Can Maharashtra’s Political Parties Gain From Professional Image Managers?

Can Maharashtra’s Political Parties Gain From Professional Image Managers?

Many senior leaders are sceptical about whether image promotion and media management will yield the expected results in the upcoming Assembly elections

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Tuesday, July 09, 2024, 11:23 PM IST
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The buzz in Maharashtra this week was over how, ahead of the Assembly polls, some political parties are seen going in for consultations from professional image management organisations and hiring them as advisers at hefty fees. The trend, originally started by the BJP over 10 years ago, has been followed in various parts of the country by regional political parties and has now reached even Maharashtra right ahead of the all-important assembly polls.

In the recent state assembly polls in Karnataka and Rajasthan, the Congress party as well as the BJP took help from professional image managers and statistical experts instead of only depending on party cadres. Professionals from the field of advertising, movies and media have been involved in helping the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign. In fact one former Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra also publicly narrated in his recent speech how Narendra Modi himself took specialised speech training from some very big Bollywood actors when he was preparing to become the Prime Ministerial candidate in 2013/14. The success the BJP achieved in the 2014 polls and the successful image-building of PM Narendra Modi, which gave dividend to the party for many years, has now inspired political parties in Maharashtra to adopt a similar strategy of taking help from professional media and image-building teams.

The BJP in Maharashtra has always taken professional help from such image management organisations and continues to do so in the current election season too but on Tuesday there was new buzz in the state capital about how Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s NCP has gone for an official agreement with a private image promotion and election management company for a 90-day campaign ahead of Maharashtra State assembly elections. The talk over this resonated in political circles as Ajit Pawar was seen visiting the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai with his party colleagues and some of his MLAs in full view of media cameras. Many said Ajit, who is not really known for going publicly for such events was advised by his image promoters to do this. NCP (SCP) leader Rohit Pawar while speaking with media at VIdhan Bhavan in Mumbai claimed that Ajit Pawar’s party was going to pay an unbelievably high amount to the image management organisation.

The question being now discussed among politicians in the state and their activists and followers is whether this kind of professional help from media and image managers will help the politicians in a state which is politically as mature as Maharashtra. Speaking about this Shiv Sena (UBT) Sanjay Raut said "There have been many attempts in the past too by politicians to use the media for promotion. But in the case of Ajit Pawar these things will not help because the voters know him very well and even going to the temple and praying on camera will not help him because his image has been already tarnished".

While people are talking about these optics created by the politicians to either grab attention or build their image in the public’s mind, the other big upcoming event involving Congress President Rahul Gandhi has grabbed media attention too. NCP founder Sharad Pawar recently extended an invitation to Rahul Gandhi to come to Maharashtra and attend the Pandharpur Yatra in which lakhs of devotees walk hundreds of kilometers from Pune district to Pandharpur in Solapur district to reach the Vitthal temple there on the auspicious day of Ekadashi. This has been a tradition of over 700 years. Sharad Pawar wants Rahul Gandhi to participate in this walk and mingle with the devotees which many from the BJP see as an image building and allegedly politically motivated exercise. It is obvious that leaders from both sides of the political divide are going out of the way to create the right optics in the media and try to portray themselves as religious people who follow certain faiths, an attempt which can be described as a new trend in state’s politics.

The question again is whether Maharashtra — which has a very widespread network of sugar, milk and poultry cooperatives, cooperative banks, credit societies and farmer organisations in most of its regions through which politics operates — will fall only for optics and media or image promotion that some parties and leaders are now going for. Perhaps the fragmentation that has taken place among political parties because of two regional parties splitting into four parties in the past couple of years has made politicians feel insecure. As they feel uncertain about getting enough votes in the upcoming elections, they are leaving no stone unturned and apart from getting into traditional strategies and tactics they have decided also to go for this modern strategy of image promotion and media management, however many senior leaders are sceptical about whether this will yield the expected results in the upcoming assembly elections.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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