Indian Decade

Big Names in India: Unknowns Globally

Anna Hazare, Narendra Modi, and Arvind Kejriwal may be well known inside India. Not so in South Korea.

Social activist Anna Hazare, 74, may be a big name in India. Anna’s former deputy, the activist turned-politician, Arvind Kejriwal, may have also increased his stature in India in recent months. Gujarat chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rising star, Narendra Modi, may be nursing prime ministerial ambitions.

But here is a reality check for all three: on the global stage, they remain relatively unknown. Not even quality Korean journalists from South Korea’s most prominent outlets have heard of the three men. Instead the Koreans pique up at the mention of the Gandhis – Sonia and her son Rahul. Needless to say, the former Prime Ministers from the Gandhi family– like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi– are very well known in Korea.

This was made clear to me today when I, as part of a six-member Indian journalists’ delegation, interacted with the movers and shakers of the Korean media in Seoul. The visit of the Indian journalists delegation, which is in Korea as part of the India-Korea Media Exchange Program, was organized by the Korea Press Foundation (KPF). In many ways, the KPF serves as a bridge between corporate entities and the South Korean government.

KPF Executive Director Hyun-Ho Kim had a freewheeling session with the visiting Indian journalists. When asked whether he had heard of Hazare, Kejriwal or Modi, he and his senior colleagues appeared totally blank. Kim’s response revealed it all: “Are they actors?”

South Korea’s traditional media is currently under unprecedented strain due to the greater competition it faces from new media. As circulation has declined so too have profits. Kim asked whether the same thing was happening in India. To this I replied that unlike Korea and the West, only ten percent of Indians current enjoy internet access. Samir Jain, Vice-Chairman of India’s biggest media house, Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), has gone on record as saying in a recent interview with The New Yorker that he does not envision Indian print media facing a threat from the new media like Kindle or Ipad editions of newspapers for another 15 years, at least.