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Thursday, July 18, 2024

BJP needs to fight hard and smart to win the ‘war of narratives’ on India


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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s dominant political force since 2014, has faced significant challenges in addressing and countering false narratives about the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite its substantial influence in Indian politics and robust media presence, the party has struggled to effectively combat misinformation and disinformation campaigns that undermine its governance and leadership.

False narratives targeting the BJP and PM Modi range from allegations of intolerance and authoritarianism to economic mismanagement and social divisiveness. These narratives often gain traction through social media, mainstream news outlets, and international platforms, creating a complex environment for the BJP to navigate.

In Goa, the Manipur conflict emerged as the single most pertinent rallying point for Christians, leading to a significant lack of confidence in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. As a result, many Christians in Goa shifted their support to the Congress party in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

This trend was not isolated to Goa. Across India, a majority of Christians chose not to vote for the BJP. This decision was heavily influenced by intense and widespread propaganda suggesting that minorities, particularly Christians, were in danger in India. This narrative, though often deemed false and exaggerated, created a pervasive sense of insecurity among the Christian community.

Interestingly, this shift in voting patterns occurred despite Prime Minister Modi’s sustained efforts to engage with the Christian community both within India and on an international level. Over the years, Modi has worked to build bridges with Christians, including fostering relationships with significant religious leaders and institutions such as the Vatican. However, these efforts were insufficient to counteract the impact of the propaganda and the concerns raised by incidents like the Manipur conflict.

One of the primary reasons for the BJP’s struggle is its often ineffective communication strategy. While the party has a strong social media presence, it sometimes fails to address specific allegations promptly and transparently. The lack of direct engagement and comprehensive rebuttals allows false narratives to fester and spread. Additionally, the party’s communication often comes across as defensive rather than proactive, further complicating its efforts.

In the lead-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP faced significant challenges in managing the narrative surrounding the potential amendments to reservation rights through changes to the Constitution of India. Despite the BJP’s efforts to clarify its stance and intentions, a pervasive false narrative took hold, suggesting that the party aimed to undermine or eliminate reservation rights for various marginalized communities.

This narrative gained traction across various media platforms and political discourse, creating a sense of insecurity and mistrust among communities that benefit from these reservations, including Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. The spread of misinformation led to widespread apprehension that the BJP would alter the constitutional provisions safeguarding their rights.

The BJP’s inability to effectively counteract this narrative contributed to a decline in support from these communities, impacting their performance in the elections especially in Uttar Pradesh. The situation underscores the importance of clear and consistent communication from political parties, especially on sensitive issues like constitutional amendments and reservation rights.

The BJP’s reliance on traditional media outlets, which are perceived to be friendly to the government, has also been a double-edged sword. While these platforms provide a base for the party to project its achievements and counter falsehoods, they are often seen as biased. This perception diminishes the credibility of the information being disseminated and reinforces the false narratives among skeptics.

Despite its extensive grassroots network, the BJP has not fully leveraged this asset to combat misinformation. Local party workers and regional leaders could play a crucial role in dispelling myths and presenting facts at the community level, but this potential remains underutilized. Engaging directly with the public through town halls, community meetings, and local events can provide a more personalized and trusted means of communication.

The BJP has also struggled to manage its image in the international media. Reports from foreign news organizations often shape global perceptions of India and its leadership. Negative portrayals and criticism from international platforms can influence domestic opinions and fuel false narratives. The BJP’s efforts to counter these reports are often reactive rather than preemptive, limiting their effectiveness.

The BJP’s approach to fact-checking and countering misinformation lacks robustness. Although there are government initiatives and independent fact-checking organizations, their reach and impact are limited. A more systematic and widespread fact-checking infrastructure, supported by the party, could help in promptly addressing and debunking false claims.

The highly polarized political climate in India exacerbates the problem. Any attempt by the BJP to counter false narratives is often viewed through a partisan lens, with opponents dismissing the rebuttals as propaganda. This polarization makes it difficult for the truth to be acknowledged and accepted across the political spectrum.

The BJP has faced significant challenges in countering false narratives effectively, often finding itself in a position of reacting to misinformation rather than preemptively or proactively addressing it. This reactive approach has led to several high-profile instances where the party struggled to manage the spread of misinformation, impacting its public perception and policy implementation.

The BJP’s handling of the farmers’ protests against the three agricultural laws is a notable example where the party was more reactive than proactive. The protests gained momentum rapidly, fueled by widespread misinformation about the laws potentially harming small farmers. The BJP responded with press conferences, social media campaigns, and statements from leaders, but these efforts were largely reactive, coming after the misinformation had already taken hold. The delayed and defensive communication strategy failed to quell the fears and narratives that had already spread.

The controversy surrounding the CAA and NRC is another instance where the BJP’s efforts were primarily reactive. The party faced a massive backlash with widespread protests and misinformation about the potential exclusion of Muslims from citizenship. The BJP’s responses, including clarifications from leaders and information campaigns, came after significant unrest had already erupted. Despite efforts to clarify the law’s provisions, the reactive stance meant the party struggled to regain control of the narrative.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the BJP faced criticism for its handling of misinformation about the virus, vaccines, and government policies. The spread of false information regarding vaccine safety and government measures forced the BJP into a reactive posture, addressing rumors and misinformation after they had already spread widely. The party’s attempts to counter these narratives through social media posts and official statements were often seen as coming too late to effectively manage public perception.

The BJP’s failure to effectively deal with false narratives about the Indian government and PM Modi highlights the complexities of modern political communication. While the party has significant resources and a strong media presence, its strategies need to be more proactive, transparent, and inclusive. Leveraging grassroots networks, enhancing fact-checking mechanisms, and engaging more effectively with international media are crucial steps. In a landscape where misinformation can easily distort public perception, the BJP must refine its approach to safeguard its image and convey its achievements accurately.

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