Our media must strive to get to the facts

As India evolves and communication technologies improve by the day, the role of the media in India’s future is becoming increasingly critical. The tendency to report based on unverified information is fast becoming the norm, as you will see in the case of the various articles referenced here.

Take the example of this news report on Kumar Vishwas’ rally in Amethi. It clearly says that the event was a success despite some hiccups. Now, take a look at this report that deems it a flop! It’s the exact same event that is being reported on. But the conclusions are diametrically opposite. Clearly, they both can’t be true! The issue of whether an event is a success or a flop can be a matter of opinion. But there should be no ambiguity about the real “data” – how large the crowd was, the response of the crowd, etc.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Adapting to change as AAP continues to re-define Indian politics

There is always a lot of talk about how technology is evolving in the world we live in- how new technologies are emerging while old ones fall out of favor. If you want to see how technology is changing the world, just look at how kids and the younger generation use it. For instance, they collaborate on Google docs, they stay in touch via text and Instant Messaging, they take pictures and share them instantaneously via Facebook and Snapchat, they do mobile search to find restaurants and shops, and when parents are lost they are quick to use Google Maps to find the most convenient routes. In contrast, if you belong to a slightly older generation, here is what your technology life looks like – you email MS-Word documents and spreadsheets back and forth, you hear your kids say, “Mom/Dad, don’t use IE, use Chrome!”, you take pictures but you need your kids to upload it and give you a link that you can email to your family, you have a hard time switching from TV to DVD to on-demand, while recording TV shows that you love seems like rocket science. Ok, if you belong to the second category I won’t embarrass you any more.

Interestingly, the world of Indian politics seems to be evolving in a similar fashion. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) appears to be operating and forging ahead on a totally different “wavelength” than the rest of India’s political parties. For instance, the AAP launched a membership campaign with an ambitious target of 1 crore members. In an attempt to achieve its goal, the party has waived the membership fee of Rs.10 for a 15 day period. Today, anyone can become a member by submitting a form on the AAP website, mailing in a completed registration form or via SMS. There is no question that this is a brilliant move by the party and here is why. Generations of Indians have never known what it’s like or what it means to be the member of a political party. A large part of our population has never ever been a member of any party, no matter what their political leanings might be. The AAP has completely changed this notion with its massive membership drive. Firstly, the AAP has made the process  of becoming a member very simple. Secondly, the party has run a time-bound promotion of sorts drawing from traditional retail marketing techniques, thereby creating a sense of urgency like never before.

The membership drive by the AAP is bound to have long-term implications for the party itself and Indian politics as a whole, much of which is not apparent now. For Indians who have never officially joined any political party in their life, the step of joining the AAP is a simple but momentous one. Firstly, it’s a sign that the AAP’s message resonates with them. Next, it gives the AAP a sense of where their fan base lies. The AAP can slice and dice the data to determine its strong and weak constituencies. Thirdly, there is automatically a shared sense of ownership and participation in the political process that India has not seen since the early days of Independence. Lastly and most importantly, the AAP will soon be able to communicate directly with its expanded member base in a heart-beat using all the latest technologies – Internet, SMS, social media, live streaming, you name it. As a result, the AAP will be able to reach out and mobilize its party rank and file, even without the help of the media. It will be able to counter negative campaigns much better and faster. It can plan and conduct referendums and seek inputs from its supporter base when desired. The traditional megaphone will be brilliantly complemented with a few mouse clicks that can carry the AAP’s message far and wide.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

It’s the message, not the messenger, for Lok Sabha 2014

Our media has been going gaga over the last several months positioning the upcoming Lok Sabha election as some kind of “beauty contest” between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. With the Congress party receiving a drubbing in the recent assembly polls, Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is being questioned by one and all. Meanwhile, the AAP after its electoral success in Delhi, has now captured the imagination of the media. Slowly but surely, the media appears to be re-positioning its discussions now around “Kejriwal vs. Modi” battle for the Lok Sabha.

The AAP supporters look at this with dreamy, optimistic eyes. The BJP fans look at this with a mixture of fear and frustration – “The AAP will not let the BJP come to power, nor can they come to power on their own. They might just end up helping the Congress. Why don’t they wait till 2019 and join hands with BJP this time around to fight the Congress?” The Congress party appears to be in a soul searching mode after its recent defeats in the assembly elections and, at present, views this with a mixture of concern and despondency.

Despite the media’s self-serving desire to rake up its TRPs by debating non-existent personality battles, if the Delhi elections are any indication, the upcoming Lok Sabha polls are not going to be based on personalities but on “bread and butter” issues that affects the aam aadmi across the country. Arvind Kejriwal, during the Delhi campaign, repeatedly said in many of his speeches, “People flock to help the AAP not because they love the AAP or love Arvind Kejriwal. They are here because they love this country. The idea is for all of us to come together to solve the problems of this country.” Contrast this with the BJP’s hero worship of Modi as “the man with all the answers” and his own talk about how “hunky-dory” things are in Gujarat.

What the AAP has going for it is its straight-forward, simplistic message – one based on honesty, integrity and probity in public life with a zero-tolerance towards corruption, plus a focus on everyday issues such as water, electricity, public education and health, women’s safety – that has won the hearts of Delhi-ites and more than perked the curiosity of many all over India. With the victory in Delhi, the AAP’s powerful message has already started to resonate with the people across the country.

In 1963, when Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, a million people from all across the US travelled to Washington. In those days, there was no email, SMS, Internet, social media or any such mechanisms that we have today to spread the word. Yet, people flocked to the event in droves. They did so because they deeply believed in Martin Luther King’s message of ending segregation. There is no doubt that he was a dynamic and moving speaker, but it was the power, honesty and appeal behind his message that drew people to the cause.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times