PM Modi addressing the launch of Patrika Gate in Jaipur via video conference | PTI
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi | PTI
Text Size:

For any modern government, strategic communication is key to ensuring that it is able to convey to citizens its policies, the rationale behind them, create public awareness about the issues and mobilise public opinion behind the intended policies. Strategic communication is not a one-way street. The government machinery must have the capacity to receive feedback on public reaction to its policies, monitor implementation and make changes as may be required.

Strategic communication is a continuous information loop in which the government and the citizens are in constant and active conversation with one another. This is particularly important in a democracy where governments are accountable to the people and serve their interests. In some ways, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre, and in particular Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been remarkably effective communicators, able to establish a direct and even emotional connect with a large number of ordinary citizens.

In launching campaigns such as Swachh Bharat or Ujwal Bharat, effective messaging, often by the PM himself, has contributed to their relative success. But this messaging is mostly one way. Much less attention is given to feedback from citizens, particularly if there is negative criticism. For improved governance, there must be receptivity to positive and negative feedback. Highlighting only the positive and preventing or suppressing the negative will, over time, create an echo chamber within which an alternate reality begins to rule.


Also read: India’s embrace of modernity is now threatened by social regression


Public opinion is crucial for governance

In a democracy like India, an independent civil society, media and academia, and an openness to dissent and debate ensure that there is credible, reliable and timely feedback on government policies and their implementation. The government may claim that it has its own feedback mechanisms. Even the political party machinery at different levels may perform this role. However, those within the government are unlikely to acknowledge their own shortcomings or convey negative news to the political leadership for fear of being put in the dock. When things go wrong, bureaucrats become the favourite whipping boys and we saw that happen recently. Party functionaries, including senior ministers, may not wish to convey messages they believe may alienate the leadership, particularly if the top leader is seen as a powerful figure who could make or break political careers.

It is for these reasons that democracies have other influential constituencies, which can contribute to a more comprehensive and balanced critique of governmental actions. An independent media has a critical role to play, as is political opposition and a well-informed and equally independent academia. The advantage with such democratic institutions, which are empowered and safeguarded constitutionally, is that the whole range of citizens’ feedback is constantly available to the government, which can then make rational and timely revisions to its policies and their implementation.

Apart from keeping such independent channels of feedback open, being receptive to the opinions and insights that they feed back to the government can only improve governance, and make it more effective and efficient. This must not be viewed as a constraint on the government nor should there be an overly sensitive reaction to any criticism. Public opinion as expressed through a free media, and expert opinions from credible and respected professionals in their respective fields, can only help the government in delivering benefits to the populace.

If the role of professionals is only to validate what the political leadership’s preference is, then sooner or later we shall run into a dead end. These sources of feedback also serve as an early warning system, alerting the government to public resentment or dissatisfaction building up against its policies that are best addressed before they become crises. We have a good example of the consequences of the failure to do this in the ongoing farmers’ agitation.


Also read: If Modi really sees India as a democracy, then he must stop the labelling exercise


How not to harm India’s strength

Governments have tremendous patronage to handouts and there is always the temptation to leverage that into positive coverage for preferred policies or to camouflage their shortcomings or failures. This is self-defeating for the reasons already mentioned. Governance is a matter of trust between citizens and their governments, and trust can only be based on truth. The best messaging from the government relies on telling citizens the truth, on gaining credibility. This is also important in foreign relations. The most valuable asset a diplomat has is the credibility they enjoy with their interlocutors, and such credibility reflects that of the country they represent. Having successfully deceived someone or gained advantage by being economical with the truth may work sometimes but it eventually undermines national interests. See where a long history of peddling untruths has brought Pakistan.

It is in this context that one views with concern some recent trends in our country. A significant section of the Indian media, which has a justifiable reputation of being professional, fiercely independent and investigative, has yielded to the fruits of governmental patronage or the fears of being targeted. Others remain immune and we must be thankful for the role that they are playing. Recent reports that the Modi government may consider branding journalists as ‘white’, ‘green’ and ‘black’ — signifying pro, neutral (fence-sitters) or anti-government — and more ominously, seek to “neutralise” the black category, are deeply disturbing. As are some of the elements in the proposed regulation of OTT platforms and digital media. These provide the government with a wide scope of discretionary power to prevent the carrying of content or news that it considers inconvenient or not aligned with its ideological position. This is short-sighted because the shoe may be on the other foot if there is a political turnaround in future as there well might be.

