Tuesday, June 28, 2011



It has been reported that the Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, will be interacting with a small group of senior journalists from the print media on June 29,2011, to explain and discuss various aspects of the policies of his Government which have caused concern in the public mind. It has also been reported that this is the beginning of an exercise to address criticism of the total lack of communication between him and his personal advisers on the one side and the media world on the other.

2.The Government headed by Dr.Manmohan Singh is one of the most anonymous Governments the country has had since it became independent in 1947. We hardly know who are the experts on whose advice in various matters he relies for policy-making. We have very little idea of Who’s Who in the Prime Minister’s office. We hardly have an opportunity of mingling with the Prime Minister. He is a phantom Prime Minister.

3.We cannot afford to go on like this. Things have to change. We need urgent reforms first and foremost in the way the Prime Minister and his office function. Let there be an open debate about it. Let the Prime Minister encourage the debate. Let him shed the image of a phantom and come out talking, arguing, bantering, smiling and laughing. One is never too old for this.

4. We have a media world of uncontrollable plurality and diversity--- the national media, the regional media, the English media, the Hindi media, the media of the regional languages, the ethnic media and so on. The organisation and methods which work in the US and other Western democracies are unlikely to work in India. We need a media strategy based on modern thinking, modern technologies and modern organisation and methods----but in Indian and not Western colours.

5.We do not presently have a media strategy group in the PMO which understands the rapidly evolving media world and is able to keep pace with it, even if it is not able to keep ahead of it. In 2011---as it was in 1947--- the Prime Minister of this country, which projects itself as an emerging power, continues to rely on a media advisor, who is either from the print media or from the Central Information Service of the Government of India.

6. At a time when the print media has been overtaken in its innovative, projection and connectivity skills by the electronic media and the new media of the cyber world, it is generally a senior journalist from the print media --- who made his or her name as a pro-PM columnist--- who continues to advise the Prime Minister on his media strategies. All those chosen for this job till now tended to be over-protective of the Prime Minister. Instead of encouraging the Prime Minister to venture out and interact with various sections of the media, they tended to keep him on leash discouraging him from such interaction. The only few occasions when the media is able to interact with the Prime Minister and his close advisers freely and frankly are when they meet him on board his aircraft during his foreign travels. They do not get such opportunities when he is in India.

7.More than 60 years after our independence, we have not been able to develop a PMO Press Corps similar to the White House Press Corps consisting of journalists who have spent their lifetime studying how the Prime Minister and his office function and how they make policies.

8. Our inability to develop a PMO Press Corps is partly due to the financial constraints faced by our media. They cannot afford to have journalists focussing only on the Prime Minister and his office. It cannot be a full-time job as the White House coverage is in the US.

9. Another reason is that the PMO itself does not provide opportunities for the journalists to develop a PMO expertise by creating opportunities for them to interact frequently with the PM and his close advisers.

10. This has to change. There is a need for a larger media advisory cum strategy group in the PMO consisting of representatives from different media disciplines, technologies and age groups. Looking at India and the world only through the eyes of the print media has to change. In projecting the Prime Minister’s personality and policies, the role of the electronic media has become more important than that of the print media. People assess our Prime Minister no longer merely by what they read of him in the print media, but in an increasing measure by what they see of him on the TV. The new media of the cyber world is bidding fair to catch up with the electronic media. A media strategy largely influenced by minds from the print media is becoming increasingly inadequate and even obsolete.

11. The setting-up of such a group headed by a media-savvy strategist is the urgent need of the hour. Once such a group is set up and starts functioning as it should, other details will automatically fall in their place. (29-6-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com . Twitter @SORBONNE75 )


gr said...

This is interesting. You are now starting to comment on public relations. Also, please stop this unnecessary ranting about the Lok Pal. You are really stepping away from your domain of expertise. First read up and try to understand the concept of division of powers between the Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive per the constitution of India and the need for checks and balances so that India does not become a dictatorship in the future. The Lokpal, as envisaged by the "civil society" (whatever that means) is very dangerous for the long term health of democracy unless the balance of powers is maintained and Parliament (which is elected directly by the people of India) is allowed to make laws. In a parliamentary democracy, if people don't like their MP, they can at least elect someone else in 5 years. Even more important than the Lokpal is for the people of India to STOP GIVING BRIBES. Make it socially unacceptable to do so and obey the laws. There are too many laws in India and too much bureaucracy. Adding more layers is not going to help. If the culture is corrupt, another layer of bureaucrats (read a big, bloated Lokpal) will add to increased corruption and not reduced corruption

ambi said...

gr. the culture is not corrupt. this is what they want us to believe that we are born corrupt. we are not. nothing can change if corruption is in ur dna. but we are good people. when indians go abroad they obey the rules and do not indulge into mal practices, because system there rewards good behaviour and punishes bad behaviour. here in india deliberately corrupt practices are introduced at top. congress offered former election commissioner Gill the ministeral post after his retirement post. it was a clear signal from top to others that see how we reward those who follow our guidelines.

while honest person like whistle blower Satyendra Dubey was killed on the roadside. no one is punished. this was also a signal from the top that if u behave rightly this is what u ll get. in the end i just want to repeat again. we r not corrupt. we r good people, except few rogues. as Satyendra Dubey wrote to his girlfriend in one of his letter "i know i am not going to survive them. they are just so powerful. but what can i do, i just cant stand it. Som much wrong is happening......"

Krishna Kacker said...

