Dear BJP, Better The Communication, Please
One cannot doubt the intent of the BJP when it comes to reforms, be it the Citizenship Amendment Act or the recent farm reforms.
The party has its heart and head in the right place. The question is of getting the message across, and without distortion.
The unquestioned absence of Sunny Deol, before being diagnosed with Covid-19, one of the two Bharatiya Janata Party MPs from Punjab, Kirron Kher, the MP from Chandigarh whose fate in 2019 was rescued by a last-moment Narendra Modi rally in the city, and even Anupam Kher, husband of Kirron Kher and an active campaigner of the BJP during the elections has been baffling.
An argument can be made that these selected MPs from the state, one where the BJP is not as politically invested as it is in perhaps Northeast, were only hired for their connect amongst the masses, and possibly, do not have the intellect to communicate on the ground. However, if this is true, it only highlights one of the many mistakes of the BJP when it comes to hiring celebrity services.
They win the election piggybacking on the Modi factor, and then become a liability that the party carries for five or more years.
To begin with, one cannot doubt the intent of the BJP when it comes to reforms, be the Citizenship Amendment Act or the recent farm reforms. The party has its heart and head in the right place.
Yet, it is the realisation of the same intent that fuels the growing complacency when it comes to communication these reforms, for nothing else explains the party making the same mistake within a year, first with CAA and now with farm reforms.
The one tactic employed by the BJP, and a commendable one, is that of allowing the protesters to make a fool of themselves, and thus, allowing the voters to see the foolishness that lies beyond the sugarcoated charade. However, as we saw with Shaheen Bagh 1.0 that eventually resulted in the riots in Delhi, this waiting game can prove to be dangerous.
Today, a Shaheen Bagh 2.0 stares the party at the Delhi-Karnal highway, one of the most important national routes of India, and perhaps, the most critical highway of North-India, given it directly connects New Delhi to Punjab, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, and the two new union territories by road. This time, it’s not the allegation of Muslim suppression that BJP faces, but that of Sikh oppression.
The party wants to play the waiting game here as well, for it wants to expose the radicals that have hijacked the protest not only on the ground but also virtually from Canada and Australia.
However, the waiting game is now hurting the common people in the region, given many depend on the route for their daily living. It’s one of the busiest highways of India for a reason. Also, there is the question of some Khalistani elements using the platform to further a separatist agenda that could perhaps result in some rioting. A long shot, but a danger nevertheless.
The waiting game has other costs too. The communication lags, and that leaves space for the likes of Diljit Dosanjh and Kangana Ranaut to set a narrative, as it left the room for the likes of Farhan Akhtar and Swara Bhaskar in February during the CAA protests to further the misinformation. The same happens on social networking platforms, especially Instagram.
Now, the BJP cannot be blamed for the mindlessness of the blue tick celebrities who cannot put two and two together without a PR team and 10 cameras looking at them or their blind followers and fan clubs. But then, for a party that has the most incredible ground network in the world as some claim, coming across as a hapless tailender against a Mitchell Starc yorker each time there is a protest doesn’t make for a great sight either, especially when it is governing with more than 300 MPs.
So, what must the BJP do to better the communication?
Firstly, for the love of God, decentralise. While one can compliment the dedication of the Prime Minister himself for making an effort to explain the farm laws in an election rally, but what the party requires is a communication network to complement him on the ground.
For instance, there was hardly any communication between the farmers in Punjab and the party after the ordinances were announced. The mere fact that the party could not use celebrity power within its Lok Sabha tally to counter the mindlessness of Diljit Dosanjh or Swara Bhaskar shows how complacent the party has become. What stops BJP MP Sunny Deol from hammering the Left with a metaphoric water pump of facts?
Two, occupy the online space. TikTok, by virtue of geopolitics, has been banned, but Instagram, the hub of those who pretend to sustain the world remains. As it was during CAA, the misinformation about farm reforms is infinite. For a party that unlocked the potential of social media before anyone, the recent lag in the online space is worrying.
Three, the TV strategy needs to change. While some impeccable ministers of the party have made a sincere effort to address the issues, the BJP spokespersons need to quit the prime time yelling and look for saner platforms, both on TV and online. To get the communication in order, it’s important to engage not endanger the eardrum of the viewer. A lot of critical information and time is lost in pointless noise each night.
Four, call out the separatists more vociferously. It has been 18 hours since Yograj Singh gave a provocative speech at the farmer protest and barring a Twitter trend, there is hardly any action against the man, and this is when a leading TV journalist was paraded from jail to jail for standing up to a Shiv Sena Chief Minister.
The party needs to step in instead of leaving everything to its enthusiastic supporters. Perhaps, the party can flirt with the idea of opening internships in its communication department. Nothing wrong with that.
Lastly, dump the MPs who can’t be trusted upon in times like these. The BJP has no shortage of talent and must offer the Lok Sabha ticket to members who don’t need a last-moment rescue from the Prime Minister during elections or who can step to the occasion to deal with a crisis like this on the ground. The ‘right’ narrative will come from the ‘right’ people.
All said and done, the party is no serious trouble. As with the CAA protests, the supporters are also hoping for the farmer fatigue to set in, and the protesting side ends up looking foolish. Even the victory of 2019 validates the fact that the desperate agenda-setting of the Left and Congress in some factions has not dented the image of the party.
However, a little less than 40 months from now, the party will be facing another uphill battle in the national elections. The role of communication in a nation of 800-1000 million internet users will be critical. Thus, it’s imperative that the party learns from its two mistakes of 2020, and starts making amends right away. It’s never too late to improve.
BJP’s intent must be matched by better communication.
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