There are several new compliance requirements being imposed on independent think tanks and research institutions. They are discouraged from working together with international counterparts. This can only lead to intellectual impoverishment of a country that wants to be seen as a vishwa guru.

The great strength of India is its capacity to manage immense diversity. The very plurality of its society brings opportunities for intense debate, argumentation and the airing of an incredible spectrum of views and perspectives. This is the source of creativity, innovative spirit and adaptability of our people. Putting a monochromatic frame over this plurality has not succeeded in the past and is unlikely to in the future.

Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary and a Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research (CPR). Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

40 COMMENTS

  1. A nation or a person who suffers from inferiority complex is hard to correct. The most popular give away of this sad group is their constant whining– I get no respect. They fail to see more they whine, more miserable they become.

  2. Whn power gets into your head, ur downfall starts n also whn u have mental problem, problem is for everyone around u also. Tht will explain India top leader position.

  3. A report by the Swedish ‘Varieties of Democracy Institute’ said India is as autocratic as Pakistan in censorship and worse than BD and Nepal. See scroll.in

    Hence, India will not be able to keep posing as the World’s largest democracy, and do anti-democratic things, and say it is India’s internal matter.

    Anti-democratic activities include censorship, putting 7000 people (all non-BJP people) behind bars for sedition, beating up students, and assaulting women (the most despicable). At the same time, the BJP uses its supporters for intimidation and killing of journalists, women, minorities….

    Many people in India know of the crumbling economy and they are realising they have to face and live in a police state. That they are powerless currently to change this situation is another thing; it does not mean they don’t know and they approve of the situation.

    People outside India also know both truths : the Indian economy has been washed down the drain, and India is becoming another failed Third World state, where the rulers seek to preserve their power through autocracy. India’s large market is a nominal attraction; financial mismanagement under the Modi govt. and social instability, check investments as it makes India a high risk destination. Such articles as by the Varieties of Democracy Institute are appearing daily and they dampen enthusiasm for India, and change its former image under MMS of a rising star.

    The only people in denial and who imagine it is only a wrong perception will be those who have hitched themselves to the BJP and have benefited enormously (Ambani, Adani, Arnob) and foreign bhakts who want the best of both worlds (i.e. have American passports and feel India is a power).

    Will the govt. take heed and self correct ? They won’t and they can’t. They might have been willing if the economy had not been in such a parlous state. They are clueless about the economy, as they are of everything else. The economy has gone out of their hands, but having promised so much, and got so much power and money, they will not want to give those up. Like all autocracies, they will kill their citizens to be in power. There will be a class of people who will aid them.

  4. Yes, the Modi govt. is on a self defeating mode by blocking public opinion.

    The govt. has announced it is going to monitor all digital online content. The Hindu newspaper called it ‘A Wolf in Watchdog’s clothing’. The ultimate aim is to stamp out criticism – of the government’s failures. The tech companies have to cooperate as the price for doing business in India. The govt. of course will continue using its IT cell to send hate messages and misinformation; they are not going to curb their people.

    Modi has won two elections with large majorities. According to him, India is on the road to becoming the vishwa guru. His bhakths say the more you criticise Modi, the stronger he gets ! The same bhakts assure us perception of India abroad is at also at an all time high. This being the case, what is the reason for the neurosis and insecurity ?

    This contradiction highlights the hollowness of Hindutva. Their followers know it is hollow, but having climbed the Hindutva tree, they are afraid to come down.

    Just before 2014, Modi had spoken dreamily of a digital India where ‘access to information knows no barriers’. Now see the contradiction – India tops the world for internet shut downs.

    The press note accompanying the release of the new digital rules by Ravi Shankar Prasad called them ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ ! Look at the doublespeak of fascists. They hate progressives and liberals, but they use the same words to praise themselves !!!

