PR Insight 6 minute read
Brilliant PR or strategic misstep? The country and especially the capital has been abuzz with AAP’s demonstration ahead of the Republic Day parade. PRmoment India spoke to PR professionals and journalists to assess what the impact of AAP’s action is not only on its own public communications but also on other parties.
With elections drawing close AAP is under pressure to scale up its presence nationally. AAP’s public profile and methods of public communication could impact both Congress and the BJP. Both parties will have to fight to maintain an effective public profile and more importantly catch votes on the ground. Recent polls by ABP news (Nielsen), India Today (CVoter) and CSDS and CNN-IBN show that BJP could emerge as the largest party in the upcoming General Elections.
But there is some time to go between now and May and all parties are currently rolling out their poll strategies.
AAP and the ‘anarchy plank’
Arvind Kejriwal drew a lot of flak for declaring himself an anarchist and using agitation as an instrument of political PR. However, Rohit Bansal, CEO and Founder, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting and senior columnist says: “The so-called “anarchy” plan is a creation of the elements outside the party, not AAP per se! Yes, they are respected for the ability to question the cosy status quo that exists between the principal gladiators of India’s pre-AAP political parties. Is that anarchy?”
Shailesh Goyal, Founder-Director of Simulations Public Affairs Management Services Pvt. Ltd, points out that the old adage of 'any publicity is good publicity' still holds true, especially in politics. “It seems AAP is riding high to cash in on the populist sentiments of the country. As general elections are approaching and with their rising political ambitions, they are keen to make the best of this opportunity to grab eyeballs, albeit in a different way altogether. And they have been successful to quite an extent, as most of the national televisions were camping at the site and were telecasting live to millions of TV viewers in the country. However, the fatigue of prominent news anchors on this "ill-timed agitation" was quite evident.”
Senior journalist with the BBC, Zubair Ahmed, doesn’t agree that the AAP failed to strike a chord. He says: “AAP’s strategy of protests may have come as a surprise to many but it was expected. The English speaking elite may have criticised Kejriwal for his sit-in protest but he knew what he was doing. It was for the consumption of the under privileged classes. It worked because the majority of Aam Admi are with him and they the ones who vote in droves.”
Nitin Mantri, CEO and Business Partner at Avian Media, agrees that the cause that AAP stands for has a strong connect with some constituents but the methods used may not work for all. “AAP’s cause of fighting corruption in the India governance system definitely strikes the right chords with the Indian public. However, the demonstrative means being employed by the party, especially since coming into power are subject to question. The approach requires some re-thinking as it might lead to alienation of the middle and upper-middle classes who primarily look for stability and not anarchy. Also, this PR strategy might not necessarily work in all parts of the country unanimously. This approach could lead to the strengthening of the voter base among the more driven and aspirational classes of the society.”
Impact on BJP
Has AAP succeeded in wiping off other parties from coverage?
Rohit says that: “Far from “wiping the others out,” Indian media is giving a lot of play to Congress while Mr Gandhi speaks. Ditto when Mr Modi does.
Of course, the day and age of ‘balanced’ coverage is on its last legs – most channels, newspapers, and almost all social media takes entrenched positions – often feeding from each other.”
Shailesh points out that even though BJP’s coverage has been dependent a lot on the oratory and charisma of the prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi: “The Delhi unit of BJP are using all political and legal means to stay afloat in the national news on the debate for good governance. Also, the cyber army of BJP are using every opportunity including the recent Dharna to highlight lacunas in AAP and their failure to provide a functioning government through social media.”
Nitin Mantri agrees that: “Even though AAP may be hogging mind space, its impact on BJP might not be as consequential. PR is a lot about message consistency apart from creativity, so BJP and Mr. Modi must continue to focus on its messages to drive conversation in the public domain. He should keep up with his plank of good governance and development and continue to share more specific strategies for India such as the recent Rainbow Strategy.”
Zubair points out that before the rise of AAP and Kejriwal it was dubbed a Congress vs. BJP election. “Most people said Modi would get BJP victory and he would be the Prime Minister. Not anymore. Now they say Congress has already accepted defeat and with Kejriwal being a big factor Modi’s dream of becoming the PM will remain a pipe dream. The BJP and Modi have to come up with a new strategy and go on a massive PR drive to counter AAP and Kejriwal.”
Impact on the Congress
As his recent interview with ‘Times Now’ demonstrated, Rahul Gandhi remains the face of the Congress party and media outreach will happen around him.
To fight off the AAP challenge, Rohit offers this succinct bit of advice for the Congress, “Keep it simple. Keep investing genuine intellect into Mr. Gandhi.”
Experts believe that the Congress will have a tougher time than the BJP in fighting off the AAP PR challenge, but at the same time this suits the party as AAP will play a spoiler for BJP votes on the ground.
Shailesh says that the: ”Growing popularity of AAP has certainly impacted the Congress party as it is likely to cut more votes, but this may actually affect BJP more than the Congress, in parliamentary seats where it is closely contested. Congress needs to overhaul their strategy after giant strides of Narendra Modi at national level and growing popularity of Arvind Kejriwal that is helping them enrol more and more young and seasoned faces on the ground, and on TV. Also, working on core messaging and clarity off thoughts in top rank congress leaders itself has become a big challenge. It is going to be an uphill task for Congress to regain the space.”
Nitin says that: “Congress has taken a backseat in the face of the disenchanted public sentiment and growing popularity of Arvind Kejriwal’s party. However, recently, we have seen an aggression in Rahul Gandhi which has been welcome and impressive. The party should focus on its experience, highlights of the last few years and reach out to their traditional voters which they have nurtured through many populist measures.”
Zubair feels that: “The Congress believes if they can’t win the BJP shouldn’t win either. And they will not beat their chest if Kejriwal spoils the BJP game. Kejriwal knows it too. But I believe he is truly against India’s political establishment which include both major parties. He is fighting to change the system for which if he needs to do things which may appear anarchist he will do so.”