rs. 16,000 crores. The government seems blissfully oblivious of the looming economic uncertainty as they are busy fighting for their political survival.

After the passing away of Jayalalitha, under circumstances still shrouded in mystery, the state is largely on administrative paralysis. The cause for this paralysis is only partly due to the splintering of the ruling AIADMK. The real culprit is the larger political and administrative ecosystem that has atrophied over the decades. The slow grind of the state has been long in coming. It is in this context of the state’s uneasy economic outlook and political disarray that the entry of film star Rajinikanth assumes significance.

But a brief review of the Dravidian politics over the last few decades that has eaten into the vitals of the state, will throw light on how the future is likely to play out. Dravidian politics as we see today, is a brain child of the old British divide and rule policy and has been spreading venom for decades disguised as a political ideology in south India. Based on the flawed and scientifically discarded Aryan invasion theory, it sought to divide the people into Dravidians or natives and non-Dravidians for short-term electoral gains. Regional separatism, anti-Hindi movement, rationalist movement etc. were thrown in to buttress this bogus ideology.

The resulting cocktail was in essence an unadulterated anti-national and anti-Hindu manifesto whose sole purpose was to fracture the polity and keep the divisions alive. The regimes of that two main Dravidian parties – that proffered varying shades of the above bogus ideology – is a shameless narrative of corruption, deception, loot, extortion, illicit businesses, voter fraud and what have you. It was a complete web of dishonesty that masqueraded as political ideology, very much like the case in any other state in India.

The people who have long been desperately yearning for a genuine alternative, were only given a Hobson’s choice – choosing between the lesser of two evils. The obvious casualty, over the years, has been the governance of the state. As a consequence, Tamil Nadu is today punching way below its weight in many areas nationally – infrastructure, healthcare, agricultural, digitization, GSDP or for that matter any developmental metric.

The ruling AIADMK dispensation is a house divided against itself and it is only a matter of time before it collapses like a house of cards. At the other end, the leading opposition party – the DMK is also in its last innings as a political entity. The party veteran, Karunanidhi, is 94 years old and in extremely poor health and unable to keep the party united. After Karunanidhi, political pundits expect a potential three-way split – one faction led by Stalin, the other by Alagiri and the rest by his daughter Kanimozhi together with party loyalists who would have nowhere else to go.

Apart from the steady erosion of public support due to anti-incumbency, it appears that the clean sweep by the BJP in the national elections of 2014 seems to have added to their discomfiture. The massive mandate in favor of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is also a frightening development for the Dravidian parties since they know that the BJP is at their door steps.

But for the BJP, Fort St George in Chennai is still some distance away. It may have to wait its turn to run the state. For a safe entry, they have to tag along with a charismatic leader who is blessed with a mass appeal who can open the doors for them. Hence it makes perfect political sense for the BJP to align with Rajinikanth, at least for the time being or until he formally joins them.

Despite the shrill noises and entry barriers erected by the entrenched parties, Rajinikanth’s entry into politics has been widely welcomed. Many view it as probably the best thing that has happened to the state politics in decades.

However, Rajinikanth too will not have an easy path to the Chief Minister’s office. No doubt, in the current political conditions, he is a very charismatic leader who commands the biggest chunk of followers – hence votes – and could potentially emerge as the leader of the single largest party. But he has the onerous task of outwitting the entrenched political rivals. This could be a major challenge.

But therein lies the opportunity for the BJP to step in and assist Rajinikanth, at least in the initial days of its long war to win the rights to rule Tamilnadu. A formal alliance between Rajinikanth and BJP could hold the secret recipe for winning the election. Indications are that either Rajinikanth will join the BJP or form a party that will firmly align with the BJP. The latter seems most probable. However, a lot will depend on how the BJP and Rajinikanth succeed in putting up a good partnership.

A change definitely seems in the offing, but only after the Presidential elections. The central government will probably give some more time for the rudderless AIADMK to make a complete fool of themselves and earn the fullest disgust of the people. President’s rule in Tamil Nadu will be imposed most likely a few months after electing the new President of India.

Decimation of the Dravidian parties appears certain and may be just around the corner. But the urgent need of the hour is the rebuilding of the state’s economy, particularly the agricultural sector. A huge challenge awaits the new Chief Minister. Rajinikanth will have the opportunity to transform and rebuild a new and resurgent TamilNadu.

 

 

 

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Posted by on June 22, 2017 in India, Modi, Tamil Nadu

 

Modi’s Killer Media Strategy

Modi’s Killer Media Strategy

It is no exaggeration that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the one among the select band of leaders– probably a cherry picked few among Indian politicians in recent memory – who have been hounded by the main stream media (MSM) – both print and electronic. In that sense, he shares a common experience and can empathize with President Donald Trump of the US. But their similarities probably end there.

