New Delhi, Sept. 25: A five-day Congress workshop for new spokespersons last week had two unusual features: one, almost all trainers were apolitical professionals; and two, there was a special session on Gujarat.
While the involvement of professionals, who are all known experts in their fields, is in tune with the strategy Rahul Gandhi deployed in the Youth Congress, the special session on Gujarat confirms that the party believes the next Lok Sabha election would revolve around Narendra Modi. The session on Gujarat was the longest, taking up more time than that on the economy, history and politics.
One participant told The Telegraph: “There was a special session on Gujarat, not on the BJP, Sangh parivar or any other party or individual. That was the high point of the five-day session. A battery of leaders from Gujarat spoke on Modi’s politics, his propaganda machinery, his campaign strategy and his persona. There were special references to the 2002 riots, criminal cases against Gujarat politicians and a fact-sheet about development claims.”
The spokespersons were told that Modi and his team weave false stories and set the agenda on social media and run campaigns with implicit communal content. They were asked not to get rattled by the “heaps of abuses” they would receive and told to stick to their points instead of getting sucked into a slanging match. “Facts and statistical details would be your weapon against slander and lies,” they were told.
Except politicians from Gujarat, the entire workshop was handled by professionals. Although the party’s communications chief Ajay Maken, whose brainchild this session was, was present and intervened during discussions, “the resource person” for every topic was an outside expert.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia spoke on the economy and his Planning Commission colleague Syeda Hameed dwelt on women’s empowerment, historian Mridula Mukherjee gave a historical perspective to Congress politics and former home secretary G.K. Pillai explained the nation’s security concerns. On Congress ideology, the head of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, Mohan Gopal, was preferred to any veteran party leader. Mukul Wasnik, the former social justice minister, was invited to speak on government’s initiatives for Dalits.
The regular spokespersons, who face the media every day, or other articulate leaders who have mastered the art of political communication were not called for tips on handling aggressive anchors. This was entrusted to Sanjay Jha, the executive director of Dale Carnegie Training in India who earned official status as a Congress spokesperson after fiercely defending the party as a freelancer for months, and K. Raju, an IAS officer who recently joined the party.
Senior journalist Kumar Ketkar spoke on the intricacies of engaging with the media and Harsh Mandar, Nikhil Dey and N.C. Saxena dealt with issues of public concern, including welfare schemes and food security.
Of 55 participants, around 25 will be chosen to represent the party on television on the basis of their performance at the workshop.