Taking a leaf out of the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) book, the Congress party, on Thursday, decided that it will not send its spokespersons to participate in TV News debates. The embargo, Congress media cell chief Randeep Surjewala said, will continue for a month.
.@INCIndia has decided to not send spokespersons on television debates for a month.
All media channels/editors are requested to not place Congress representatives on their shows.
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) May 30, 2019
The decision by the Congress comes a week after it was routed in the Lok Sabha polls, winning an abysmal 52 seats against the BJP’s 300+ tally. The tsunami of support that the Lok Sabha polls witnessed for Modi’s BJP and its allies in the NDA coalition decimated the combined Opposition, with the Congress-led UPA failing to cross the 100 seat mark, yet again since the 2014 debacle.
Akhilesh Yadav’s SP had been the first off the block from the Opposition camp to decide on not sending its representatives to participate in televised news debates. The SP had also disbanded its panel of spokesperson, until further notice.
For the Congress party, the situation is, arguably, the worst among all Opposition parties since its spokespersons not only have to face prying questions on the crushing Lok Sabha defeat but also respond to queries on whether or not Rahul Gandhi has relented from his decision to step down as the party president.
“The Congress has nothing to lose from this decision. It is commonly known now that a majority of the TV news channels are being used to spread BJP propaganda with several anchors taking a clear pro-BJP, anti-Congress editorial line. Our spokespersons are rarely given the due opportunity to speak so why should we humiliate ourselves by attending these debates,” a senior Congress leader told Outlook.
“Unlike the BJP, the Congress doesn’t believe in gagging or manipulating the media. Since we can’t have our views adequately represented in TV debates, it’s best that we stay away from them. The media is free to give whatever spin it wants and the BJP can have all the air time for itself,” a senior media panelist of the party said.
Though, unlike the SP, the Congress has not made any announcement on disbanding its panel of spokespersons, sources say that by the time its one-month embargo ends, the media department of the Grand Old Party could see an overhaul.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) which had met last Saturday to discuss the reasons for the party’s Lok Sabha poll rout had, while rejecting Rahul Gandhi’s offer to resign, authorized him to carry out a “complete restructuring” of the organisation. Rahul has, so far, not relented from his decision to step down as Congress chief, despite a large number of senior party leaders and many of his UPA allies urging him to stay on.
However, it is learnt that Rahul has conveyed to Nehru-Gandhi loyalist and Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel that he is willing to stay on as party president for a month, during which time the seniors must build a consensus on who among them can replace him as chief of the Grand Old Party. Sources said Rahul, now an MP from Wayanad after losing his Amethi seat in the polls, has shown some interest in an alternative proposal presented by Patel asking him to lead the Congress in the Lok Sabha, though the party will not qualify to stake claim for the post of Leader of Opposition, having fallen three MPs short of the 55-member mark required to get an LoP.
It is not known yet whether the embargo on the party’s media spokespersons will extend beyond one month if the suspense on Rahul’s continuance as Congress president lasts longer. However, a senior leader told Outlook that if the media department is revamped, the new lot of panelists will be cleared by Rahul, indicating that the CWC decision to authorize him to restructure the party may still be under his consideration.