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March 26, 2018

Viraj Khandhadia, Associate Director Ad Sales; Smeet H. Raval, Manager Ad Sales, Rediff.Com, Mumbai

Founded two decades back in 1996 by Ajit Balakrishnan, is a news, information, entertainment and shopping web portal. Headquartered in Mumbai, has offices also in Bangalore, New Delhi and New York City. It is ranked 24 Indian web portal in terms of traffic, which shows its popularity among netizens who also visit this portal for its news content.  Given the fact that more and more netizens are turning to such digital platforms to brows news, Sharma approached its Mumbai headquarters to see if his proposition is accepted by its officials. His preliminary inquiries led him to Associate Director Ad Sales Viraj Khandhadia who was accompanied by Manager Smeet H. Raval in the interview that followed.

Briefing Viraj and his colleague on his agenda for Mission 2019 and after showing Viraj the audio jingles, Sharma gives a twist to his tale of Hindutva. You see the Ayodhya issue, he tells Viraj, has lost its steam as it has been milked enough and rather the electorate is no more interested in it. So, we have decided to bring the preaching of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and Lord Krishna to revive and build up a pro-Hindutva sentiment again among the electorate for obvious reasons: take political mileage. Now, tell me how you can package our agenda in an appropriate manner, he asks Viraj. After making a strong pitch for a pro-Hindutva media campaign, Sharma asks Viraj to note down his three demands. Funnily, at this point, his colleague Raval dashes toward the white board to note down Sharma’s instructions. The first three months the campaign will focus on soft-Hindutva in the garb of spiritualism by playing out on the preaching of Gita and Lord Krishna. Second, the promotion of speeches by firebrand Hindutva leaders, the likes of Mohan Bhagwat, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar. This has to run pan-India.

Initially, Viraj says that he will have to take approval from his editorial team on the nature of the content they can upload on their portal, but it does not take much time for him to veer around and we find an agreeable Viraj wanting to know when they can start the campaign: “Kab se start kar rahe hain sir ye … Republic Day se hee start karein Sir 16 January se (When are you going to start the campaign Sir … why not start it on Republic Day, that is 26 January).” Sharma gives him some alibis and tells him they would like it to start in the first week of February.

Sharma now spells out the third part of his agenda. As the election time approaches, he tells Viraj, our campaign will focus on thrashing political rivals, through their character assassination, and this has to be done using satire so that their image goes down in the eyes of the electorate. Here, he gives the example again of how Rahul Gandhi is caricatured as Pappu. So, the content has to play around Pappu, Bua and Babua to damage the image of Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, and Akhilesh Yadav, respectively.

Viraj has no problem with this kind of content going on his company’s digital platform, and as the interview progresses, he is willing to go an extra mile to help his client maximum mileage by getting stories through his portal that project his party in a favourable light. Listen to what Viraj now suggests: “Sir aur ke baat aur bataiye agar hum ye ek tareeqe kee baat hai. Humari side se aapke liye story likhein script likhein wo  neta ji ko chhod ke wo territory Karnataka rahega toh Karnataka ke liye, UP, Bihar jahan ke liye bhi … (Sir, what you are telling me is one thing. What if we write good stories or scripts for you, not only on politicians, for whichever territory you may like, be it Karnataka, UP or Bihar)?”

You mean advertorial? Asks Sharma. Advertorial is not what Viraj is suggesting. He is offering services of his company to publish paid content in the form of stories that will help the present dispensation in image-building: “Advertorial. Advertorial ek hai ya hum unke baare mein aur kuchh acchi baat likhein … script likhen sir kuch accha ki unhone ye accha karya kiya wo metro launch karte hain toh unko metro ke saath jode ki unhone ye kiya … government policies promotion so we are not doing bad about our competitors hum humare baare mein accha dikha rahe hain (Advertorial is one thing. Or, we can also write something good about them … writer good script showing them that they have done this good work. For example, if Metro has been launched, we can associate them with Metro telling people, they have done such good work … [yes] government policies promotion so we are not doing bad about our competitors. We are simply saying something good about ourselves only).”