PM has to counter the perception that he is his his own person,acts only on the advice of Sonia Gandhi, and cannot assert himself even on issues where he holds strong views.He should take alesson from our leaders of independence movement who created a situation that made it imposssible for them to rule this country and had to eventually leave.This was done by constant interaction through the means available then such as public meetings,agitations like salt satyagraha etc.In the complex world where media plays such an important role,I would suggest he take the help of PR specialists in India and abroad as to how to get an image makeover.The next elections may seem to be far away but in fcat they are not.

Esoteric said...

Ambi - Fully agree with you.

Also, while the PMO is at it, can it also appoint some 'real' ministers who will act in the interest of India and not individuals.

Action needed,not words.

msbajwa said...

Very timely analysis. India has to change and shed the working of the past.

shaan said...

Satyameva Jayate. After 7 years people are beginning to see the truth about Manmohan Singh and his government. No amount of media manipulation can stop that.

balaji said...

Every single citizen of this country knows who is the real power behind the Govt and it is not the Prime Minister. The post of Prime Minister has become a joke in this administration with no apparent credibility and competence attached to it.I wonder if the post of prime ministership will ever regain its true power or credibility.It has been reduced to the role of a Governor appointed by the ruling party. I dont know what harm does Ms Sonia Gandhi would have caused to India in the post of Prime Minister but she has does more harm by refusing to take the mantle.She has almost successfully destroyed the very institution which we as Indians were proud of from independence till date..... the INSTITUTION OF DEMOCRACY. Our anti corruption protests are reminiscent of the Arab Spring except that ours is a modern democracy and the Arabs have a 7th century constitution. How did we come to this..............

gr said...

Ambi, here is a link to a ny times article that captures perfectly what I have been trying to say.


India lives in a culture of corruption and Indians are too willing to give and take bribes to get things done. They are too used to having the government take care of things for them even if it means giving bribes to babus to get things done. Stop giving bribes to cops. Stop giving bribes to get your kids admitted to schools ahead of others. Stop giving bribes to get permits and licenses. Stop using influence to get a seat on a train, etc, etc. As long as Indians live in this sea of corruption there is no use ranting and raving against the politicians.
Adding more layers or bureaucracy to an already corrupt system will only make things worse. The Lokpak, if it ever happens, will itself be yet another corrupt government institution to which Indians will give bribes to influence its behaviour. More laws are NOT the answer. Reduce the size of the bureaucracy and fix the culture of corruption. The fewer bribe takers and bribe givers, the better things will be. The Ramans and the Ana Hazares of India are good at ranting and raving, but they don't understand the notion of Indians having to take personnel responsibility to fix the day to day behaviors where corruption is condoned and tolerated. Stop blaming Manmohan, Congress, Sonia Gandhi, BJP, Advani or whoever you hate/dislike at the moment and look at yourselves in the mirror.

And work on making transparent the financing of political parties and elections using black money. That will reduce political corruption.

ambi said...

hi gr. thanks for responding to my comments. yaar r u a NRI? because you seem to be totally unaware of the ground realities in india.

you said "Stop giving bribes to cops. Stop giving bribes to get your kids admitted to schools ahead of others. Stop giving bribes to get permits and licenses. Stop using influence to get a seat on a train, etc, etc.'

bhai mere itna easy solution hota to problem hi kya tha? do we have a choice? its simple law of economics. supply is dependent on demand. when demand ll stop so ll supply. here even widows of the army and police man have to give bribes so that babus ll clear there file. nothing can be as cruel joke with us than this to say that as u r giving bribe hence corruption is there.

Yatha raja tatha praja. let me give u n example. how corruption works from top. earlier i use to work in a furniture shop. it was diwali time. one income tax officers wife came to our showroom observed n left. (probably she told her husband. her husband told his subordinate to give that furniture as a gift to him.)that chap arrived. purchased it n gave his boss as a diwali gift. now that furniture was so costly that within his salary he could never afford it. now does that subordiate officer has a choice? u know how indian babus harass the subordinates whom they dont like.

you said 'And work on making transparent the financing of political parties and elections using black money. That will reduce political corruption.' election funding is just a small part of it. now tell me, mms n chidam appointed tainted C V thomas as CVC, knowing fully well that coruption charges r there against him. now what this corruption from top has to do with election funding? It was a clear signal from top that if u want to move ahead u ll have to be corrupt or we dont need you.

gr said...

I understand what is going on in India very well..even though I am away a lot. Your examples of supply/demand, etc match with my observations that corruption is part of way of life in India (no surprise, we all know this). So the way to fix it is to remove the motivation for corruption (its difficult) and to work to change India's culture so that the giving and taking of bribes becomes socially unacceptable. Also, grow the economy, increase transparency, provide opportinuties to all, give exemplary punishment to the really egregious examples of corruption. Other than that, adding a ALL POWERFUL "Lok Pal" not going to matter (it will become corrupt too) and allowing any one branch of govt to become too powerful will be fatal for Indian democracy, because corrupt people will exploit it and take control in really bad ways. Better to have a govt structure with checks and balances, so that a Lok Pal or any other branch of the Indian govt is unable to accumulate too much power through corrupt or non-corrupt means. Its better to have a corrupt democracy than to have a corrupt dictatorship.

ambi said...

thanks gr. yaar we can keep on argiung. still in short lokpal bill will be there, as it is needed. as said nothing can stop the idea whose time has come. right here right now. 15 tarikh ko maja dekhna. i hope u ll enjoy it. so ll i.

what is left of democracy? congress is desparate. it has again taken out its divide n rule formula. just before 15 th aug. his andhra mps ve resigned. full nautanki. now bevkuf andhrite or telanganawale ek doosre ka sir phodenge. here in maharashtra raj thackrey has agian started speaking against north indians. this time we ll not fall for it.

is this a democracy?