Unlike many others, I didn't need any effort to 'digest' the newsbreak that Donald J Trump had been elected to the most powerful office in the world. I had a feeling few weeks ago that Americans had made up their mind but were not quite saying it for reasons best known to them. The biggest give-away was news reports saying there was a one percent gap with Hillary Clinton almost immediately following reports that the gap was nearly 99 percent. No country's voters can swing like that, whatever the electoral college or the system of voting may be.
So while I did not feel any surprise at the results, I did get a very strong sense of déjà vu when I saw the reactions in the US channels and news websites. The crestfallen faces and the dismissive analyses reminded me of the commentaries I had heard on May 16, 2014 on more than one channel. In fact, a fellow panelist on a channel I participated that day had gone to the extent of declaring that 'Modi had rigged the elections' through his PR machinery.
It is difficult not to draw parallels between the election campaigns and subsequent victory of the two leaders even if the Indian and American political scenarios are literally poles apart. Let me begin at the beginning.
When back channels were on in the BJP leadership to declare Narendra Modi as the leader and the prime ministerial candidate of the party for 2014, there were dozens of stories and articles on how the other BJP leaders would never accept Modi. The American media was equally sure that Trump would never win the candidature for president as the Republicans would not accept him as their own. Well he did win even though a large section of Republicans dissociated.
A look at the campaigns of the two leaders also throws up uncanny similarities vis-à-vis the media. Most editorials and commentaries in the US media declared Trump as the 'agent of hate.' This 'agent of hate' now stands elected with 58 percent votes of Americans. They declared, even before the voting, how Americans could never elect such a character even though they were cheering his dramatic campaign. Much like the Indian commentators who kept repeating ad nauseum that 'India is not Gujarat' and 'Delhi is Delhi'. No wonder then that Modi made his 'outsider' status a badge of honour when he stormed Delhi from Gandhinagar. And no small co-incidence that the US too elected a rank outsider in Trump. Except that unlike Modi Trump was an outsider even to the world of politics. Another clear difference is while only two out of the top hundred dailies in the US backed Trump, Indian electronic channels and many papers had started acknowledging the fact that Modi was ahead of his rivals during the campaign. Some of course stuck to the 'India cannot accept Modi' line till the end. Their refusal to give credit where it was due continued even post-elections.
Many similarities in the campaigns:
The similarities are many. But it is much more relevant to understand why some of the most experienced, seasoned and sharp journalists failed to gauge the public mood and how. It applies to both our Indian and American friends. One thing is now abundantly clear that if these journalists, media personnel, editors and commentators (with decades of experience) went horribly wrong it was because they were perhaps foisting their 'wishful thinking' rather than dispassionately reading the public mood. Be it India's General Election 2014 or US Presidential Election 2016, the political ideas, likes and (in this case) dislike found greater reflection in writings and commentaries rather than the people's sentiment. In India's case, the editors and chiefs of news teams often forced their spot reporters to change or tweak their stories to suit their viewpoint. The editors who were groomed in a certain political environment and culture are nothing but 'status quoists' who would wish to carry on the old, cosy set-up even as the world is changing into a different place which they either fail to see or refuse to accept or both.
However, the story doesn't end here. Just as a section of Indian media refuses to acknowledge the good work and initiatives of Narendra Modi even today Trump may have to face the antagonism of a hostile media for a long time to come. Like Modi he could also surge ahead despite all of it. Who knows??
(Smita Mishra, is an advisor at Prasar Bharati)