Friday, November 14, 2014

Political Waves

After his first appearance on Dusshera, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared once again on radio sharing his ‘Mann ki Baat’ (Heartfelt sentiment) addressing to the entire nation. Truly simple gesture. The term of the predecessor Mr. Manmohan Singh, made us forget that a Prime Minister can have a conversation. What stands out in Mr. Modi’s term, is the media communication, may it be social media, internet presence or our topic of discussion, the radio. During the General elections and Assembly elections, countless loops of political party campaigns with all sorts of jargon were broken loose on different channels, as no party would dare to undermine the medium’s strength. Prime Minister’s address to nation was a significant event that took years to see light and every individual had the power to listen to his words directly. Why did the PM choose to appear on All India Radio while all the political parties have already reached every household with ease? Clearly, the goal was to reach masses, from those who can’t afford a tv to those who can but are on the move, wrapping up with a very pleasant promise to frequent on this sonic medium that is available at hand.

Running for elections, campaigning has become a costly affair off late. Especially when a person’s attention span has reached its all-time low, reaching to maximum voters isn’t easy. The political parties have noticed people’s lack of enthusiasm in politics, so to grab more voter’s attention, they’ve made the election campaigns an wild event by extensive advertisement, public speeches, flyers etc. Naturally, the political parties with lesser capital for campaigning become the runt of the litter.  We’re not focussing on its unfair nature or the election commission’s shortcomings. After being elected as CM, Prithviraj Chauhan could print full page newspaper ads, before the code of conduct could enforce, for PM Narendra Modi government-owned All India Radio was available free of cost. Why can’t the low-cost radio be for the rest of the parties? Television ads and newspaper ads cost a fortune and setting up your own isn’t economical too. The private radio channels operate mainly in urban areas with only object of entertainment. Just like television channels are at TRP’s wit’s end, radio channels too are concerned about their RAM (Radio Audience Measurement). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting charges huge fees for setting up a radio channels. Even that isn’t an affordable medium. For a political leader with humble resources for campaigning there only too few options available. Some would be tempted to blame it on news media but it would be improper. Considering the equation between heaps of money and how it affects election campaigns, the huge money is essential for the survival of the news media. Also, it will be implausible that if money will bring the voters’ appreciation or if that is apparently the truth, democracy is in big trouble. Free and fair elections are fundamental needs of democracy.Our constitution also recognises ‘equal opportunity’. Why not apply it and give chance to David against the Goliath?

In my point of view, the solution is a community radio that runs for a specific region. This pivotal medium has helped the social organisations to bring about radical changes that discusses on social values, agriculture, educational programmes etc. After the year 2008, launching a community radio is not a Herculean task anymore, as it was in 2003 when it took off. As per the online statistics provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, there are 171 community radios still running in the country and 282 waiting for approval. Out of those 171, only Tamilnadu has 27, Karnataka has 22 and 18 in Maharashtra. Initial capital for a radio ranges from minimum of 3 lakhs to 20 lakhs, as per standard of technology, which is marginal compared to the rest of mass media. This could become a gem for the local parties, even so, according to the recent ministry regulations, community radios run by or for political parties are banned. Democracy evolves with maximised participation in politics, contrary to a silly opinion that democracy should not involve politics. Just like social media for the privileged, the availability of such widespread medium that reaches out to the grass roots of the population, will force all the local parties to openly compete against each other creating equal opportunities . If political parties are to have mouthpieces, why not authorised radio channels? It will not only generate awareness among the citizens who are the ultimate voters but also be an effective tool in the local elections. Owing to our Prime Minister’s suggestion, I have submitted my proposition, along with an e mail, addressed to Information and Broadcasting Minister Mr. Prakash Javdekar. Let us see what happens next!

To reduce the progressive disease of the unaccounted money in dirty local politics, the broadcast of local radio channels can prove to be an overthrow. To fortify our democracy, let the radio waves wander in the political waves!

-Translated by Madhuwanti Vaidya
(Original Marathi article was published in weekly Lokprabha of 14th November 2014)