The two leaders are upright public figures who take their responsibilities and public duties seriously. Both have been repeatedly pushed to the wall by the media. But their responses and how they handled MSM has been vastly different.

The all-powerful President of the US has often taken to social media – and particularly Twitter – to vent his anger against the media. He has gone so far as to brand them liars and peddlers of ‘fake’ news. His huge twitter following -32 million followers and counting – has keenly followed every minute of these exchanges.

But Prime Minister Modi’s response to an offensive media, on the other hand, has been totally different. He has not publicly uttered angry remarks or expressed his frustration on twitter. Yet Modi’s stealth, yet killer media strategy seems to have sapped the very life out of the main stream media in India. This can be vouched by discerning insights gleaned over the last few years by piecing together publicly available data on declining readership / viewership, as well as the prime-time space yielded to new players like Republic TV in the tough Indian television and entertainment market.

Ever since Modi came to the limelight as the Chief Minister of Gujarat state and started making waves, the media and his political opponents have been after him.  In hindsight, they were probably the first to correctly identify him then as a future prime minister material and set in motion their game plan to stop him.  Hence his hounding by the media and his political adversaries who often, worked hand in glove.

As a shrewd politician, Modi never had illusions about the role of the press. He had experienced first-hand how a press that was ‘friendly’ to his political opponents had almost destroyed his political career. But that was when they held complete sway on the media outlets and network infrastructure. On becoming the Prime Minister, he sought to marshal all available resources and deploy a clever strategy to gain a toe hold for his own view of the world. He embarked on one of the most comprehensive overhauls of the information dissemination machinery, rebuilding it from scratch, one brick at a time.

Barc1As with his anti-corruption drive, Modi relied heavily on technology. The range of tools he has used is mind boggling – from social media to mobile apps and everything in between.  But the real show stealer is his use of Twitter. With over 30 million followers, he has one of the biggest twitter followings in the world. Every tweet from the Prime Minister will reach an audience that is more than the combined weekly viewership of all major English news channels in India. See table below, courtesy Broadcast Audience Research council India (BARC). Most importantly, he is assured of a distortion free transmission to his target audience.

Modi has not simply stopped at building a huge following. He has engaged them creatively to sustain and retain this massive following. For example, there is a two-way flow of information as he often seeks to crowd-source ideas from them. Many have contributed topics and discussion items for Modi’s monthly radio broadcast program, Mann KI Baath. His radio address is a runaway success particularly in rural India where large numbers gather to listen to him.

The biggest coup d’état of sorts is his use of YouTube.  Videos of every public event addressed by Modi, his foreign travels, visits of dignitaries, election campaigns – all are posted to his YouTube channel. The Narendra Modi channel with over 650,000 subscribers is another huge captive viewer pool he has meticulously cultivated. This platform by itself has helped Modi take on the biased electronic media, obviating the need to commit time and resources to fight and fix distorted versions that the media in India has been dishing out for so long.

The Narendra Modi mobile app is equally powerful. With nearly 10 million downloads just of the android version, it delivers his messages directly to the mobile phone and tablets.

Modi’s personal familiarity and comfort level with information technology has been central to the evolution of this alternative media resource. In India’s political spectrum there are very few who can match or even come close. The Prime Minister’s media strategy reveals a shrewd awareness of the ingredients for success – India’s high tele-density (84%), high broadband subscription (192 million) as well as a huge younger ‘demographic dividend’ of the population. His personal political acumen knitted all this into a killer strategy that now dominates the discourse in India.

In totality, Modi has created an alternative media resource, a complete information dissemination platform and infrastructure, that has bypassed and even ignored the mainstream media. He has successfully retained the audience and slowly over the years has changed the narrative and now controls it. Modi successfully turned the tables on the media.

There are important lessons for both the media and politicians in a technology driven century. With new technological innovations popping up regularly that can disrupt existing business models or the way things ‘used to be done’, it is imperative to not take things for granted. A determined leader with a clear vision, riding on the back of disruptive technologies can usher in changes in any sphere of human endeavor – faster than many can imagine. And that could be a daunting challenge for the media. The media can no longer have a free run in pushing an agenda driven spin, for the hounded can now strike back. The spin doctors may have to pay the ultimate price of becoming irrelevant, as the Indian experience testifies. Therein lies a media lesson for President Donald Trump and other political leaders of the world.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2017 in India, Media, Modi, Press

 

Destabilizing America From Within

Trump_Press1President Trump’s first five months in office have truly been action packed.  Many of his new team members have been let go or have resigned on their own. This comes on top of the delayed confirmations of many of the President’s picks. Not to forget the series of street protests, arson and other expressions of anger and opposition to the incumbent president. All this, as Trump himself has pointed out, have been a road block for the administration to even get settled in office. But as these fester, they are taking on a new avatar that could tip the scales and severely scar America – by dividing its people and deepening the chasm in its polity.

