If any of you thought radio was only for driving on packed highways or it was just a lot of words without the boxing gloves of statistics or that only preaching happened there, you are probably the sort who has never listened to ‘Mann ki baat’ by Narendra Modi, the PM of India. Ira Glass believes that the ‘radio is closer to a Tumblr, or a blog, or Twitter, than it is to television’ and David Byrne only the radio is capable of ‘shouting at you, pleading with you, and seducing you’ and they’re right. The Indian PM realized this as soon as he came into power and his first radio broadcast went live on Vijay Dashami, the 3rd of October 2014 and we have now more than fifty episodes and counting. ‘Maan ki Baat – a social revolution on radio’ is a book that encapsulates all the transcripts of Modi’s addresses from the first one in 2014 until November 2018 and is a veritable treasure of not just texts of his speeches but also gives insights into everything else connected with this political strategy.
Yes, I would certainly call his addresses a political strategy because ‘Mann ki baat’ has proven beyond doubt that the radio has the power to spur a mass movement and that ‘the radio has proven just the right medium for Narendra Modi to share his thoughts, particularly when it comes to involving people and making what he calls ‘development’ into a mass movement’. This book gives the readers a consolidated view of Modi’s views on almost every topic that one can think of and so we have his opinions on the resurgence of khadi, the sufi experience, terrorism, start-ups, cleanliness, beti bachao – beti padhao, skill India, football, cricket, sports, nari Shakti, farmer welfare, haj, the Padma awards… and the list is exhaustive for anyone who wishes to understand the country well. The book is definitely a treasure for the students preparing for exams, for journalists looking for interesting snippets, for the speaker looking for facts, and even for the lay reader who is simply wanting to read something that won’t fade away with the passing moments. Modi’s #selfiewithdaughter campaign, for instance, brought a smile rushing to me and I immediately knew that his addresses have all the elements of critical communication that the mainstream media has been whimpering about.
When Milan Kundera wrote that the ‘radio was the tiny stream it all began with. Then came other technical means for reproducing, proliferating, amplifying sound, and the stream became an enormous river’ he could not have possibly known that Narendra Modi would turn out to be that exceptional man who understood the political nuances of these words. As I turned the pages of this collection of Modi’s addresses to the nation, one of the speeches that I read was on terrorism. The PM said in November 2017 address that ‘…a few years ago, when India used to talk about the severe threat of terrorism, many people in the world were not ready to take it seriously’. Today, in April 2019, I read a small news clip about China finally ready to declare Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Whoever says that radio addresses do not matter must read them all and be convinced that they do matter.
People obviously love these addresses. The first section of this book analyses the transformative effect of Modi’s words and gives us statistical references that are eye-catching. The book points out that most of the speeches were based on what the common man thought was vital and 24.3% of ‘people feel the easiest way to convey their suggestions was through a phone’ as compared to 21.7% who communicated their thoughts through letters. While talking of written communication of concerns through letters, 24% of them came from rural India and only 20.2% from urban zones, showing us that rural population isn’t one who can be swayed only by words and no action. Around 35% of the listeners found his words on cleanliness to be meaningful, 26.9% loved his address on the ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ campaign, and 17.9% were impressed by his thoughts on yoga. The book definitely gives us an insight into the thought processes of a nation across all social and geographical divisions.
For those who may not be aware, the title of his addresses also has an interesting story attached to it. Some of the titles discussed included ‘PM ke saath ru-ba-ru’, ‘vaarta Modiji ke saath’, and ‘Modi vani’, until Modi himself once exclaimed: Arre isme kya hai? Kaho kuchh halki phulki mann ki baatein karonga’. The name or title chosen was obviously ‘Mann ki baat’. The editors point out that ‘Mann ki Baat is not about votes or television optics. It is about behaviour, responsibility, hopes, dreams, struggles, and achievements in everyday life’. This is quite right as the addresses focus on all that connects to the common man on the streets.
Yes, one can listen to the addresses but there are times when one may wish to read the transcripts… and this is where the importance of this book emerges. After all, ‘so many people have heard Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech on the radio. It has a transformative power like no other medium’. The words from our PM go on to show without doubt that ‘mann ki baat’ is a programme that has reached the hearts of people and isn’t at all what the MNS founder and Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray termed it when he called it ‘Maun ki baat’ at a rally near his home.
Radio is indeed the theatre of the mind, to quote from what Steve Allen once said, and is more likely to be recognized as the most effective form of advertising that political performers can bank upon.
Title: Mann ki Baat – A social revolution on radio
Conceptualised by: BlueKraft Digital Foundation
Publisher: Rupa Publication India Pvt Ltd
30 April 2019