The next election will be fought on the media, conceded former Union Minister, Supreme Court lawyer and Congress leader Kapil Sibal on Saturday. He was addressing a National Herald round-table discussion in Delhi.
While the Congress is gradually making its presence felt on social media, Sibal admitted that it could be a case of too little and too late as the BJP deploys an army of paid workers and volunteers to spread its message. With no TV channel countering BJP’s propaganda, the saffron party is well placed to stream ‘lies’ to a billion mobile phones.
“It is our weakness that we are unable to counter fake news and propaganda or to offer a new vision,” he confessed.
Pointing out that Politics abhorred any vacuum, he voiced his optimism that sooner or later opposition parties would have to come together and challenge the dangerous drift in the country.
Defending, however, the perceived failure of the Congress to fight BJP’s propaganda, Sibal said, “If Congress workers on the ground are assaulted and abused, if false FIRs are filed against them, Income Tax notices are sent to intimidate them, they obviously will fend for themselves first.” If children are to be admitted in schools and the Congress worker goes to the local BJP representative who offers to help provided he switches sides, Sibal asked, what choice would he have?
He readily agreed that attacking Narendra Modi is not enough. People already know what Modi is doing; They are aware of farm distress, unemployment, the effects of demonetisation, GST etc, he maintained. What Congress and the opposition needed to do was to offer an alternative vision and that was not happening, he added.
Asked if he blamed the Congress leadership for the failure, he said, “ The entire party is responsible; I am a part of the party and hence I am also equally responsible just as those who are leading the party.”
Adding the caveat that this was his personal opinion and the party need not agree with him, Sibal went on to say that to his mind, Congress needed to recognise that the past could provide inspiration but would not hold solutions. The party, he felt, needed to understand contemporary problems of livelihood, unemployment, business and trading better and offer an alternative framework of solutions.
“Speeches are not enough; sound bytes alone will not work. We have to provide a roadmap for the future.”
He felt Congress still enjoyed the advantage of being the only national party that could challenge Narendra Modi and the BJP. With most of the regional leaders and parties co-opted by the BJP or decimated by it, there is a political vacuum at the national level which Congress is well placed to fill. “ But for that Congress will have to come to terms with itself,” he added.
The party, he felt, need not waste its time and energy in countering BJP’s propaganda or attempts to appropriate national icons. Instead, Congress ought to reach out to the people, understand their issues and come up with solutions for ensuring quality education, affordable healthcare and for generating employment.
He disagreed with a suggestion that India had started resembling Pakistan. “ Pakistan is a theocratic state, India is not,” said Sibal but he agreed that elements of discrimination and violence have reared their head in India. “I call it the rise of the ugly Indian,” he quipped.