There have been almost continuous protest rallies after the results of the elections were announced, often resulting in arson and violence across country. These protests have been no impromptu gatherings, but well planned, funded and executed with political backing. For instance, social media have been afire with pictures of protesters being brought in to locations in charted buses. Needless to say, that while the protests themselves are an unalienable right in a democracy, it now appears in hindsight that there is elaborate machinery supporting all this. The strategy of the detractors seems to be to keep the flame of dissent alive and keep the administration in a perpetual firefighting mode and thus deny any room to settle down for governance. This is really disconcerting.

In all this, the press and media too seem to have been at their divisive best. The diverse spin from the cable channels often buries the news and the bitter tirades leave the viewers confused and disgusted. Any neutral American can see that the media is definitely driven firmly by its agenda to oppose the Trump administration on anything and everything. The spike in unnamed sources and publication of what appears to be a running stream of sensitive intelligence leaks by established media leaders has only befuddled the average American viewer. That none of these allegations have been proved has only added to the divisiveness.

The leaking of photo evidence in the recent Manchester blast case in the UK is the latest in intelligence leaks. This has strained US-UK relations and an infuriated Prime Minister Theresa May had to complain to President Trump. It appears that the antagonists of the administration would stop at nothing – even irking a close ally – in trying to get at President Trump. Americans now seem to believe in social media more than the cable networks. The networks, who themselves have been the casualty for their actions as viewership and readership have tanked across the board, appear to be in no mood to relent.

The media and press in a democracy undoubtedly have a very important role to play. They are the watchdogs that are first line of defense against an errant administration. But to constantly quote unnamed and unverified sources to support their allegations has only eroded the credibility of a key institution of democracy.  Agreed, we have to live with this in a plural democracy. But the scale and level of acrimony that this has generated is unbelievable and has only deepened the divide.

The Democrats – judging from statements issued by Senator Hillary Clinton as well as Senate and House representatives – have obviously not yet gotten over the electoral defeat. In fact, John Lewis, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia has called Trump an illegitimate President on multiple occasions on television. This is indeed a shocking commentary of the political leaders in a mature democracy, and indeed the leader of the free world, behaving like scorned brats after losing an election.  All this speaks of the new low in current politics.

Most Americans, irrespective of party affiliations, in the best democratic traditions of the country have accepted the election results and have already moved on and are disgusted by the continuous attempts deepen the divide. Efforts to keep the acrimony alive are clearly doing the biggest disservice to the US. The Democrats, media, and sections of the Republican party, on the other hand, seem to be stuck in a time warp and are perilously insulated from public opinion.

These internal dissensions are bound to impact the international credibility and standing of the US. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has just sounded the bugle of mutiny of sorts against the US when she called on Europe to not count on the US and UK for their protection. These are unprecedented statements from allies that many would not have even contemplated would ever be happening against the US. This is because the US is now being perceived by friends and foes alike, as a house divided and hence a weak power.

In a democracy, diverse views and debates are essential for liberty and freedom.  But using these established democratic traditions as a clever tool to divide the people and embarrass a new administration in office is unacceptable. The Trump administration by no means deserves any undue favors from the watchdogs of a free society or in the court of public opinion. But it has a rightful claim to its legitimate space and duty to fulfill and execute the mandate of the people.

The efforts to sustain anti-Trump protests and put multiple roadblocks for the administration has reached a scale and magnitude that many fear can tip the balance towards instability. Donald Trump won the election fair and square and the Democrats lost. They need to accept the verdict of the American people. They will have their say and opportunity in 2020, but till then they need to let Trump govern.

The risk for America is too great and if the country trips, only chaos and ignominy will visit the US. Most Americans understand this. America and its people have moved on and expect the political establishment to close ranks and put a better show – for the sake of the country.   America has to get past the angst of electoral reverses and deal with some real issues – economic recovery, healthcare legislations and other policy issues that will determine the well being of its people in the coming years. The protagonists and antagonists need to back down and do their bid to reduce the rancor and provide constructive criticism and help Trump govern. America, urgently needs to heal now. A large dose of healing is what is called for.

 
 
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