NEWSMAN, tracking India in the Modi era – A book by Rajdeep Sardesai
Bengaluru: The following is a transcript of the talk by Rajdeep Sardesai, a well known Television Journalist on a roadshow at Indian Social Institue, Bangalore on March 8, 2019, on the occasion of the release of his book titled NEWSMAN, tracking India in the Modi era.
There is no challenger for Modi on the horizon in the coming 2019 Parliamentary elections. According to Rajdeep Sardesai Modi is the most astute marketing director in the history of Indian politics. Modi had successfully weaved, packaged, and marketed the story of a new India to the people in 2014. He has created an image of the creator of a new era that started on May 16, 2014. Modi has been able to convince large numbers of people about his larger than life persona of a fakir, a workaholic who works 24×7, and one who takes no break from his work. The ability to sell an image more than the story to the urban middle class of India is what is praiseworthy of Narendra Modi. Dismantling that image today, particularly among the urban middle class is not easy. The urban middle-class today is the core Modi constituency. The urban middle-class today is looking for a Knight on a white horse whose is going to deliver Bangalore from potholes, Delhi from pollution, and Mumbai from dirt and convince you that look“I am the man.” The Congress on the other hand simply does not know how to market its product, if at all it has a good product. There is a question mark whether there is a product at all. In today’s world, you have to market your product. You cannot live in an ivory tower and expect people to embrace you. You have to reach out to them and say look – this is what I stand for, these are my values. The Congress party is just waiting on the sidelines expecting that one day or the other Modi will fall. The problem with the Congress party is that it thinks that Modi is like Moraji Desai and is under the illusion expecting him to leave office soon. But Mr. Modi is not going anywhere. Even if the BJP gets 50 seats less in the coming elections, he is going to come back to power in a coalition government. He has made compromises in prepoll alliances with the Shiv Sena, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. He will resort to anything to come back to power in 2019 general election.
Mr. Modi is a different kind of politician. He is here because of his individual conviction in his ability is so strong that he actually believes that he has been sent to change this country’s history. He actually believes that he is the greatest prime minister this country has ever seen. Thus Modi is selling a story out there. Congress has a choice. Either, to puncture the balloon and put the hard facts before the people or get so dazzled by it that they do not know how to respond.
The realm of politics is a competitive market place. Indian politics has become extremely competitive. This is not the old days when it was just the Congress party and the Congress O and the Socialists on the side. Today, every political party is ready to fight for every single political space that is available for it. Thus the challenge for Modi in 2019 is not coming from the Congress but the challenge is coming from the regional parties. The regional parties are very clear. “ you are entering our territory, and we will fight you till the end.” This explains the hold of JDS in Karnataka, TRS in Telangana, Telugu Desam in Andhra, BJD In Odisha, Mamata Banerjee in Bengal, AAP in Delhi and so on. Today’s politics requires a certain ruthless edge, whether you like it or not it is the same ruthless edge that delivered Modi and Shah the kind of victory they got in 2014 and they competed for space in every election right from the gram panchayat to the Loksabha elections. Politics is 365 days, 24×7 exercise competing for space. The moment you vacate the space, other parties come in and occupy. The Congress over the years has become complacent and look at what has happened to them in Uttar Pradesh. The once mighty Congress in 30 years is reduced to a marginal presence in UP politics. The same thing has happened in Bengal, Andhra, and so on. No state exemplifies to me the problem of the crisis in Andhra. Ten years ago with Rajshekar Reddy in power, the Congress was the dominant party in Andhra and victory in Andhra gave the Congress power in Delhi both in 2004 and 2009. Today, Andhra politicians say that Congress will not get a single seat even in the VidhanSabha. What happened? Quite simply the Congress party as an organization somewhere down the line has weakened. With the weakening of the organization that space is occupied by regional parties. So the Congress has to be conscious that politics has changed. The Congress party has to wake up and smell the coffee. In 2019 if Congress thinks it is Congress maximization, it will not ensure BJP minimization. Congress needs to decide what is its role in 2019. Is it to defeat the BJP or fight for pride and say we got 44 in 2014 and get around 100 this time. Congress needs to decide. Who is the enemy and what are the values it is fighting for and then take it from there.
Modi has the skills of a performer who has refined it to a fine art. Intolerance has grown in India politics much more than before. It is either you are with us or you are with them. The divide between the Congress and the BJP is such that the middle ground is disappearing. What is more important in this age of coalition politics is that politicians should know how to build bridges, how to win people over, how to influence them. That is the quality the older politicians had much more than the younger politicians. The biggest quality of a politician is patience. The Gandhi family cannot merely survive in politics on the Gandhi surname anymore. Modi, Amit Shah, and the regional leaders have thus made politics today completely competitive and the Congress party is squeezed in between. It is completely up to Congress to decide what is the space that it wants to occupy and expand. Politics and media today is on the same plane today, where politics is competitive and media is without a conscience. We have lost our basic ethics. We need to understand that those who fight wars are the sons of farmers, laborers, and the lesser known people of this country. No studio anchor goes to war, and it is very easy to sit in a studio and say let’s bomb Pakistan. No Son of any politician takes part in a war. In my mind, the media has lost any sense of sanity today. They are only preoccupied with polarizing people on the basis of religion and region. Noise has replaced news, sensational has replaced sense, and chaos has replaced credibility. Primetime Television is tamasha today. The news is only entertainment today. It does not disseminate knowledge anymore. When the history of this period of India is written, the role of the media will rank very, very low particularly electronic media. In the days of the emergency, people crawled when asked to bend. Today, the media does a Shashkar Namaskar when asked only to do a namaskar. That is the hard truth of the media in this country today.