DD’s (In)credible propaganda push
Propaganda must be credible to be effective. But DD’s search for ‘poor’ women ended in a fiasco and earned it the sobriquet of ‘Dumb Darshan
Rupees five hundred every month for three months to women from poor fam- ilies—is what finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced as part of the COVID-19 relief package. Rs 500 a month even in 2020 might fetch 125 eggs or a kilo or two of mutton or about 15 Kgs of coarse rice.
And therefore, the Government might have felt that the amount was not quite meagre though most nutrition-al experts felt it was too little. They rightly pointed out that the amount was only marginally higher than the daily minimum wages prescribed by the Government itself. And it amounted to mocking the poor by offering one and a half day’s minimum wage and ask them to sustain the family during the lockdown. For a family of four, the amount comes to four Rupees per person per day!
The amount is too little for a family of four to survive, was the unanimous opinion. The women would need fuel and firewood to cook, buy vegetables, salt and flour. There was no way Rs 500 could stretch beyond a few days in the poorest family, the experts declared. The amount was finally released into the 200 million Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) zero-balance accounts in banks.
A Yale University study this month pointed out that by the Government’s own reckoning, not all the PMJDY account holders are poor. In fact, the study pointed out that half the number of the poorest women, estimated at 325 million, would fall out of the net provided by PMJDY accounts. Media reports and analysts too had misgivings.
Middle class women too held PMJDY accounts and studies indicate their number would be in millions. Some estimates put the figure at 50 million out of the total 200 million PMJDY accounts. The misgivings, ironically, were corroborated by a series of propaganda videos produced by the public broadcaster Doordarshan.
DD teams inter- viewed women who had received the princely sum of Rs 500. All of them without an exception parrot- ed their gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and declared that the amount would come in handy in these hard times. The only problem was that the women did not look to be in distress. And they certainly did not look to be poor.
As the Government’s propaganda arm, DD justified the videos by saying that positivi- ty was required in times of negativity. Hasn’t that always been cited to justify propaganda? One of the women spoke to DD in her tiled kitch- en. A curtain hung over what appeared to be a window. Wires on the wall, seen partially, pointed to an exhaust or a fan. And a tin of Gobardhan Ghee could be seen on the shelf by her side.
The ‘poor woman’ could barely stop herself from giggling and grinned through the interview. In keeping with her mood, she also began by saying how happy she was that all work had come to a standstill because of the lockdown! Yet another woman stood outside a house with marbled flooring on the verandah. Another looked bewildered as she spoke but there was no mistaking the floor mats that one could see on the veran- dah.
A woman spoke outside a door by the side of which was a fire extinguisher and several women had matching kameez and dupattas.A fire extin- guisher is not something that India’s poor keep at home. A poster of the BJP is also seen pasted on the wall behind her. Judging by their tutored and somewhat similar statements, the series of propa- ganda videos were primarily meant to boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular image as a saviour.
It was taxpayers’ money being given to people in distress and it is debatable if DD was right in converting it into a political propaganda tool. After all DD, funded by the tax- payer, is expected to highlight the Government’s work but not build a personality cult around a leader. Finding poor beneficiaries should have been easy.
But DD made heavy weather of the task by putting up video clips of well- fed and well-dressed mid- dle-class women masquerading as the poor. DD added to its embarrassment by posting the video clips on social media. It immediately drew attention and invited ridicule. “Who has directed this comedy circus for the government?
Is this PR or an indictment of the government?” reacted an irate viewer while others could barely conceal their amusement. “Another woman who apparently wouldn’t survive without the Rs 500/-! See her kitchen. The Govardhan Ghee alone costs around Rs 400/,” was yet another reaction.
“The money that is supposed to go to the Jan Dhan accounts of poor is being transferred to the accounts of BJP workers, who are featuring in DD’s propaganda videos,” alleged Gaurav Pandhi while CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya sarcastically tweeted, “ Great to see @DDNewsLive bring us some real life lockdown feedback from grateful Indians ...who says it is a lockdown without a plan ?”
Other reactions were equally scathing. “ Dear DD, you should have chosen a better actress, who looked poverty-stricken to justify the ‘grati- tude’ for Rs 500,” was what was posted while an uncharitable critic took a swipe and said, “Dumb Darshan can’t do anything believable, even cheap propaganda.”
Wow, @DDNewslive ! What wonderful #lock- down coverage from the Republic of balconies! What meticulous documentation of the dramatic changes in people’s lives after the govt deposited Rs 500 in their Jan Dhan accounts! It turned out to be a PR disaster. But more seri- ously, it raised questions about the Government’s targeting of the poor.
The allegation that the Government is siphoning public money to accounts of BJP supporters and workers cannot be substanti- ated without auditing. But the videos themselves did nothing to allay the suspicion.