100 episodes of PM Modi’s Mann ki Baat: Understanding the power of radio

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Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popular radio programme, completed 100 episodes on Sunday. Over the last almost nine years, the broadcast experiment that had a global history but no significant Indian precedents, has become a successful element in the communications strategy of the Prime Minister, a leader who believes in talking directly to the masses.

In terms of similar global examples of radio broadcasts, what came before Mann ki Baat?

The earliest example of the use of radio broadcasts by a national leader remains the “Fireside Chats”, a series of 30 radio addresses, each typically 20-30 minutes long, delivered by United States President Franklin D Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944.

Senior leaders of the BJP listen to the 100th episode of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio programme, at BJP HQ in New Delhi, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)

The chats were popular, and played a role in shaping American public opinion on a range of issues at a time when the US battled with crises ranging from the Great Depression to World War II. Roosevelt also used the chats to counter criticisms from the conservative media and to unpack his policies to the American public without the use of intermediaries.

Decades later, Ronald Reagan used a daily radio commentary that ran from 1975 to 1979 to build a reputation as a “great communicator”, and to prepare the ground for his successful presidential run in 1980. Reagan gave 1,027 addresses, reaching an estimated audience of 20-30 million listeners every week. The radio commentaries “helped Reagan transition from a national public figure appreciated more for his acting ability than his political acumen into a serious political figure”, according to a note on the US Library of Congress website.

Earlier, in an entirely different context, Subhas Chandra Bose had started Azad Hind Radio as part of Germany’s radio service, first broadcasting on January 7, 1942. The programmes were meant to create bonds between Indians living abroad with those in the motherland under British colonial rule.

Why did the Prime Minister choose radio over newer broadcast mediums?

While leaders like former US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump used television and videos on social media, Modi chose radio as the most effective medium in the Indian context to reach the last Indian at the end of the country’s last mile. He recognised that the rapid growth of Internet penetration notwithstanding, not everyone owned a mobile device — and that parts of the country would present problems of connectivity.

The Prime Minister has spoken about having understood the power of radio early on in life, when he travelled across the country as a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He said on an episode of Mann ki Baat that he had noticed people in the remote upper reaches of the Himalayas tuning in to radio for news as well as entertainment.

What are the issues/ themes that the PM has referred to most frequently?

Yoga, women-led initiatives, youth, and cleanliness have been among the most touched-upon topics on Mann ki Baat since it began in October 2014.

The PM has also frequently spoken of the valour and sacrifice of India’s soldiers, the nation’s cultural heritage, and recounted the stories of the life and work of Padma awardees and other achievers. He has also spoken on issues of science and environment.

The PM has dwelt on khadi at length, transcripts of episodes show. He had casually asked people to wear khadi during the first episode of the programme — and in the second episode, he reported: “I had not asked anyone to be khadi-dhari. But the feedback I got from khadi stores was that in a week’s time, the sales had jumped up by 125 per cent!”

The 100th episode on Sunday recalled some of the important issues that he has spoken on — and how some of them became wider movements. Sunil Jaglan, who started the ‘Selfie with Daughter’ campaign in Haryana, a state with a skewed sex ratio, joined the PM on the show over a call. Soon after being mentioned on the show, ‘Selfie with Daughter’ had turned into a global campaign — and the result of such efforts can be seen in an improvement of the gender ratio in Haryana, the PM said.

Among similar campaigns are those related to cleanliness, environment and ecology, and encouraging people to buy local products and visit Indian tourist spots.

Has Mann ki Baat been a political/ electioneering tool of the PM?

One of the salient features of the programme is its non-partisan approach to social issues. It has helped to widen and deepen its reach, and allowed the PM to convey his ideas to a broad spectrum of people.

An official involved in the production of the show said that the idea and concept is to convey positivity — to involve the people in the nation’s progress, to make them feel a part of its growth trajectory, and to spread optimism. Politics and negativity do not find space in this vision, the official said.

During the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, almost all episodes had a health-related capsule. The PM repeatedly underlined the need for socially responsible and Covid-appropriate behaviour, and widespread vaccinations as the country battled the coronavirus.

The PM has also used the platform extensively to spread awareness about government schemes and initiatives — exports, the e-marketplace initiative, Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya, Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, Har Ghar Tiranga, digital payments, startups and unicorns, and advancements in the space sector.

What are the chords that Mann ki Baat strikes with listeners?

In an age of social media saturation, in which the PM is constantly active on Internet platforms, he has framed Mann ki Baat as a more intimate, longer-duration, participative interaction with the people. On Sunday, he framed the radio show as a national conversation that helps him connect with the people — “a matter of faith, of worship”, and a “thaal of prasad” at the feet of “Janata Janardan”.

“The very countrymen who are my everything… I could not live separated from them. Mann Ki Baat gave me a solution to this challenge, a way to connect with the common man,” he said.

Mann ki Baat is consciously not a monologue by the PM. The design of the programme is participative, and involves the engagement of citizens. A backend communications network involving people writing in, and the PM personally engaging with ordinary people on the show, has increased interest.

Almost every show includes some new and interesting little-known information about India’s arts, craft, folk culture and heroes, etc. that inform and educate, and evoke and sustain listener interest.

Around 730 individuals have been mentioned by the PM on the show so far, said officials, adding that 281 private organisations (including NGOs and village self-help groups) working in states and Union Territories around the country have been praised for their inspirational work. Even 38 individuals from foreign countries have found mentions for their extraordinary work and stories, the officials said.


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