Sharma asks him to first work on a short-term deal for three month. You see it is a kind of trial phase and we will move ahead as we build trust. Viraj agrees: “Theek hai [All right] as you wish Sir … toh teen mahine ka jo campaign hai wo [So for the first three months of the campaign] first three months we will focus only point one or two I am right Sir … ek baar Sir thoda kaam hum bhi saath mein kar lenge teen mahine toh humein bhi ek doosre ka idea aayega ki aapka kya requirement hai hum kya deliver kar sakte hain kaise kar sakte hain (Let us work [on your campaign] with you for three months. This will give us enough idea of your requirement and what and how best we can deliver).” That agreed, reporter asks him to make a proposal detailing how best they can deliver. Viraj seeks the payment in advance: “Theek hai pehle hee advance ho jaaye … nahi maine pehle kiya tha toh umsmein advance hota tha mujhe pata tha bas confirm kar raha tha humein aapke saath judna hai aage bada lamba kaam karna hai agar teen mahine mein aapko accha result mile toh hum aage bada kaam kar payenge (All right. But must be paid in advance … no, we have done this kind of campaign where we were paid in advance. I just want to confirm it [advance payment]. We want to associate with you as we have to work with you for a long time. If we are able to give good results, we know we will be able to deliver you big projects).”

Here, telling Sharma that he will seek internal approval after discussing with his legal and editorial teams, Viraj agrees to submit a plan: “Haan ji toh abhi aapko derh crore ka plan banake bhejta hoon (Yes, I will send you a plan [of the initial campaign] for a budget of Rs. 1.5 crore).”

As the interview progresses, Sharma tells Viraj that he has chosen for the media campaign on behalf of his organization for a certain reason and asks him to work on his agenda of bashing Pappu, Bua and Babua (all nicknames given to Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav). We have to cut them short through character assassination, so that these rivals never become a force together, so hard should we bash such rivals as Congress, SP and BSP. Agreeing Viraj says: “Unko alag rakhna important hai … haan ji … theek keh rahe hain (Yes, it is important to keep them apart).”

When Sharma talks of how the RSS will gear its organization for 2019 elections, Viraj offers his organization’s services: “Sir PR karenge hum … this is what I have something in my mind ki hum election cover karte hain to humara news section bhi aur humara news section bhi cover hota hai tabhi wahan par hum jo election ka section cover hota hai wahan par hum aapki ad chala denge itni frequency high maintain kar denge ki banda election ke baare mein content parh raha hai samne ye dikh raha haiexactly (Sir, we will do PR for you … this is what I have something in my mind that we cover elections. We have our news section … so while we cover elections in that section, we will run your ad [campaign] and maintain it at such high frequency that when someone reads the content of election coverage he will also read it [campaign] running before him side-by-side).”

At this point, Sharma drops a bait, saying that the budget for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is much higher than the last time which was about Rs. 8000 crore. It will bring a windfall for those media organization we will choose to work for us. Now it all depends on if they are able to make an emotional connect with our agenda or not. Suggests Viraj: “I want last question. Digital mein kya hai audience har tareeke ka hai ko metro mein rahta hai koi non-metro mein rahta hai koi finance section mein jaata hai … har ek ko alag communication hona chahiye … wo … aadmi dekh ke uske vichar dekh ke usko target karna chahiye. Sabko ek hee cheej (You will find different kinds of people among digital audience. Some live in metro cities, some live in non-metro cities, some visit our finance section … we should have different kinds of communication input … and we should target a man according to his thinking).” Here he is hinting at designing the campaign for Sharma that would reach out to maximum number of people.

As the meeting approaches to an end, Sharma reiterates that emotional connect is essential and for this he has no problem while behaving in a truthful and humble manner so that he wins more and more friends. He will work on his agenda always. Agreeing with his prospective client, Viraj says he will prepare a proposal: “Correct … we will discuss internally on all this … ek accha sa plan banayenge hum aap ke liye aur … pehle ye teen month ka banayenge (Correct. We will prepare a very good plan for [your Hindutva campaign] … we will make plan for the first three months).”

Please go ahead. Providing us coverage during elections was a good idea, Sharma tells him. It will be appreciable if you can carry articles in our favour. Here Sharma is unmistakably asking for paid content or news. Upon this Viraj says: “Jahan jahan election ka hoga … main ek baar internally sabse consult consent leke ek brainstorming humko kar lene do fir hum aapke saath chalenge … (Wherever elections will be conducted … let me consult and take consent after holding a brainstorming session. Then we will go with you).” The meeting ends after Viraj promises to arrange a meeting with his higher-ups. To see reactions of concerned person click here

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