Vijay Karnataka helps launch a regional party

BY B S Chandrasekhar| IN Media Practice | 15/03/2004
Karnataka’s leading newspaper is energetically promoting the regional party launched by the newspaper’s owner Vijay Sankeshwar in the run up to the state elections.
 

B.S.Chandrasekhar

  

Ten years ago in Andhra Pradesh N.T. Rama Rao of the  Telugu Desam Party rode back to power with the active support of Eenadu - the powerful Telugu daily. Eenadu had by then become the most popular Telugu daily by pioneering a newspaper revolution in the state through multi-city editions.  Since then, particularly in the last five years, newspapers in many other regional languages including Kannada have grown at a fast pace through multi-city editions replicating the success of Eenadu.  The starting of more and more local editions has not only increased the reach and thereby the readership of many regional language newspapers, but more important, it has also greatly extended the sphere of influence of individual newspapers. It is  then perhaps natural for the owners of some of these powerful newspapers to have political ambitions.

 Karnataka where elections are being held for the state Assembly along with the Parliament provides such an example of a newspaper proprietor trying to cash the popularity of his newspaper to get political power.  The success story of the Kannada daily Vijay Karnataka, and the political ambitions of its owner Mr. Vijay Sankeshwar who has started a new regional party, are documented in this article.

The newspaper Vijay Karnataka 

Vijay Karnataka, started as a multi-edition daily in 1998, is at present the leader among Kannada dailies with a circulation of 5.53 lakhs (ABC: June- December 2003). According to readership surveys it is read by a little over 10 percent of the voters of Karnataka but the important point is that this newspaper has become the most influential medium of political communication in the state.  

For over 50 years Prajavani was the unchallenged leader among the Kannada newspapers and Vijay Karnataka beat Prajavani in the popularity race in December 2001. The USP of Vijay Karnataka is that it is published from nine towns spread over the entire Karnataka and this has ensured that the copies of this newspaper can reach any town or village in the state early in the morning. Its success is also due to the use of innovative marketing techniques such as advertising through hoardings and on television, and engaging in a price war reducing the selling price of the paper to just one rupee at a crucial period. The newspaper is professionally managed and Mr.Vishweshwar Bhat who has a post-graduate degree in Journalism is the present editor (Executive Managing Editor in the credit line). Bhat had earlier worked as an Assistant Professor in the Asian college of Mass Communication and was also on the personal staff of the Union BJP Minister Anantha Kumar for sometime.  

When elections were held last time to the Lok Sabha and the Karnataka state assembly in September/October 1999 Prajavani’s influence was mainly limited to the old Mysore state- 9 districts in south Karnataka. Samyukta Karnataka was the leading newspaper in north Karnataka and Udayavani ruled the coastal districts. Kannada Prabha from the Indian Express stables gave competition to Prajavani in south Karnataka.  

Vijay Karnataka, could legitimately claim to be the first pan-Karnataka newspaper with readers in all parts of the state. With nine local editions it can also cater to the specific needs of different regions within the state. Thus it has the advantage of being simultaneously a state newspaper and a district newspaper. However in the last few years the other newspapers have also tried to expand their sphere of influence. If today Vijay Karnataka is the leader with nine editions Prajavani and Kannada Prabha are being published from four centres each and Udayavani from three.  

The proprietor Vijay Sankeshwar 

Mr. Vijay Sankeshwar who was elected to the 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket owns Vijay Karnataka. He has also started an English daily- Vijay Times in 2002, which also is published from nine centres. Sankeshwar belonging to the dominant Lingayat community owns the largest transport company in the state and this has helped in the efficient transportation of the copies of his newspapers to different parts in the state. As his own newspapers have written: "Sankeshwar’s entrepreneurial skills, efficiency, commitment and charisma have stood him in good stead".

 

 The new regional party -Kannada Nadu 

Mr. Sankeshwar resigned from BJP a few months back and launched his own regional party Kannada Nadu. He has announced that this party will contest all the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka and has already announced the names of candidates for some constituencies. Among them is a controversial sanyasin- Mathe Mahadevi, the head of a lingayat religious establishment who is to contest the Lok Sabha seat held earlier by Sankeshwar himself.  

Unlike many other states Karnataka has no established regional party and Sankeshwar’s ambition appears to be to get political power by playing on the regional sentiments and using the reach of his newspapers. As the founder of the party Sankeshwar has extensively toured the state canvassing support for his party from people belonging to different walks of life and has established local units in different districts and blocks. He has particularly canvassed support from powerful mathadipathis- the heads of religious or caste institutions. His newspapers have extensively covered these tours of Sankeshwar with photographs.  

After the announcement of the dates of the elections the party has naturally become more active and the support of the newspapers has become more visible. Vijay Karnataka (Bangalore city edition) has in the first ten days after the announcement of the election schedule (March 1-10) published 27 news reports on Kannada Nadu. These reports have carried in all 74 photographs of office bearers, 22 photographs of prospective candidates and 8 photographs of others who have supported the party. These reports are simultaneously carried on Vijay Times also. 

 The other editions of Vijay Karnataka in addition are carrying reports of the different regional units of the party and in this way the newspapers have become handy in highlighting the activities of the party at the grass-roots level. In addition to this direct publicity the newspapers are giving indirect publicity to the party in the form of articles by eminent people stressing the need for a regional party, political commentaries condemning select leaders who may be considered as the political foes of the Founder of the party etc. These newspapers are also publishing everyday colour advertisements appealing the people to vote for the party. 

Media and Political Power 

The role of Tamil cinema in the Dravidian Parties acquiring power in Tamilnadu, in the 1960s, is media history. In recent years the support of Eenadu was a crucial factor in the re-emergence of N.T. Rama Rao in 1994 and Sun TV played an active role in DMK’s victory against Jayalalithaa-Congress combine in 1996. Such incidents have demonstrated the power of the media in Indian politics. However one has also to remember that in Andhra both Eenadu and NTR took advantage of the popular sentiments created by the anti prohibition campaign launched by rural women and Sun TV has to remain as a mute spectator in 2001 when Jayalalithaa won a landslide victory. 

In Karnataka there are many who feel that there is a need for a regional party and there may be many who are disenchanted with the existing parties. Whether these feelings are strong enough to make the people support a regional party and role of mathadipathis (the heads of caste/religious institutions) in the current elections in Karnataka are questions that can be answered only by political analysts.  

Going by non-partisan (assuming such a thing exists) media reports about the politics in the state it appears that at present with the political polarisation at the national level and the presence of  the Janata Dal (Secular) led by the former Prime Minister Deve Gowda at the State level there is very little space for a new regional party in the State. But reading these two newspapers one gets the feeling that Kannada Nadu is quite optimistic about its success in the coming elections. It is possible that Sankeshwar’s immediate objective may not be to acquire political power in the state as a whole but only in certain specific areas or with certain sections of the population and thereby increase his political bargaining power. His newspapers could well become important weapons in achieving such goals.  

Contact: baguru@eth.net

(Chandrasekhar based in Bangalore has recently published a book on the Sociology of Mass Communication in Kannada)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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