Modi’s Pitch­men to Morph into Big Me­di­a­men

CAG pros who helped PM plan cam­paign launch por­tal, plan news­let­ter B-Schools to Teach NaMo Mar­ket­ing Plan

The Economic Times - - Front Page - VASUDHA VENU­GOPAL

Jour­nal­ists jostling for ac­cess to Modi Sarkar will have a new com­peti­tor: a not-for-profit me­dia por­tal manned by pro­fes­sion­als who were part of Team Modi dur­ing the poll cam­paign and had en­joyed ac­cess to him. ‘The In­dian Repub­lic’, launched orig­i­nally as a cam­paign por­tal to sup­port Modi in Oc­to­ber 2013, is now a fullfledged me­dia out­let (www.thein­di­an­re­pub­, and may soon fea­ture live chats with the PM, apart from “exclusive sto­ries” on the new govern­ment’s pol­icy for­mu­la­tions and in­ter­ven­tions, ac­cord­ing to people fa­mil­iar with the por­tal’s plans.

“We are not here to spread Modi pro­pa­ganda. We won’t be putting out ev­ery press re­lease of his; it will rather bring out in­ter­est­ing sto­ries that will en­gage people in the govern­ment’s func­tion­ing. At best you can de­scribe us as be­ing pro-de­vel­op­ment,” said Ash­wini Anand, edi­tor-at-large of the por­tal. Top Bschools in the coun­try, in­clud­ing many IIMs, In­dian School of Busi­ness (ISB), XLRI and MDI-Gur­gaon, will in­tro­duce lessons gleaned from Naren­dra Modi’s elec­toral suc­cess into their cur­ricu­lum for the new aca­demic year, re­ports Dev­ina Sen­gupta.

In­dian Repub­lic is the brain­child of Prashant Kishor, a pub­lic health pro­fes­sional for­merly with the UN in Africa, who is said to be close to Modi and is re­garded as one of the key strate­gists be­hind the PM’s suc­cess­ful elec­tion cam­paign. The cur­rent ed­i­to­rial team of the por­tal is al­most en­tirely made up of the team from Cit­i­zens for Ac­count­able Gov­er­nance (CAG), the NGO founded by Kishor, which ran the back­room for the Modi cam­paign. CAG com­prises pro­fes­sion­als, many from over­seas uni­ver­si­ties, banks and bro­ker­ages, who quit their plush jobs to be part of Modi’s cam­paign team. Akhil Handa, edi­tor-in-chief of the news por­tal, said the por­tal will be in­de­pen­dent and “will not be un­der the in­flu­ence or pres­sure from any cor­po­rate or po­lit­i­cal party”. “We wish to bring out in­ter­est­ing stores around the globe for read­ers, mostly in the age group of 18-40. There is a lot cu­rios­ity re­gard­ing how the Modi ad­min­is­tra­tion will func­tion. So we wish to high­light the govern­ment’s work,” said Handa. Handa, a chemical en­gi­neer from IIT- Delhi who has also been an en­ergy an­a­lyst with JPMor­gan in Hong Kong, was Kishor’s close as­so­ciate at CAG.

The man­date given to writ­ers at the In­dian Repub­lic is to put to­gether ar­ti­cles that are high on read­abil­ity and “not ex­ces­sively pro-Modi”, say people fa­mil­iar with the por­tal’s plans.

None of the In­dian Repub­lic’s lead­er­ship team would con­firm this, but people in­volved in the project told ET that the new govern­ment in­tends to pub­li­cise its work through this por­tal.

They said that Modi had talked to his core cam­paign team about the need for a “plat­form that brings out reg­u­lar news items on work un­der­taken by the govern­ment, a medium that com­mu­ni­cates ‘Moditva’ ef­fec­tively to people”.

The In­dian Repub­lic, which reg­is­ters around 20 lakh views ev­ery month now, is ex­pected to be that medium. Ac­cord­ing to am­bi­tious plans that are in the works, it could grow to many times its cur­rent size soon, evolv­ing into a me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion of its own. The aim is to in­crease page views by six times in the com­ing six months, says Handa.

In a few days, the news por­tal will also launch a weekly news­let­ter com­pil­ing sto­ries about the govern­ment’s func­tion­ing. This news­let­ter will be dis­trib- uted in 20 cities.

The fund­ing for the ex­pan­sion of the ex­ist­ing web­site and the news­let­ter will come through con­tri­bu­tions. The web­site says it is cur­rently “self-funded” though no de­tails have been dis­closed. Go­ing for­ward, it will be funded by in­dus­tri­al­ists and pri­vate eq­uity com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to people close to the web­site.

Sources said the team may also find it eas­ier to ac­cess Modi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion — as com­pared with other me­dia out­lets — con­sid­er­ing they have closely worked with PM’s core group, and hence will find it easy to “break sto­ries”. The por­tal al­ready has bu­reaus in four cities, and will ex­pand to 20 cities soon. The team of 100 ex­ist­ing writ­ers will be ex­panded to around 600 and re­cruit­ment of se­nior jour­nal­ists to head bu­reaus is un­der­way.

The CAG team has meet Modi ev­ery week in the past six months, an in­di­ca­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s im­por­tance in the new dis­pen­sa­tion. The PM is host­ing a din­ner for its 223 staffers in New Delhi next week.

While the web­site says the lead team at In­dian Repub­lic com­prises a mix of “right-wing thinkers, so­cial­ists, an­a­lysts, en­trepreneurs and con­sul­tants”, the site’s po­lit­i­cal bent seems ap­par­ent.

The sto­ries at­tract­ing the most com­ments on the web­site are: ‘The Grace­less Nehru-Gand­his: De­void of Demo­cratic Eti­quette’, ‘Bharatiy­ata’ and ‘When Will You Learn, Mr Ke­jri­wal’. The top sto­ries on Wed­nes­day were ‘What Are So­nia Gandhi’s Ed­u­ca­tional Mer­its, Asks BJP’ and ‘Modi Should Relook at Nehru’s Panchsheel Prin­ci­ples’. But edi­tor-at-large Ash­wini Anand felt it won’t be fair to call In­dia Repub­lic a Modi mega­phone.

“At best you can de­scribe it as pro-cap­i­tal­ism, pro-de­vel­op­ment. But that doesn’t mean we will never crit­i­cise Modi,” Ash­wini said.

An­other pro­fes­sional who has closely worked with Modi told ET that the mis­take com­mit­ted by the for­mer UPA regime was that they were un-com­mu­nica­tive about their achieve­ments. “Modiji is quite aware of that, and wants at least a few com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels to be set up when the at­ten­tion on his func­tion­ing is the high­est. Even if there is a cer­tain amount of crit­i­cal news items, he wants a suf­fi­cient num­ber of pop­u­lar posts that carry for­ward his good im­age and well-in­ten­tioned ac­tions,” he said, ask­ing not to be named.


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