Conflict Communication: Chronicles of a Communicator - The India Saga



Conflict Communication: Chronicles of a Communicator

“ ConflictCommunication.pngAs the former Principal Information Officer of the Union government, he never dodged scribes and was literally available 24X7. Being…

Conflict Communication: Chronicles of a Communicator

ConflictCommunication.pngAs the former Principal Information Officer of the Union government, he never dodged scribes and was literallyàavailable 24X7. Being anàuncanny newshound sharpened his skills of beingàan effectiveàcommunicator. He was never one to duck a challenge. The ever smiling and amiableàI Ramamohan Rao was a hands onàcommunicator and highly reliable. Anyone could bank on him with a query and if he did not have a response immediately, he’d say “”I’ll get back to you.”” Got back he did in quick time. He heldàa typical open house every evening whenàa large number of scribes assembled in theàPIO’s spaciousàoffice at the Press Information Bureau in Shastri Bhawan in Lutyens Delhi firing away questions on a wide range of issues. He would patiently contact ministers and secretaries concerned toàassimilateàthe facts and disseminate information withoutàthe least fuss.

After he superannuated, the PIB became a dull and boring place with hardly anyàone willing to take such an initiative as it would amount to needlesslyàburdening themselves in disseminating information. Having served four Prime Ministers — Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh, Chandrasekhar and P V Narasimha Rao — he reveled being inàconflict zones as evidencedàin hisàhighly absorbing book “”CONFLICT COMMUNICATION : Chronicles of a Communicator.”” The PIB lost the vibrancy of communicationàafter he superannuated. Raoàcaptures in a simple and direct style the majoràhappenings in the country over the last fiveàdecadesàencompassing politics, war, economics and what have you. He joined the Press InformationàBureau (PIB)àin 1956 and wasàlater inducted into the Indian Information Service when it was created

Heàheaded the PIBàfor seven years. He served as aàcommunicator in various capacities right from the time of the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Heàserved in the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF)àin Gaza and edited their weekly magazine Sand Dune.àHe was involved with creating communication facilities during the 1962àChinese aggression. Even asàefforts wereàonàto rebuild the defenses of the country, he continuedàreporting on the conflictàfrom the field as a Public Relations Officer during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Later he was at the Defence Headquarters in Delhi during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict which saw the emergence of Bangladesh. Raoàhas had a highly chequered career. He makes it clear this is not an autobiography.

As a communicator he was privileged to have a ringside view of the processes; the pulls and pressures that go into decision making at the highest level. He believes the lessons he has learnt as a communicator hold much greater significance in the world of constantly breaking news and social media. The challenges for the government are indeed greater. He joinedàthe PIB by chance during his first visit to Delhi in 1955. Heàescortedàhis cousin Meera Rao from Bombay who participatedàin the Hindustani music competition by the All India Radio. With time on his handsàhe strolled towards Parliament House. The banner of a seminar organised by the Bureau of Parliamentary studies on the Indian Constitution caught his attention. As the subject interested him he walked into Parliament House easily as no entry pass was required those days.

In one of the rooms more than a hundred people had gathered and Jawaharlal Nehru was on the podium elaborating on the Constitution. Barely 21 years old, Pandit Nehru came near the table where he was picking up a cup of tea. He asked Rao “”I guess you are a student. Did you find the discussion interesting?”” He replied “”Sir, I have just finished my law degree and MA and I found the speeches interesting. àWhat are your views, young man,”” Panditji asked again. “”I took the courage to say that the Indian Constitution was unitary in character than federal, and that there was a danger to the unity of the country from the demands for the reorganisation of the states gaining momentum. Panditji smiled, patted me and told me to keep alive my interests in Parliamentary democracy.””àIt is a moment which has remained etched in his memory. “”It was overwhelming for me to be in the presence of Panditji, a charismatic leader, and to be spoken to by him.””

Accompanied by his maternal grand uncle U S Mohan Rao, who was Director of the Publications Division, they went to meet the PIO T R V Chari. He mentioned that the results of his law examination was due. The Bombay Edition of the Times of India was promptly requisitioned and Rao had passed standing first in the Bombay State.àChari told his uncle not to send the young man back butàappear in the written test and interview.àHe was selected for the job in the PIB. During the UNEP assignment, Rao’s boss Ole Dich wanted him to join the UN civil service as a communicator. He got the offer but declined as there was real excitement with war brewing at home in 1962. Ole Dich gave him sage parting advice: “”Ram stay close to the generals during war. They know how to look after themselves.””

The reverses against China had a traumatic impact on the morale of the country. To rebuild the army and restore the confidence of the people in the ability of the armed forces to defend the country’s frontiers, the government felt it necessary to share the information with the people. New directions were laid down that during future operations there should be an office of War Information in New Delhi and arrangements should be made to set up press camps in forward areas near the formations. Atàthe camps the formation commanders or their authorised representatives had to brief the media. Correspondents were to be put in uniform to cover the war to facilitate their movement and safety if they became prisoners. It was also decided to have a war correspondent’s course for the media. Rao conducted the first course in 1967 at the division headquarters near Pathankot.àBy the time the next war broke out in 1971, there wasàaàteam of defence correspondents well trained in reporting the war.

Today there is no time lag between what is happening on the battlefield and its dissemination. Information is available across the nation’s frontiers. The country had a taste of the close link between the media and national security during the Kargil operations in 1999. What was happening in Kargil was seen by the citizens of the country in a matter of hours, if not minutes. The television coverage also exposed Pakistan’s claims that those entrenched in Kargil were Kashmiri militants. On the contrary they were Pakistani soldiers.àIt becameàevident to the whole world that the Pakistani army was fully involved in the Kargil operations. Rao referred to theàAl Faran episode in Kashmir in July 1995 when ten European tourists were taken hostage. It established that militancy in Kashmir was being carried out by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. It exposed the involvement of the Pakistanis and terrorists ofàAfghan and West Asian origin in Jammu and Kashmir.

Several committees were constituted to look into the matter according access to cover the war and frame guidelines which have since been adopted. At the same time communication between the government and the people is essential so that government policies and activities are widely known. An incisive and must readàbook.

Book:CONFLICT COMMUNICATION: Chronicles of a Communicator
Author:Ramamohan Rao
Publisher:Pentagon Press


(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.)