Great news - I hope now our TV anchors will stop canvassing for Khaugress Party! Plus all their ill gotten $$$ can be usefully deployed in running a TV channel. Sonia-Rahul may be planning own TV channel by 2014 Are Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul planning to set up their own private TV channel in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections? Only they and their close strategists know for sure, but there are enough straws in the wind for observers to draw some such conclusions. Exhibit A is the Information and Broadcasting Ministryâ€™s note of 30 November to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), seeking a review of the current policy that does not allow governments to run TV channels. This was one of I&Bâ€™s first acts after Manish Tewari took over as minister. The I&B note, reports The Times of India, asks Trai to â€œkindly provide your recommendationsâ€ on whether central and state government ministries and departments, public sector companies and joint ventures can be allowed to set up their own TV channels. Will Trai, which operates under another voluble Congress loyalist, Kapil Sibal, say no? Exhibit B is the clandestine takeover of all the properties of Associated Journals Ltd, publisher of the defunct National Herald, by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul through a private non-profit. The deal was entirely financed by a Congress party loan to the mother-and-son duo, and it was originally exposed by the irrepressible Subramanian Swamy two months ago. Even though the media has chosen to bury the scandal, the fact is Sonia and Rahul, through a Section 25 company called Young Indian, now own a controlling 76 percent interest in Associated Journals which owns at least Rs 1,600 crore worth of property. The property can be leveraged to start a TV channel, if necessary. Exhibit C is the creation of a new media strategy group that unifies the Congress party and government into one common communication exercise. According to a report in The Economic Times, in the new arrangement, the party and government will speak in one voice â€“ which, everyone knows, means the governmentâ€™s communications strategy will now be handled from 10 Janpath in the period up to the next elections. The report says that a coordination committee has been set up, and its members include Ahmad Patel, Sonia Gandhiâ€™s Political Secretary, I&B Minister Manish Tewari, Minister of State Rajiv Shukla (a former journalist), and the PMâ€™s Media Advisor and former TV anchor Pankaj Pachauri, apart from party functionaries Janardhan Dwivedi and Ambika Soni. Why do these exhibits add up to the possibility of a Sonia-Rahul TV channel? Several reasons why. First, the takeover of Associated Journals and the move of the combative Manish Tewari to the I&B ministry indicate that there was some kind of communications plan in the offing. Else, there was no need to shift Ambika Soni from I&B. Not only that, Tewari, as soon as he took over the ministry, sends Trai the note on allowing government to set up a channel. Second, the Sonia-Rahul takeover of Associated Journals is probably pre-emptive in nature. Since the final view of the regulator cannot be predicted, owning Associated Journals provides them with enough resources to start a channel if they want to. The fact that it was the Congress party which lent Sonia and Rahul Rs 90 crore for the project gives the game away. Three, equally significant is the email statement from Rahul Gandhiâ€™s office on the reasons for the takeover of Associated Journals by Young Indian. The Hindu says the email read: â€œYoung Indian is a company registered and holding a licence granted under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956. As a Section 25 company, Young Indian is a not-for-profit company and does not have commercial operations. The activities of the company are in the public domain. Anyone who chooses to can inspect the Objects of the Company. The company has no intention of starting any newspaper.â€ (Italics ours) The last sentence is the most important part of the statement. If Associated Journals, now owned by Young Indian, has no intention of starting a newspaper, what does the mother-son duo want it for? Surely, not to earn rent from properties? A TV channel would fit the bill in terms of political needs better. Four, for some time now, the Congress party has been at the receiving end of media criticism for the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games scam, Coalgate, the Vadra land-grab and policy paralysis. But the party spokespersons have been left fuming on TV channels where they cannot control the nature of the dialogue or discussion. All the independent news channels are run by strong anchors who do not allow party agendas to be played out too much. In theory, the government should be able to use Prasar Bharati and Doordarshan to get its political message across, but these organisations are so weak and tainted by past association with the government that it is tough to now invest them with credibility, however hard the government may try. This is something all political parties have realised, and none more so than the state-level political parties. In all the major states, political parties run their own news channels by proxy â€“ with friendly businessmen running the show, or even by politicians and their families. Thus in Tamil Nadu we have Sun TV, which is run by M Karunanidhiâ€™s grand-nephew, and Jaya TV, a friendly businessman. In Andhra, YSRâ€™s son runs Sakshi, while Chandrababu Naidu has friendly relations with Eenadu TV. Gujarat has its NaMo TV (not a full-fledged channel yet, but it could soon become one), and the Communists have their own channel in Kerala. Some political parties run their own newspapers â€“ from Shiv Senaâ€™s Saamna to the CPI(M)â€™s Ganashakti. The attraction of owning a TV channel for political parties is simple: given the importance of the medium in future elections, and given the presidential nature of future elections, politicians need to control their communications and present it in a way that is favourable to them. Just as corporate advertisers want to control their communications with consumers, political parties their voter messages sent and received without the intervention of independent media. This is why most successful politicians â€“ from Narendra Modi to Sharad Pawar to Sonia Gandhi to Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Karunanidhi â€“ seldom interact with the media except in carefully chosen settings. With paid news now becoming increasingly difficult â€“ thanks to Press Council interventions and general media wariness about it â€“ political parties find it logical to own or control TV channels. In Indiaâ€™s political climate, politicians are wary of open-ended media interactions for the same reason CEOs and politicians in America avoid impromptu media access. Every politician worth his salt now wants to give his message exactly as he thinks it should be sent and received. In the Congress context, Rahul Gandhi has been widely written out as a political washout. Which makes it all the more necessary to refine his communication strategy. One can speculate that owning a TV channel would have crossed the minds of family loyalists in the Congress. Without a TV channel friendly to him, the Yuvraj may be consigned to twiddling his thumbs on the fringes of political discourse.