    How is the govt. going to curb negative stories being written against them in the foreign press ? I read about the new rules in the foreign press also and they call condemn Modi.

    Finally, is it not an admission of monumental failure ? If Modi’s performance is so good, why hide the news from Indians ?!
    Not all Indians will be fooled. The world certainly has no takers for Modi now. During the early days of the first term, some outside writers did say optimistically that he would be a great reformer. They are not saying it now. They are discussing only his failure – this is the reaction to that.

  5. Trouble is creativity and innovation are shown by Indians only when they go outside India. So something is wrong here. So tell us how to rectify it instead of just criticisng Modi.

  6. The problem is most of media in India is part of Ancien regime and it is ideologically opposed to BJP. So it will simply misinform BJP. If BJP had believed, based on media report, that it’s gas connections , electricity & jan dhan programs were failures and scrapped it BJP would have been history. Vajpayee never understood these assorted secus both in opposition and those joined BJP and took their advise & lost power.

    • As usual, there is a duplicity in your argumentation.

      You say the BJP ignored media reports that gas connections , electricity & jan dhan programmes were failures, and therefore won.

      So why do they not ignore the media, critics, liberals, students, leftists now ? What has changed ? Do they feel the public may realise about their gimmicks ?

  7. Ye sab bahot sun chukhe hu. 2014 me v, uske baad 2019 me v. Results v same rahenge 2023 me v. Tum log ka dhanda isi type ke news se chalta . Achhi baat hai. par 23 me satarka rehna. Tumhe ukhaad ke fek d gi public.

  8. It appears to be unfair to blame Modi government for blocking public opinion.Any other democratic government would have prevented farmers from sitting on dharna causing public discomfort for so long, but Modi government is unduly kind to them.The other instance was agitation against CAA.Had Corona not spread in India especially at Delhi , continuous gathering and shouting slogans against government would have continued for days to come. No peaceful demonstration was ever obstructed in recent past so far as I know.But if any body destroys public property and give sermon against our country,it is duty of government to take action against criminals and anti national elements. To my mind government run by Modi is too soft towards protestors.It is too democratic to be tolerated by peace and justice loving people. Their harshness against money mongers , conspirators and tax evaders is justifiable and praiseworthy. They must be more urgently and quickly brought to the doors of court and courts should also deliver justice in reasonable time.

  9. ‘Like this there are hundreds of examples of ultra left wing radicals and jihadist opinions which need to debunked forever for INDIA to grow and prosper.’

    I presume your method of debunking will not be by debate, it will be by sending Bajrang Dal to beat up people. Violence is for the betterment of the nation as you see it, and we have to accept it. Could you comment ?

  10. the author is self opinionated to asuume that the govt.does not have feed back mechanism.

  11. It is a myth to state that the Modi Govt. has suppressed criticisms and feed-back on its policies.It is outright fallacy to consider that Newspapers like the INDIAN EXPRESS, THE HINDU,Hindustan Times,and Business Standard are subject to any restraints from the Govt. in expressing their opinions.There are also TV Channels which are robustly independant in their views.Even the PRINT where the present author has expressed his opinion forthrightly is an example of un-restrained media freedom.There are several defficiencies in the policies of the Government and these are largely highlighted by the visual and print media.If the Parliamentary and Political opposition are ineffective,the Govt.can-not be blamed for that.The leader of the main opposition Party knows only to indulge in personal attacks on the Prime Minister what to talk of constructive criticism.By the way if individuals and institutions feel shackled,it is their job to free themself.The Government is not to be blamed.

  12. Modi and his supporters want to believe India is the vishaw guru and the whole world outside is in awe, despite a shrinking economy (which has gone out of their hands), and shrinking freedom (the control of which is firmly in the their hands).

    Bhakts can explain the benefits of every Modi disaster ! Be it demonetisation, poor GST implementation, CAA-NRC, targeting minorities first for Covid and then showing gross mismanagement in its handling, farming laws, and loss of land to China.

