Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How Mamata used the media for political gains…..

The most recent story about Mamata Banerjee – her threat to pull out of the UPA 2 – was given a spin yesterday by media to be one of the Congress snubbing her and staring back at her. In my mind, it is anything but. Not only has Mamata achieved exactly what she started out to achieve, she has also done so by using (abusing?) the very media that is now deriding her on this episode. Here’s how.

It was on Friday, Nov 4th when TV channels started talking of Mamta’s dare to the Central government. I don’t care about the exact wording she or her reps used, but the gist of what she said was that if the central government did not roll back the petrol price hike, she would withdraw her support. All through the long-week-end, media ran one story after another – with large dollops of sensationalism and sinister conspiracy – raising expectations of some juicy action on Tuesday, when the TMC MPs met the PM. What if Mamata carried out her threat? Would the Central government fall? For a TRP-hungry media, that was a scenario too good to be true. Umpteen BJP and Left spokespersons did all that was in their hands to provoke Mamata to carry her threat out. But yesterday, it all ended in a whimper. Mamata made some threats – but she refused to pull out from the government. There was going to be no pulling out of support; no chance of the Central government falling! How disappointing!

Taken for a ride, media got back on Tuesday by taunting her. Mamata the Tigress of Bengal had been tamed by the Congress. She had become a pussy cat, said Swapan Dasgupta on Times Now. When the suave Derek O’Brien came to the show, he was embarrassed repeatedly by reminders that his party had demanded a roll-back. All that Derek said was that they had never used the word “roll-back”! Alright, maybe not…..but what happened to the “withdrawal” word? The withdrawal of support. But Derek felt no compulsion to come clean. As far as he and TMC were concerned, they had achieved what they had set out to do. The journos on the panel had a laugh on the show….Mamata and Derek no doubt in their offices!

It appears now that Mamata never really wanted to pull out of the government. She had just smartly used media to put pressure on the Congress. All that she wanted was the special Rs 20,000 crore financial package for her state that the Center had been dilly dallying on. This is fair political strategy. Would she have succeeded if she hadn’t been able to use media the way she did it? Would there have been any pressure on the Center at all if she had merely spoken to the PM about pulling out support? Media was central to her strategy. At the end of the day, it was not she who was the pussy cat. It was the media that she used and abused and the opposition that were the pussy cats really.

But then, what’s new about this. Media often thinks of itself as being the ultimate power broker. TV channels often claim that they managed to knock off a Chief Minister or two; a central government minister or two; maybe one day the PM himself. But in reality, it’s a two-way street. As much as media enjoys toasting politicians, politicians give back in equal measure. Just look at any panel debate that happens on prime time on TV. It is full of politicians – usually the more savvy reps of the parties – happy to spend hours fielding all kinds of questions that are thrown at them. After all, what would they do without the platform that media provides. Media enters the homes of people; and is willingly and voluntarily consumed by people on a regular basis. How else would a politician in today’s age be able to reach out to so many people with his/her views and opinions? How many people would Advani have managed to “touch” with his month long yatra? A few lacs maybe? If instead, he had done the yatra virtually (on TV); he would have reached many hundred millions. Old fashioned politicians still prefer the old fashioned methods of touring and making speeches. New age politicians simply use TV!

Mamata was likened to the boy who cried wolf. But just imagine what would have happened in the story if the boy hadn’t been able to trick the entire village into believing that the wolf was attacking the sheep? No one would have come running and the boy wouldn’t have had his fun. Eventually of course, for the same reason, the boy may not have lost his sheep at all! It’s the same with Mamata. She’s used media to her advantage this time, to tell the entire world (trick?) that she was serious about pulling out support. Enough to make the Congress feel jittery. She succeeded in her immediate objective, but in the process, she’s also lost a fair bit herself – the right to be taken seriously in the future. She’s already well known for her tantrums; the next time she threatens, the media may just yawn at her.

I’m sure Mamata realizes this. That’s why I think she’s going to behave herself well for the next few months at least. And that would be the larger gain for the Congress. With the rupee expected to depreciate further, there is bound to be pressure to raise petrol prices again. I doubt if the Center will worry too much about Mamata at that time….

The real truth is that Mamata has has not failed. She has succeeded. Far from the pussy cat that media projected her to be yesterday, she’s emerged as the pragmatic tigress. The truth is that a sensation-seeking media has been made a fool out of…..

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