A recurrent theme of the comments to earlier blogs is media exposure. Should BJP leaders expose themselves incessantly to a hostile media? Or, should they remain somewhat aloof like, say, Vajpayee and Modi?
I don't think there are any easy answers.
First, it is important to acknowledge that media is the foremost instrument available to any political party to communicate its views. A mass party like the BJP (I disagree with those who say it is a cadre-based party) must communicate to its workers, supporters and the general public. The media is the quickest and most cost-effective way this can be done. Of course, it is not the only tool of communication. But it is the most effective.
Secondly, reliance on the media comes at a price. It attaches a premium to those who are able to communicate effectively. It also creates a breed of political activists who view public life exclusively through the prism of media exposure.
The politics of Kapil Sibal, for example, consists of hopping from one press conference to another. Venkiah Naidu too has been criticised for the unfailing regularity of his press briefings at different places.
Finally, politicians often often forget that they are not obliged to say something just because a pesky reporter shoves a camera and microphone before you. The charm of seeing one's face on TV is so compelling that it overrides an individual's sense of discretion.
There are some individuals who are horrible on TV. K.R. Malkani was a great individual but he had zero TV presence. His tenure as BJP spokesman in the mid-1990s was an unmitigated disaster. But the few channels that existed then loved him precisely because he came across as comic. Till two years ago the channels also loved B.P. Singhal (brother of Ashok Singhal) because he corresponded to the stereotype of the fanatical and irascible BJP. And in the five years he was unleashed on people, Praveen Togadia lost the BJP the support of every moderate Hindu.
Unless judiciously handled, the media is a double-edged sword. It gives publicity but the smallest slip-up is wildly exaggerated. Media has no sense of compassion; it is merciless and it is mercenary.
Yet, the media cannot rejig the environment totally. In Gujarat, the media was implacably hostile to Narendra Modi during both 2002 and 2007 Assembly election. But it couldn't redefine an existing public mood.
Although media meant only the print media in the early-1990s, the hostility to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was quite fierce and almost unequivocal. This didn't breed any larger Hindu hostility to the movement. Would the results have been the same if a hostile print media was complemented by a fiercely hostile TV media?
I believe that the media matters up to a point. It helps nurture deep impressions that become very hard to shake off. In this election, the media was very successful in painting the BJP as a party of ugly Indians--the fanatics who beat up women, plant boms in Malegaon and deliver hate speeches.
This became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, let us keep one fact in mind. The media, by and large, was incredibly generous towards L.K. Advani. In the final days of the campaign, the "LK Advani Communication Office" sent out a well produced booklet reproducing all the interviews given by Advani during the campaign. It added to up quite a lot.
Activists are getting hassled about Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and others going public with their criticisms. I have some reservations and a few points of agreement with what they said. But that isn't the point.
The fact is that as long as the party delays a structured, free and frank post-mortem of the results, there will be a temptation to find other outlets. I admire the patience of those who have refrained from speaking out but this sense of discipline must not be over-stretched.
I am frankly disappointed that Advani hasn't uttered a word. He owes it to the party to share his analysis. Otherwise he face a lot of flak for staying on as LOP. The same is true for the party president.
Procrastination will encourage the media to fish in troubled waters.
The important thing is to learn from the defeat. But this can't happen unless the party grasps where and why it went wrong.