Apr 22 2015 : The Economic Times (Delhi)

The Art of Poliphony

The Art of Poliphony

A couple of good speeches by Rahul Gandhi will not bring the Congress roaring back into the game. The Congress has to learn a lesson or two from the BJP in the art of political communication and continuous propaganda employing all the media available, using each medium in itself and to amplify the message in other media. Let us call this the art of poliphony .

Polyphony is a literary feature in which a novel contains multiple points of view or voices, the term having been borrowed from music, in which multiple melodies together define the texture, rather than a single or a dominant melody . Effective poliphony uses obfuscation of facts that does not suit a particular political narrative, to create a melody that drowns out all others. All politicians employ this to some degree or the other, but nobody has mastered it as the Modi regime has.

Some people have expressed their perplexity that members of Team Modi seems to be perpetually in campaign mode. They keep attacking the predecessor UPA government, whether in Parliament or outside, whether in India or abroad. This is not the result of any lack of individual grace or because Modi hasn't realized that the elections are over. Poliphony calls for continuous, consistent driving home of the same message. A lie repeated a thousand times will become the unvarnished truth. Just because the man who said it first, Joseph Goebbels, was an unpleasant character, what he said does not cease to be true.

The 10 years under the UPA was a lost decade. This is now the conventional wisdom. Of course, this is not true. Only in the third quarter of 2011 did the economy begin to show the effects of the government losing its nerve after being battered on all sides with corruption charges. Till then, the Indian economy had grown at the most rapid pace it had ever attained in history.

The UPA Had No Clue

Power generation capacity more than doubled from 114,000 MW in 2004. Power lines were drawn to six lakh villages (no one noticed, because coal and gas shortage and financial bankruptcy of state electricity boards ensured that no power flowed through these newly laid lines). Tele-density soared, to make phones ubiquitous across the land.Telecom under the UPA was seen as a scam, rather than as the massive revolution of empowerment it was. Rural wages rose steadily in real terms, after adjusting for inflation, for seven continuous years.

More people emerged from poverty than ever before. The share of the workforce employed on the farm fell below 50%. School enrolment shot up. Health insurance became a mass product. Infant mortality and maternal mortality plunged. A national skill development mission was launched, the National Skill Development Corporation oversaw the training and placement of a million new workers. Banks went massively rural, the National Payments Corporation of India set up in 2008 provided the infrastructure for nationwide elec tronic banking. The unique identity programme created Aadhaar.

Yes, the UPA government did a lot.

But no one noticed. Not even people in the government. No one told the people. There was no poliphony .

This will not happen to the NDA . It employs poliphony . All the time. It claims credit for things the UPA did and denies it credit when it is due.

And gets away with it.

Big Mouth of BJP

The NDA Shows Genius

At the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC, finance minister Arun Jaitley gave a speech recently , which is a masterly example of poliphony . Late in 2013, India was teetering on the edge of a macroeconomic crisis, he said.

Growth was crashing, the current account deficit was 4%, capital was fleeing, the rupee was plunging.

The reality was different. Growth was accelerating, from 5.1% in 2012 13 to 6.9% in 2013-14. The current account deficit for the year as a whole had come down to 2.9% of GDP , from more than 6% in the previous two years: in fact, late in 2013, in the third quarter of 2013-14, the current ac count deficit was 0.9% of GDP .

Raghuram Rajan had taken over as RBI governor in September 2013, whereafter, the rupee stabilized, capital flight reversed and a tough battle began against inflation.

How could the finance minister say what he did, when the facts were something else? Well, the facts changed on GDP numbers because the Central Statistics Office revised its figures. Jaitley chose to ignore the revised figures, except for its advance estimate of 7.5% for 2014-15.This choice of what suits the political narrative is poliphony .

Poliphony is not just about what you say . It is also about how you say it.The online group, Citizens for Accountable Governance that ran chunks of Modi's campaign, had at its core about 500 people, but mobilized some 96 lakh people on the ground.Well-crafted TV and radio ads supplemented chai-pe-charcha, holographic rallies and video trucks.

Modi has set the bar high. Unless the Congress matches him, Rahul might as well continue to speak about women's empowerment

TK Arun tk.arun@timesgroup.com