More Accessible Ministers? About Time.

Published: June 25, 2014 10:58 IST
(Harish Khare is a senior journalist, commentator and a research scholar)

Just when the media fraternity-especially its perky and pampered members in the capital press corps  - was beginning to come to an unhelpful conclusion that the Modi Sarkar was bent on shuttering out journalists, Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar has stepped in to assure that the new ministers will try to be more accessible. About time.

Inspired whispers and leaks suggested that Prime Minister Modi had informally decreed that his ministers would keep the media at arm's length. This was at odds with the impression that during the Lok Sabha elections, a number of journalists had gone out of their professional way to bat for Narendra Bhai. And, now they found themselves staring at a virtual black-out.   

An impression was gaining ground that the new Prime Minister was simply replicating the Gujarat Model in Delhi. And that would simply not do. Delhi is not Ahmedabad.

The new Prime Minister has come to Delhi with a reputation of giving two hoots for the capital's rules of the game. He is known to be not particularly enamoured of the media and its sense of entitlement, be it a matter of access, information or patronage. Narendra Modi knows only one model - the Gujarat Model - and in that model the media is not conceded any privileged voice; it must be satisfied with whatever crumbs are thrown to it. On the other hand, in the last ten years of  a "weak" government, the media has acquired airs, egos and arrogance.

A spurned and neglected media is invariably inclined to return the compliment, and much more. Already a contrary note has crept in many a reporter's copy and the so-called honeymoon period is in serious jeopardy.

Before the Modi Sarkar-media relationship could curdle, Javadekar has indicated a timely course correction. The minister even offers a politically correct placebo that the ministers will also "listen" to the media. This is a useful realization and should be handy in the days to come, especially if the Modi Sarkar is inclined to administer the bitter pill.

And, the sarkar claims it will hear from "sensible" experts, consultants and corporate leaders who would goad it to take the "tough" decisions. It will discover the tide turning. The Indian public is not likely to calmly accept immediate pain in exchange for distant benefits. After all,  far too many dreams were sold, far too many promises were made, and instant gratification of better days was repeatedly dangled before the electorate. That will be time to have the media's understanding and support.

Hence, a welcome indication of a course-correction from Prakash Javadekar. However, the good minister may be cautioned a bit on his over-enthusiasm about social media.  

The American example is there. The Obama crowd was innovative in its creative use of social media to capture the White House. But for most of its eight years, the Obama Presidency has been grounded in shallow waters of ineffectuality. As it turned out, while social media was a helpful  tool to by-pass the traditional media in the election season, it proved of little help in fighting partisan political and policy battles.

In the Indian context, the traditional media - print and electronic - cannot be left unattended and unappeased, however powerful the prime minister may be. An un-engaged media is the perfect hunting ground for opposition voices and faces. This is no rocket science and the street-smart BJP ministerial crowd knows it only too well.

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