Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cong debacle, a PR disaster

Cong debacle, a PR disaster
By B N Kumar
Success has many claimants and failure has few takers. It is always easy to blame someone for a failure.
As the Congress sits down for self introspection with an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections in several States including all important Maharashtra, here are a few pointers on the PR disaster of the party’s machinery from top to bottom.
BJP was an early bird with its campaign for the Parliament Gold while the Congress failed to counter the campaign. Rather Sonia-Rahul and Co took it lightly and this complicity proved hem costly. Rahul himself entered the ring too late to return Narendra Modi’s severe punches and this created an impression among the people that for the Gandhi scion, politics is just a hobby.

In marketing, after sales plays an important role and in PR consistency and follow-up are the keys to success. NaMo succeeded in both while Rahul failed miserably. BJP had several spokespersons, armed with information, to join the shouting matches, where as the Congress imported some outsiders to become punching bags at the hands of menacingly aggressive TV news anchors.


Among all the PR disasters of the Congress, the worst was the exposure of Rahul Gandhi to Arnab Goswami. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB_eWW5ttaM) Arnab literally mauled Rahul who was clearly unprepared for the interrogation (and not an interview). Remember, Raj Thackeray hit back at the same Arnab reminding him that “Yeh Interrogation Nahin Hai”!
Narrating the UPA successes, Rahul used to speak about RTI, RTE, women’s empowerment and what have you. For the poor Dalit with whom he would share a meal of for that matter the poor widow Kalavati from suicide country Vidarbha, RTI did not mean Roti! Even in Kalavati’s case, Rahul just presented a case study with no followup.
Policy paralysis and indecision were the greatest banes of UPA-2. In the wake of breaking of scams after scams, everybody from top to bottom was too scared to take any decisions. As a consultant to real estate developers, I personally know of cases where the Environment Ministry would just sit on files for just not weeks or months, but years together.
Construction industry – that includes realty estate and infrastructure – contributes some 11% to the GDP and supports hundreds of other industries, apart from being capital and labour intensive. UPA-2 has literally killed this sector. Developers used to bang their heads against the wall calling for simplifying the plan clearance process, adopt Guarat’s single window system , and bring in reforms in administration, taxation, banking and land acquisition.
All that the government did was to bring in a one-sided policing regulator to jail erring builders and allowing the faulty officials go scot free. The Prime Minister, the housing, urban development and even finance ministries were told that the developers were being asked to obtain some 40-odd approvals with human interface at every step that bred corruption. Instead of attending to this critical issue, the PM blamed builders for breeding black money. Affordable housing remained merely on paper and even in the financial capital Mumbai the State government just appointed committees after committees with no action whatsoever. There are many more examples of the government’s policy paralysis. Moreover, instead of learning from successes of Gujarat model – however limited that they could be – Congress shrugged it off.
Rahul’s favourite RTI itself turned out to be the killer weapon for the opposition as a series of cases have been filed against the government based on the information obtained by activists. While CAG came down heavily on UPA over Coalgate and Telecom spectrum scams, the government’s defense was lackadaisical to say the least.
Congress also failed to take seriously Modi’s campaign for a “Congress Mukt Bharat” and his catchy phrases bases on Gujarat model. Like I said earlier, Rahul was a late entrant and Priyanka came much later.
India’s journey to become the nation of 21st century has begun much earlier – ten years ago. The IT and telecom revolution has created enough jobs for Indians in the country and abroad that the aspirational levels have shot up dramatically. Despite everybody cribbing about price rise – which BJP effectively used to hammer UPA – one would see the multiplexes running house-full shows, sales of two wheelers and four wheelers going up and newer brands of luxury products making their entry via shopping malls. Congress failed to connect with this emerging middle class.
Congress initiated the IT revolution, but miserably failed to use it to its benefit. They have not been able to learn from the success of social media campaigns by supporters of Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and even Baba Ramdev. The Congress’ handling of Baba Ramdev agitation and even the Nirbhaya rape case were nothing short of a sham. In a suicidal fashion, the Congress just allowed the people’s anger to swarm the government.
While the BJP cleverly managed to convert the people’s anger into an anti-establishment Tsunami, the Congress adopted an ostrich like attitude.
Even on food inflation, the government’s defense was childish to blame it on the new, increased consumption levels without checking hoarding and mismanagement of PDS. My vegetable vendor tells me that the prices vary seasonally and more importantly depending on the nature. Short supply from farms, coupled with hoarding, led to zooming of onion prices to Rs 100 a kg and they came crashing to Rs 10 a kg when supplies improved. While BJP blasted the government for its failure to check the price rise of the poor villager’s staple food (Roti/Bhakri with onion), the Congress did precious nothing to hit back when the prices came down with equal speed.

In PR, the basic lesson is to be good, do good and be seen as doing good. The Congress PR advisors obviously forgot this dictum! (The author, a veteran media professional, is Editor and Trustee of Samachar Foundation. He is approachable at mailbnk@gmail.com)