The image of a government which is all the time reticent, over-cautious and over-defensive has to be changed quickly, says B Raman
During the eight years that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has been in office, the country has moved forward in many directions. It enjoys a greater stature in the international community. For the first time, India came to be looked upon as a budding equal of China. Many started talking of the phenomenon of Chindia -- China and India rising together to occupy their due place in the international community.
The positive 'We Can' feeling generated by the achievements of the Manmohan Singh government in its first term in office has since given way to a negative atmosphere. This has been due to leadership inadequacies, the weakening of the image and authority of the prime minister, moral and administrative permissiveness in the name of coalition compulsions giving rise to widespread perceptions of corruption galore and stalling in the introduction of much-needed economic reforms.
The prime minister's televised address to the nation on September 21 clearly indicated that he has realised the need for changing this negative atmosphere and projecting an 'I Can and I will' image of himself to the people of the country. A brief address like this could not have been comprehensive. He focussed largely on the economic issues and did not touch upon other burning issues of the day like action to deal with corruption and improving governance through administrative reforms. Such reforms would have to be in the functioning of our anti-corruption and national security apparatus.
It is important for him to interact with the people again on the issues of action against corruption and administrative reforms. He could do so either through another address to the nation devoted only to these two subjects or through a televised live chat with distinguished journalists -- either individually or with all of them in a group. The journalists should be given the freedom to decide the format of the chat and the issues that will be discussed. The Prime Minister's Office should resist the temptation to steer the chat in a direction favourable to the government.
I would not say that the prime minister's address to the nation has made public perceptions more favourable to him, but it has at least placed before the people his view of the state of the nation and what he intends doing about it. Till now, the public was exposed only to the constant negative campaign of the opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The failure of the prime minister and his party to realise the importance of an appropriate media strategy that could take advantage of the new technologies and new techniques of perception management has been exploited by the BJP and its NRI followers to assume their dominance over the new media in the virtual world and add to the negative image of the prime minister and his government.
It is important for the Congress to break this dominance and establish a level playing field. The image of a government which is all the time reticent, over-cautious and over-defensive has to be changed quickly. We need the image of a government that is self-confident, self-assertive and forward moving.
Policies and actions are important for achieving an image transformation, but a more accessible, more articulate, more responsive, more spontaneous and more forthcoming approach to interactions with the public and the media is equally important. We live in a world where style is as important as substance, but the prime minister and his government have for too long neglected paying any attention to the style of leadership.
There is a need for an urgent mid-course correction in the way the prime minister projects himself to public opinion and makes himself available for explaining the thinking and policies of his government. He should not think that with his televised address to the nation he has done his job. He has only begun his new task. He has to press forward and transform the negative atmosphere into a positive one.