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
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.theindianrepublic.com), 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.