Exclusive Lokmat: I hate Congress, says Panhalkar

Lokmat: I hate Congress, says Panhalkar

Lokmat: I hate Congress, says Panhalkar


cobrapost - May 25, 2018

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Nilesh Panhalkar, Advertising Manager, Lokmat, Pune

Lokmat, a Marathi daily, was founded by noted freedom fighter from Yeotmal, Maharashtra, Jawaharlal Darda, in 1952 as a weekly. Selling 18,56,000 copies a day, the weekly has now graduated into the fourth largest multicity-edition daily. After its founder died in 1997, the baton passed on to his sons, three-time Congress Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Darda and Congress MLA and former minister Rajendra Darda. The daily also runs IBN-Lokmat, a Marathi news channel, in partnership with CNN-IBN. Sadly, however, the values its founder Darda Senior must have envisioned for his enterprise in journalism are now a thing of past. If the daily has earned itself credit for being the 10th most popular daily in the country in recent times, it has been accused of indulging in paid news. In 2009, the daily allegedly carried 47 full-page reports on then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan masquerading them as news. Then in 2012, both the Darda brothers were alleged to be involved the infamous Coal Scam. The same year, Vijay Darda hogged the limelight when at an Ahmedabad function the Congress parliamentarian literally anointed Narendra Modi with sainthood.

With changing times and changing values, it did not take much effort for Pushp Sharma to bring Nilesh Panhalkar around his agenda, who the journalist met at the Pune office of Lokmat. As their client the journalist begins to brief Panhalkar on his agenda, he tells the advertisement manager that his Shrimad Bhagwad Gita Prachar Samiti is targeting 2019 election to help Modi win for which he is there to propose him a media campaign which will be run in three phases. The first phase will consist in the promotion of Hindutva through the preaching of the Gita and Lord Krishna. This phase will run for the first three months after which will follow the second, semi-political phase. While responding to what is being told to him with an “Okay” in between, Panhalkar now has come to realize which ideology, and, as a corollary, political party, his client is representing. This realization prompts him to reveal where his loyalties are: “Personally thinking I really support to Modi, Sir.” In the same breath, he makes it clear why he likes what is happening in Karnataka in this poll season and why he does not: “On the basis of religion which I seriously like the Karnataka elections are coming up and all this nonsense going on which I seriously don’t like … But yeah I hate Congress.”

Knowing that Panhalkar is now ready to play ball, the client the journalist now offers his paper a budget of Rs. 3 crore for Pune alone. What I am looking for is your paper should bash our political rivals like the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party and their leaders. “Yeah,” we hear him say.

While running our ads to create a congenial environment in favour of Hindutva, the journalist tells him, you shall not accept ad campaigns from any other quarters even if they come from none other than Baba Ramdev. We don’t want any such clash. Panhalkar is prompt to say: “Yes, yes, yes,” as he also agrees to give digital coverage to events such as visits of firebrand Hindutva leaders like Mohan Bhagwat, Uma Bharati and Vinay Katiyar. Coming back to his semi-political agenda of thrashing political rivals, he asks him to do the job using humour or satire. You have to hammer the message consistently so that our party is able to reap poll dividends out of this campaign. “Exactly … Exactly, the long things,” Panhalkar is quick to second what his client is asking for. While agreeing to follow his agenda, Panhalkar offers his client to get him connected to certain persons who will help him promote his agenda in other Lokmat editions. He says: “I’ll give you the right person name for you and… like Pune as well as Bombay where everything will be…” You mean it will be like a single window? Asks the journalist. Yes, this is what it will be! “As a single point … we will not talk to [anybody else],” says Panhalkar. Telling him that his Sangathan has set aside a budget Rs. 742 crore for Karnataka assembly elections alone, apart from what BJP would be spending on its poll campaign, the client the journalist now asks him to ensure that rival party campaigns are not allowed any space in Lokmat. We want to be more and more visible and heard more and more by monopolizing the ad space. Agrees Panhalkar to say: “Exactly.”

Apparently enthused by the prospects of netting a big client, Panhalkar suggests: “We can do one thing also. During Ganpati festival, we can run a series of this thing, wherein you can have posters going in.” A good idea indeed! During festivals, such campaigns can have high visibility among the audiences.

Yes, you got it right, the journalist tells Panhalkar. We will push our Hindutva agenda during festivals like Navaratri and Diwali. This will help create an atmosphere in our favour of which we can certain take political advantage and the campaign has to be made highly visible. We have deep pockets and with this kind of campaign we will be able to run over our rivals. “And we have to … this it’s high time,” Panhalkar responds. Before wrapping up his interview, the journalist tells him that all those who he will rope in for this campaign should maintain secrecy, although he has discussed everything in a transparent manner, particularly when they are being paid. Swearing to secrecy, Panhalkar says: “Yeah and they have to maintain that secrecy and privacy for all this things. It’s a more basic norm of… any business … Those ethics they should carry. So that kind of thing they will have to maintain.”

Lokmat may have been scoring high on popularity charts among its readers, but it is sad to see this citadel crumble in an age of agenda-driven journalism.


Lokmat responce

We have not yet received any response from the Group to the detailed questionnaire we have sent them regarding the investigation, till 4 pm, 25th May, 2018. In case they do send in their reply, we shall update it in the next few days or weeks.


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