With Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi evincing personal interest in the party’s media outreach strategy, its communications, publicity and publications department is currently witnessing an unusual flurry of activity.
Pitted against a battery of extremely telegenic and vocal spokespersons from the opposition, the Congress is working hard to prep up its own representatives so that they can measure up to their political rivals and communicate their side of the story more effectively.
Not only is Rahul Gandhi overseeing the functioning of the department on a sustained basis, the Nehru-Gandhi scion has now convened a two-day workshop for all party spokespersons on July 22 and 23 to prepare them for the special challenge they face in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress communciation chief Ajay Maken told rediff.com that five spokespersons from each state will participate in this workshop along with the national spokespersons and 36 others who have been shortlisted to represent the party on television news channels.
While details of the different sessions are still being worked out, Maken said the basic objective of the workshop is to acquaint the participants with some key policy and political issues, like the Food Security Bill, so that they are better equipped to explain these to the media and the people.
In addition, the participants will be briefed about how they can access the documents and papers prepared by the party’s research cell on current issues, which again will help them when they participate in television debates.
The participants from the states will also be specifically asked to scout around for talent and groom spokespersons who can be used at the national level.
“The party has a lot of talented people in the states… the party would like to utilise them more effectively. For instance, the party was extremely impressed by Kerala’s Suresh Babu and Gujarat’s Amiben Yagnik who took on the opposition in highly volatile television debates,” remarked Maken.
Finding that its spokespersons are periodically beaten by the likes of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Smriti Irani, Kiron Kher and Meenakshi Lekhi with their show of aggression, the Congress also wants to put in place a similar line-up of spokespersons.
In fact, ever since Rahul Gandhi started monitoring the functioning of the communications department, the emphasis has been on improving the skills and knowledge base of its spokespersons. The latter are briefed daily by Maken about the party’s official line on various issues while the party’s newly-activated research cell prepares talking points on specific subjects for spokespersons who have been invited for television debates.
The spokespersons are required to inform the department about the subject on which they have been asked to speak and by the same evening dockets on the topic are dispatched to them.
Party leaders said this ensures that the spokespersons are well armed with facts and figures to counter any criticism and that they speak in one voice on a specific subject.
“We hope that there will be a noticeable difference in the coming months… our spokespersons should be better informed and be able to communicate the party line more forcefully,” said another senior Congress leader.
Realising that it was being beaten in the game by the opposition, the Congress has also activated its social media cell. Lok Sabha MP Deepender Hooda, who is known to be close to Rahul Gandhi, has been entrusted with this task while Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor, who has a huge following on Twitter, is also being drafted.
At the same time, the department party also identified party workers in different states who are active on Twitter and Facebook. They are being encouraged to put out posts about the party, its position on various subjects and also to counter the opposition.
Even as the job of improving the party’s communications set-up is on in full swing , the Congress is currently gearing up to publicise the food security bill to its workers and the people at large.
While Congress President Sonia Gandhi has called a meeting of the party’s 14 chief ministers on Saturday on how it can explain the various aspects of the bill to the electorate, party spokespersons are being dispached to various state capitals on the same mission.
They have already been briefed about the bill by Food Minister K V Thomas and are armed with enough data and documents about the scheme which aims to provide subsidised wheat and rice to 67 per cent of the population.
They have been asked to emphasise that the bill provides people with a legal entitlement to subsidised food. “We want to underline that unlike other schemes, this bill gives the people a right to food,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
With Lok Sabha elections less than a year away, the party wants to push for the implementation of the scheme in the Congress-ruled states so that the benefits reach to the people well before the polls. Delhi and Karnataka are all set to roll-out the scheme by next month.
Image: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is personally overseeing the preparation programme for party spokespersons ahead of the general election.
Photograph: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters