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Left's front-page ads: what's so wrong about being more dynamic?

Panini Anand | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

It's a challenge for newspapers to look different every day - otherwise, why would a reader be interested in buying or subscribing to them?

But on Wednesday morning, it was not the content in the English newspapers in New Delhi that was glaringly different - it was the jacket advertisement that caught the eye.

Against a deep red backdrop, CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan greeted the reader, clad in a white shirt. It carried a message too: "Committed to turn Kerala into a truly God's own country [sic]". This was the main promise by the party to the people in this election.

Indian Express
On Wednesday, most English newspapers carried a full front-page advertisement by the Left

It was an advertisement that stunned everyone; even readers who have Left leanings. It signalled a brand new day for the Left - the day when the LDF government, led by Vijayan would take oath in Kerala.

Social media criticism

Soon, criticism started pouring in on social media - 'Look at the size of the ad', 'Why give these ads in the national capital, after all, it is a matter restricted to the state of Kerala', 'Lefties are exposed - so much money spent on an ad', 'Is this the socialism and simplicity of the Left'.

Even progressives and liberals joined in the chant, and started posting images of the ad. Right-wingers and others were obviously commenting and criticising the ads, which appeared on almost every english daily in the capital.

To be (modern) or not to be?

The advertisement sums up the Catch-22 situation facing the Left movement in India today. If the Left tries to remain in textbook mode and chooses isolationism, there's a cry for reforms from every talking head.

On the other hand, when the Left tries to use different means - whether it be reforms or this new advertising strategy, it is criticised for 'diluting the ideology and purity' of its tradition.

Unlike other political parties, the Left has never spent bucketloads of money on elections. When it comes to propaganda and campaigning, the Left can't match the Congress and the BJP, and not even regional parties like the AIADMK, Samajwadi Party or even Janata Dal (United).

Unlike other parties like Cong and BJP, the Left has never spent bucketloads of money on elections

This has made the Left parties pay big time in elections. Gone are the days when campaigns used to take place on bicycles, and that was enough to ensure victory.

Strong media management and campaigning sets the mood for modern elections. From Narendra Modi's win in the 2014 general elections to AAP's success in Delhi and Nitish Kumar's victory in Bihar in 2015, there are enough examples that bear testimony to this.

Look at the way the 'Gujarat model' was hyped up in the media, with barely any objections raised about it. The Kerala model of growth and development stands far ahead of Gujarat and most other Indian states, as per most indices, and there's no doubt the Left has made a great contribution to that.

Left's media appeal

The Left has also never been very appealing to the media. This is because the media has mostly played its role according to the parties which invest in the capitalist agenda of business lobbies and industry.

How many reports and articles have newspapers and channels put out about Tripura - a Left-ruled state without AFSPA, without communal violence, and which performs well on the human development index.

Vijayan's advertisement has surfaced in the times when Modi appears in newspaper ads every day, and Arvind Kejriwal sings and speaks to the people on news channels and on FM radio. The very same critics who are lashing out at the Left for its print ads are the same who forever hold their silence on the others.

Left needs more dynamism

There is nothing wrong in repeating the promises made to the people on the day of the new government's swearing-in. Those who are interested in real criticism should keep these papers safe, and bring them out after a year to cross-check and remind the Vijayan's Government of Kerala about these promises.

India needs the Left, for without it, it would be a State without constructive criticism, academic debates or informed political opinion.

For its part, the Left has to come out of its mode of isolationism, and experiment with new methods of reaching out to the people.

The ads are a start. In fact, the Left should be more vocal and dynamic, in order to change the current bipolarity in the political discourse in the media, and among the people.

First published: 25 May 2016, 11:48 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.