Sunday, May 10, 2015

A new media strategy?

Something has changed in New Delhi regarding what the BJP Government is doing with the media. The initial strategy after the massive election victory was to keep the Delhi media at an arm's length and revoke the privileges that they've gotten used to under their paymasters, the Gandhi dynasty. This worked for sometime as Modi was able to use his signature social media swagger to control the narrative, but it eventually began to wear off as the drag of officialdom gave the mainstream media - the #Presstitutes, to use a colorful term - a chance to come back. And for that, they had Arvind Kejriwal, who they used with alacrity to help defeat the BJP in Delhi. Ironically, that same Kejriwal has not instructed his government to file defamation suits against the media with aplomb - such is politics.

But with the first anniversary of the BJP Government coming close, something has changed. Two things indicate this pointedly. First, after about a year, journalists accompanied the President of India on his official trip to Moscow for the Victory Day parade - an event that was full of the same old stuff (read, free booze). Second is the sudden shift in the virulent anti-Modi stride of Firstpost since its editor was changed after the 2014 Elections, before which it was quite a "sanghi" website. Now, Firstpost seems to be more accommodating, even fair, in its assessment. More so, all news outlets seem to have given up the popular line of few months back - that of Christians being under attack in India. Now, even TOI is using the world 'alleged' for all such attacks, which is a huge shift.

So what's happened? If gossip from Delhi is to be believed, this is Arun Jaitley working his way through Lutyen's corridors, doing exactly what Vajpayee did - co-opting the mainstream media. Jaitley after all, is that Delhi creature that has enormous influence through journalists but no mass base at all (he lost an election in a wave, after all). So, the new strategy seems to be to win the media over, just as the Gandhi dynasty has been doing for decades.

This strategy may fail or succeed, depending on which journalists are being courted. If it's the same old dynasty-friendly cabal, the strategy will fail miserably. This cabal is already bought over - through benefits and coercion, in equal measure - and its loyalties are not up for sale by the owner (read, Sonia Gandhi). If however, Jaitley uses his enormous influence to co-opt the vast pro-Modi journalistic base, those on the right of the spectrum as well as the centrists, this strategy could succeed. What would ensure it succeeds? Brute force - that's right, the full might of the state. The pro-dynasty journalists have many skeletons in their closets and the Union Government has the power to unearth them. By simultaneously discrediting this band and giving more voice to the right wing, the Delhi establishment can finally be broken, at least partially.

For better or (more likely) worse, this is what Delhi politics is like. Modi was probably happier in Gandhinagar. 

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