Mann ki Baat's 100th Episode Promotion Blitzkrieg Hides 'Very Low Listenership' Findings

Low listening figures thrown up by India’s best known surveyors last November may be the reason for a mega-push for the PM’s programme. Hours of government time and public money have been spent to promote it over the past few weeks.

New Delhi: Vice-President of India, Jagdeep Dhankhar, must be amongst the 5% of Indians who listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio programme every month. Ahead of the show’s 100th episode to be aired this Sunday, April 30, the Union government has gone all out to launch a promotional blitzkrieg. Dhankhar, addressing a conclave at Vigyan Bhavan, said, “I have never let go of a single episode of ‘Mann ki Baat’.” 

Like Dhankhar, there were others similarly inspired by the monthly radio programme including the over 100 persons from different walks of life invited to attend the big event at Vigyan Bhawan.

However, a study titled ‘MEDIA IN INDIA: Access, Practices, Concerns and Effects’ published by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), with respected social scientists, Sanjay Kumar, Suhas Palshikar and Sandeep Shastri as advisers and released in November last year, found that at least three-fifths of the Indian population has never listened to the PM’s radio address. 

In a four page section titled, ‘PM’s Mann ki Baat: A Reality Check’, there is elaboration of the “very low listenership of PM’s Mann ki Baat”.

“Across the nation, South Indians are the least likely to have listened to the programme, most probably due to the fact that the PM’s address is in Hindi. That being said, even in the Hindi-speaking States, popularity/listenership of PMMKB is rather low,” the report says. 

“Even households that have a high media presence (TV, internet, stereo etc), two-fifths had not heard ‘Mann ki Baat’ in the last one year and three in every ten had heard it once or twice.”

What’s more, “over half of those leaning towards the BJP don’t seem to be listening to PM MKB,” the report says.

Listening details of the survey listed by Lokniti’s CSDS report are at sharp variance to what some invitees had to say. Three times Grammy winner Ricky Kej said he learnt a lot from MKB. “I learnt about so many musicians through ‘Mann ki Baat’. In February he spoke about how two or three musical instruments are becoming obscure right now and how these musicians are bringing them back, like the mandolin.”

Actor Siddharth Kannan said, “When the PM is speaking, it appears it is not the PM but a friend who is speaking…I truly believe Pradhan Mantri ji is the number one influencer in this country.”

Kannan’s views are not shared by most of India. For instance, as per the CSDS report, in north west and east India, 63% have never listened to ‘Mann ki Baat’. For south India, this figure is 75% and non-Hindi speaking states it is 62%. At least 50% of people in Hindi speaking states and 54% in North India, both the BJP’s strong holds, have not heard ‘Mann ki Baat’. 

The giant push to the PM’s programme, the Rs 100 coin being minted and the constant chatter around it, including over the top op-eds by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting and photos put out of ministers attentively listening, may have been felt necessary because the show has a low uptake.

The Wire has reported on how community radio stations have been written to and strongarmed to air the forthcoming 100th episode and submit proof of having done so.

Where the PM’s programme does relatively well is in households with high media presence. The government can take solace in the fact that at least 9% people in this category have heard MKB almost every month or always. Another 30% have heard at least one or two episodes of the 99 ‘Mann ki Baat’ episodes aired so far.

Superstar Aamir Khan however said, “I think ‘Mann ki Baat’ has had a huge impact on the people of India and this is a historic thing that the PM has done.”

But the survey says that even among those that lean towards the BJP, 51% have not heard ‘Mann ki Baat’. Out of the rest of this category, 26% have heard the programme at least once. Those that are inclined towards the Congress party, 68% have not heard the radio programme and 18% have heard it once or twice. Amongst those with no clear leaning or other leanings, 67% have never heard ‘Mann ki Baat’. 

The CSDS report is at variance with what an IIM Rohtak report found. Released on Tuesday by Prasar Bharati CEO Gaurav Dwivedi, the government report which says it sampled over 10,000 people says more than 100 crore people have listened to the programme since its inception. Twenty three crore have listened regularly as per Prof Dheeraj Sharma, director, IIM Rohtak. However, the report does not say what is the percentage of people listening in regularly. Sharma only said 96% of Indians are aware of ‘Mann ki Baat’.

The IIM Rohtak report says ‘Mann ki Baat’ has influenced people to the extent that over 60% have expressed interest in “working for nation building”, another 63% feel their “approach towards the government has become positive” and 73% “feel optimistic about the government’s working and the country’s progress”. 

Incidentally, Sharma’s appointment as director IIM Rohtak is under a cloud after the Ministry of Education told a local Rohtak court his “appalling, immoral, unethical and fraudulent misconduct” makes him “totally unfit” to hold the post of an IIM director. Sharma is accused of sexual misconduct and an earlier closure report filed by the local police was rejected by the court which ordered a fresh probe. The government that had earlier cleared Sharma had submitted that Sharma was unfit to hold the post.

Union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, information and broadcasting secretary Apurva Chandra and Prasar Bharati CEO Gaurav Dwivedi were also present at the inaugural session of the conclave in New Delhi. In it, Dhankhar released a coffee table book, Mann Ki Baat@100 and another book Collective Spirit, Concrete Action authored by S.S. Vempati, former CEO of Prasar Bharati.

The 100th episode of the PM’s show is set to be aired on Sunday, April 30, 2023.