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Vinay Sahasrabuddhe
& Dhiraj Nayyar

India has a rich tradition of excellent public communicators and speakers. Mahatma Gandhi used all communication channels at his command. He wrote books, sung songs and bhajans, penned articles in journals run by him, addressed huge public meetings and also gave strong messages through his simple actions. We have also witnessed several politicians known for their exceptional oratory. They include the likes of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, VD Sawarkar and Jayaprakash Narayan. Amongst the leaders from south, listening to Dr CN Annadurai and Jagannathrao Joshi used to be a pure delight. In the Parliament, fellow members would always enjoy speeches and interventions by impressive orators like Piloo Modi, Dr Bhai Mahavir, Madhu Limaye, Bhupesh Gupta and many more.

Similarly, from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, India has seen prime ministers with an exceptional ability to communicate, mainly through their public addresses. But almost all prime ministers went by the trodden path and used occasions like Independence Day and Republic Day for their customary address to the nation. The first one to think and speak out of the box as well is unquestionably Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Moving beyond oratorical skills, he has used radio address for establishing an emotional bond with fellow Indians. He has used radio communication very creatively and converted his monthly conversation with the countrymen, Mann ki Baat, into an event villagers and city-dwellers keenly await.

Pop culture events are known to ‘break the internet’ on occasion. A governance initiative did so for the first time on 28 June 2015, when the Prime Minister called for #SelfieWithDaughter on Mann ki Baat. Part of his pitch for the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign aimed at promoting gender parity, it went viral, emerging as a top trend on social media worldwide. The Prime Minister made it a point to credit the sarpanch of a small village in Haryana, a state with a severely skewed sex ratio, with the original concept.

‘I request you all to take a selfie with your daughter and post it on #SelfieWithDaughter. And do not forget to post a tagline around the theme “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”…I promise to retweet the most inspirational tagline with you and your daughter’s selfie,’ he said and thousands in India and abroad responded. ‘Love Indian PM’s concept of #SelfieWithDaugh er,’ gushed a Canadian citizen.

Mann ki Baat, an innovative means of broadening the government– citizen interface, is arguably All India Radio’s most popular show. A December 2016 survey by AIR’s audience research wing says that two out of every ten Indians over the age of fifteen are Mann ki Baat regulars, while five out f ten have listened in at least once in the last two years. AIR estimates that 271 million people tune into the show, more than the audience of entire electronic media clubbed together.

The programme’s maximum reach is in Gujarat, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, where 70 per cent of the people have heard the broadcast at least once. Its success can also be judged from the fact that a ten-second advertisement on AIR during the programme costs over a hundred times as much as other prime time slots. Tens of thousands of audio recordings have been downloaded, letters received and suggestions posted.

It was the Prime Minister who came up with the idea of a radio show in August of 2014. He told his aides that he wanted a platform where ‘kuchh halki phulki mann ki baatein karoonga’. The fact that he opted for a radio show was significant in itself; radio reaches the poorest of households. The audience listens to the message, without visual distractions.

The first episode was aired on 3 October 2014 (Vijayadashami), a day after Gandhi Jayanti. The Prime Minister made a strong pitch for khadi, which d amatically boosted sales of the fabric in subsequent months (by 29 per cent in 2015-16, a trajectory that has been maintained since). He also commended Indian scientists on the Mars Mission and spoke of skill development and Swachh Bharat. That first episode lasted for around thirteen minutes; subsequently, the length increased to about thirty minutes. The programme airs on the last Sunday of every month.

Many unsung heroes, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, have eatured on Mann ki Baat. A roz Shah, for example, is chuffed that he Prime Minister knows his name. Not just that, the Prime Minister has made sure that the country knows it, too. In the programme aired on 28 May 2017, he congra ulated the Mumbai-based lawyer on his efforts to clean the city’s Versova beach. Afroz, who began his mission in October 2015—removing 5.5 million kilos of waste in eighty-five weeks with the help of his team of volunteers—had received the ‘Champion of the Earth’ award from the United Nations Environment Programme (UN EP).

The recognition from UNEP was multiplied a thousand-fold by Mann ki Baat. The Prime Minister observed: ‘A few days ago, you must have heard that the Versova beach in Mumbai, which was infamous for its filth, has now transformed into a c ean and beautiful beach. People toiled unceasingly for about eighty to ninety weeks and turned Versova beach around by extracting thousands of tonnes of waste materials and today Versova beach is clean and be utiful…. The manner in which Shri Afroz Shah gathered the citizens of the area into a collective and gave it the shape of a people’s movement is in itself an inspiring example.’ Afroz tweeted his thanks to the Prime Minister and said th t the commendation had encouraged him to expand his ‘swachh’ beach mission across the country.

He has now kicked off a drive to green Versova beach, starting with a plantation of 400 coconut trees. On World Environment Day (5 June), Afroz was flooded with congratulatory tweets and voluntee s from accross Mumbai, who showed up at Versova to help with his campaign.
(The above article is taken from recently published book
‘The Innovation Republic’.