    If pressed about the mounting vigilante violence and mob culture, they tell us nothing has changed for the worse (it is the same as before).

    Children are brought up on Bal Narendar stories. Modi adulation starts young.

    Still, the Modi govt. wants to create a group to identify 50 negative news writers, and 50 of the most positive, and punish the former and reward the latter. We should have a Ministry for Positive News, headed by Smriti Irani. This is in addition to their IT cell which already creates the positive news. Goebbels was the Reichs Minister for Propaganda and Culture, so there is a Nazi precedent.

    Already, the number of positive news items about the BJP and Modi far exceed the negative news. Look at Republic channel, Zee, Aaj Tak etc. Look at the number of positive articles in The Print ! Look at the number of Modi supporters in the feedback columns !
    The RSS has placed their ‘intellectuals’ as VCs of all universities.

    Now, if Modi’s and the BJP’s achievements are so self evident to the public (that is why they won two majorities), why do they feel so insecure to bother about the few liberals and left wingers ? Is it because they themselves know that the few liberals and leftists will always have better intellect than the mob they can raise ?

    Is it because they in their hearts they know Modi is an ‘unpad’ and a neech admi ?

    You can silence Indian liberals, leftists, minorities, farmers by raising violent mobs. Can you silence The Guardian, The Independent, The Economist, NYT, WP, Time, BBC, CNN and Jazeera ? Even if Modi govt. can block public opinion in India, can they block world opinion ?

  13. Farmers agitation is not by farmers. It is conspired by dalals, brokers, FCI Babus and opposition groups since they loose their employment. They haven’t , so far able to show any single clause in the farmers law. You don’t require big economics , just simple common sense tells that more buyers, free movement and no limitations of buying and holding of any produce will fetch more price resulting more income for farmers. In fact it may affect common consumers and general public with increasing in the end prices. It would be appropriate to name the the agitation as consumers agitation not farmers agitation.
    But how could the writer miss this very important element of the farmers law.

  14. The importance of honest feedback for proper correction of governmental policies can never be underestimated. But….

    I suppose that Mr.Shyam Saran has worked in Foreign Service when Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were PMs. They care two hoots for the media, or academia or public opinion. Rajiv Gandhi compared the opposition and media critics to barking dogs. It is only when the era of coalition governments started that the leaders realised the importance of media, academia.

    Unfortunately, during the last thirty years, our journalists and media have sold themselves to “breaking India” forces. They are the screen between the public and the facts. We get opinions in place of news, views in the place of news, and quite often fake news, or news blown out of proportion. How can a government rely on such media? Almost all the print media except The New Indian Express were dismissive of India and Hindus and never lost an opportunity to derogate both. But, once Modi came to power, most have changed their colours and are now staunch patriots!

    Our academics have successfully nurtured the colonial mindset everywhere starting with school syllabus, upto PhD level. We are still mentally British subjects, though politically were are free. Even political freedom is doubtful in this age of social media which strongly influence our views.

  15. This is correct to say that the Modi govt seeks to lord over the citizens, with the asinine expectation of suseringnty.Dissent is imperative to functional democracy, and if yousmotther it, you’ll only reply the grapes of citizens wrath. The govt is on war pay-that’s with its own citizens. This is self-defeating, and may bring you down into the dust of anonymity. #AAP

  16. This article is the perfect example of the “democracy is in danger”, “freedom is an danger” propaganda presented as “opinion”. Best ignored.

    • Is it any where near the one huge misinformation and disinformation campaign that was run by the BJP IT cell coolies, bank rolled by Indian corporate lobby during the time of UPA II specially and during UPA generally.

    • You are right. But they won’t work. Others where just giving promises. As usual when someone is doing something good their will be few to pull legs from behind.

    • In fact there is a massive misinformation and disinformation campaign against the people of India by the central govt..

    • What is the correct information then about the Modi government ?

      That the economy is booming and India is topping on the democracy index, and is the vishwa guru ?

    • Divide & shame Hindus/BJP is always their agenda!! These people are paid by the likes of congress who themselves are paid by anti Hindu & anti India forces like American woke, communist China, Church & Paki/Jihadis!!

