Shyam saran

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Senior Researcher, Center for Policy Research

FOR any modern government, strategic communication is the key to ensuring that it is able to communicate its policies, the reasons behind them to citizens, raise public awareness of the issues and mobilize public opinion behind them. policies considered. Strategic communication is not a one-way street. The government apparatus must have the capacity to receive feedback on the public’s reaction to its policies, monitor implementation and make necessary changes. Strategic communication is a continuous loop of information in which government and the citizens it serves are in constant and active conversation with each other. This is especially important in a democracy where governments are accountable to the people and serve their interests. In some ways, the Modi government, and in particular the Prime Minister himself, have been effective communicators, able to establish a direct and even emotional connection with large numbers of ordinary citizens. When launching campaigns such as Swachh Bharat or Ujjwal Bharat, effective messages have contributed to their relative success. But this message is mostly one-sided. Less attention is paid to citizen comments, especially if they are negative. For better governance, we need a receptivity to positive and negative feedback. Highlighting only the positive and removing the negative will, over time, create an echo chamber in which an alternate reality will begin to reign.

If the role of professionals is only to validate the preference of political leadership, we will find ourselves in an impasse.

In a democracy like India, an independent civil society, media and academia, and openness to dissent and debate ensure that there is credible and timely feedback on government policies and their implementation. The government can pretend it has its own feedback mechanisms. Even the mechanisms of political parties at different levels can play this role. However, members of government are unlikely to recognize their own shortcomings or convey negative news to political leaders for fear of being left out. When the going gets tough, bureaucrats become the favorite whip boys and we’ve seen that recently. Party officials, including high-ranking ministers, may not wish to convey messages that they believe could alienate leaders, especially 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 groups that can contribute to a more comprehensive and balanced critique of government actions.

An independent media has a vital role to play, as does the political opposition and a well-informed and equally independent university. The advantage of these democratic institutions, which are constitutionally empowered and protected, is that the full body of citizen input is constantly available to the government, which can then make timely revisions. Keeping these feedback channels not only open but also receptive to the opinions and ideas they convey to government can improve governance. This should not be seen as a constraint on the government, nor an overly sensitive reaction to any criticism. Public opinion, expressed through free media and expert opinions of credible professionals in their respective fields, can only help the government to bring benefits to the people. If the role of professionals is only to validate the preference of political leaders, then sooner or later we will find ourselves at an impasse. These sources of feedback also serve as an early warning system alerting the government to public resentment against its policies, which are best addressed before they become crises. We have a good example of the consequences of failure to do so in the current turmoil among farmers.

Governments have a huge patronage to distribute and there is always the temptation to take advantage of this to positively cover preferred policies or to cover up their shortcomings or failures. It is self-destructive. Governance is about trust between citizens and their governments, and trust can only be based on truth. This is also important in external relations. The most valuable asset of a diplomat is the credibility he enjoys with his interlocutors and this credibility reflects that of the country he represents. Successfully deceiving someone or gaining an advantage by being frugal with the truth can sometimes work, but ends up undermining national interests.

It is in this context that we see with concern certain recent trends in our country. A significant portion of the Indian media, which has a justified reputation for being professional, fiercely independent and investigative, has yielded to the fruits of government favoritism or the fear of being targeted. Others remain immune and we must be grateful for the role they play. Recent reports that the government may consider labeling journalists as white, green and black, meaning pro, neutral or anti-government, and more worryingly, seeking to “neutralize” the black category, are worrying; as well as some of the elements of the proposed regulation of OTT platforms and digital media. These give the government a wide range of discretionary powers to prevent the dissemination of content that the government deems inconvenient. This is shortsighted because the shoe can be on the other foot if there is a political turnaround in the future, as there may well be.

Several new compliance requirements are imposed on independent think tanks and research institutes. They are discouraged from working with their international counterparts. This can only lead to the intellectual impoverishment of a country that we want to see as a “vishwaguru”.

India’s great strength is its ability to deal with immense diversity. The very plurality of his society offers opportunities for intense debates, arguments and the dissemination of an incredible spectrum of points of view and perspectives. It is the source of creativity, the spirit of innovation and the adaptability of our employees. Putting a monochromatic frame on this plurality has not been successful in the past, and is unlikely to be the case in the future.

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