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Sam Pitroda's Comment on 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Points to Communication Gap Between Congress & Masses

Senior members, who are connected with publicity, were those who had never contested Lok Sabha elections, which put the party on the backfoot during the initial phases of the Lok Sabha election campaign,

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:May 11, 2019, 8:58 PM IST
Sam Pitroda's Comment on 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Points to Communication Gap Between Congress & Masses
Congress leader Sam Pitroda (Image : PTI).

New Delhi: It took over 24 hours for senior Congress leader Sam Pitroda to tender a semblance of an apology. But this came only after a curt message to ‘Sam’ that he must apologise. Interestingly, Pitroda’s apology claiming his Hindi was weak, leading to his comments, brings out the problem the Congress is facing in terms of communication.

“There are too many leaders and strategy makers now who don’t understand politics and not even the language of the masses,” said a veteran Congress leader on condition of anonymity. “Pitroda is a prime example of this. Elections are fought not through drawing rooms but on streets. Who are our street fighters now who plan the strategy?”

The fact is that the aggression seen in the party is now coming from Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and a handful of ‘netas’. But in terms of connection with people, the party still lags behind the BJP. While a few of the Congress’s campaigns have caught the imagination of the people, the party hasn’t been able to push it through strongly. At the fag end of the Lok Sabha polls, some in the Congress point out that mistakes have been acknowledged but it made the party lose out in the critical earlier phases.

Now take a look at the start of its campaign strategy. As early as this year, the Congress shortlisted its agencies to run campaigns on social media, television, radio and the outdoors. The best in the business, like Percept, Dentsu, and DesignBoxed, were roped in. The brief was simple – the campaign should connect instantly with young people.

But the first step was shaky. Sources confirm that Sonia Gandhi was upset with the cover of the party’s manifesto released last month. She felt Rahul Gandhi’s picture could have been bigger. Rajeev Gowda, who headed the research team, was pulled up. But Gowda defended himself – the brief given to him was that the manifesto should be focused on people, not the leader, he claimed.

“Our campaigns were better, catchier, but we just couldn’t reach out initially,” said a person connected with the campaign committee.

The first criticism and feedback from the party was that senior members connected with publicity were those who had never contested Lok Sabha elections. As a result, they couldn’t immediately make sense of how to connect with the masses.

Take the example of the party’s Nyay scheme. Lauded as a game-changer by the Congress, party bosses felt this would be the answer to PM Narendra Modi’s many claims and could do for the Congress what farm loan waivers had done for the UPA in 2009. But an honest assessment revealed that this scheme and the many campaigns just did not reach the ground level. Even in Rahul’s constituency Amethi, very few knew what Nyay was about or had just vaguely heard about it. The blue Nyay flags during Rahul’s nomination road show confused many. To many it looked like BSP flags whereas it was inspired by the colour of the Youth Congress. It was a rap from Priyanka and team Rahul that the party and campaign committee was asked to step up selling Nyay. Which is when Priyanka began to use voice and video messages of herself and Rahul.

But it clearly brings out the confusion within the party. “No one talks to anyone. We are weak on WhatsApp where the BJP scores. Many are sent WhatsApp messages to spread our campaigns but they are not tech savvy. What can you do?”

Take another impactful slogan — “Congress hai na”. Very few in the party were aware of it, leave alone spread the word. The campaign has now begun to pick up but this comes towards the end of the polls and many argue much ground has been lost.

Insiders point out that infighting, seniors insisting they know more than the youth, infighting among seniors and various departments often at loggerheads has made the campaign pay a price.

Pitroda defended himself by saying that he doesn’t understand Hindi and so he said something that shouldn’t have been said. But critics point out that the Congress, too, has failed to keep pace with the language and pulse of the people when it comes to campaigns. And Navjot Singh Sidhu, with his “kaala angrez” jibe at the BJP, has only ended up making matters worse. The word is not lost on the BJP and they are bound to use it aggressively to hit out at the Congress party’s foreigner mindset.

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