      Democracy or Chinese style dictatorship, India should make & implement strict laws against all these anti Hindu & anti India forces!!

  17. Theorising the democracy is a good exercise. The democracy is practiced by each administration in good faith. The down side is the disproportionate influence of the vested interests and the only measure of acceptance or rejection of such influence is the elections.
    In good faith successive government have worked to establish an election system for a country of 130 Cr. which is unmatchable in the world. If we are proud of that then with equal pride we must accept the results.
    In addition to the political parties who directly compete for power, there are other interest groups, the civil society, intellectuals, academic, media, professional groups, groups of Babus, unions, power brokers of different kinds and artists etc. who seek power in an invisible way by supporting one political formation or the other pretending to be unbiased. All perfect in a democracy. SO LONG AS WE HAVE FAITH IN OUR ELECTION SYSTEM AND RESPECT THE VOTER WHO USES THE SYSTEM.
    Every despention must be having its own information and opinion gathering mechanism, because they too want to retain power through the same election system, anyone who feels left out is bound to criticise the incumbent and that too is perfect in a democracy. For all we know many criticisms may be taken note of and acted upon without publicity.
    At the end of the day the majority will and must rule, if it is a big call it, brute or majoritarianism so long as it is not unconstrained.
    And if it is unconstrained ,that dispensation will fall because such setups are run by a leader surrounded by sycophants.

    • Echo and agree with your thoughts.
      Hence I have a paid subscription to the Print which also allows me to read such material. This explains why freedom of expression is alive and well.
      I pay to read such rubbish, but also to be enlightened by the young, dynamic and informed opinions of other Print staffers.
      Keep up the good work.

    • Democracy is no holy cow!! We have seen how USA has turned into a plutocracy where corp orates/big tech censor free speech & their govt. strangulate real democracy & half of America!!

      No nation can exist without a strong native civilization, economy & dharmic vallues!! Democracy or no democracy, all non constructive criticism must be suspect and and all anti Hindu & anti India activities must be curbed!! People like Shyam saran must be investigated & their organization’s sources of income put under the scanner!!

  18. Is this piece not a public opinion?

    So many “Opinions” get published on this site as well many many other such sites and social media platforms across the web. Some stupid (depends on perception) comments like this one also get published.

    So, sir, what exactly is your grouse?

    • His grouse is that Journalists like Shyam Saran have no influence in the present government. These fools are sure to spend rest of their life scolding Modi and nationalists.

  19. Its very easy to preach about how this government is functioning and pointing out it’s flaws. Point is that this government has won 2 elections voted by the poeple of India not US, Europe or anyone else. Governments operate Top down and don’t take feedback because it’s not possible to take feedback from everyone. If the author is referring to feedback from “intellectuals” – we have seen what these so-called intellectuals have done for the country in the last 70 years; only become powerful and richer themselves. I believe this government is doing an exceptional job and people barking out on the streets will ONLY help BJP and Modi to win the next elections. Meanwhile keep being negative and continue with Dharnas and instigating foreign powers to make comments and tyr to interfere in India’s internal matters. This is only making the common man think that Modi is the victim of propoganda and will support him more.

  20. Mr ex FOREIGN SECRETARY how does public opinion which for past 70 years celebrates ceasefire agreements between INDIA and pakistan as a great move for peace by pakistan but all the time ignoring that terror infrastructure in Pakistan is intact, be considered as something to be accepted.

    Like this there are hundreds of examples of ultra left wing radicals and jihadist opinions which need to debunked forever for INDIA to grow and prosper.

    I really have doubts WETHER INDIA had a good FOREIGN SECRETARY in you.

    • @Data!: These people receive money from leftists & anti Hindu/BJP forces in India & abroad to write rubbish!! The present government should verify the sources of their incomes & curb all anti Hindu & anti India poison!!

      Even America today is under control of the corporate woke and is a plutocracy, NOT a true democracy!! No need for India to have anti Hindu & anti India elements while so many people here are stupid & evil enough to sell this nation & civilization to Jihadi/communist/woke break India forces!!

Comments are closed.