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  • It's not just what you say, but how you say it

    Posted On August 2, 2020

    By Karan Thapar

    We all want to make an impact when we speak. Yet there’s a simple rule many forget which can undermine the impression we create. It’s not just what you say that will have an effect but also how you say it. I’m prepared to bet the latter is often more important.


    Two separate developments made me think of this last week. The first was Rahul Gandhi’s blog that hiding the truth from the Indian people is an anti-national thing to do. It’s a credible arguement and it’s politically clever because it hits at the Prime Minister’s greatest strength whilst scratching at a recent lapse.


    It’s now well recognised that when Mr. Modi said “neither has anyone intruded across our border nor is anyone intruding” that wasn’t the full truth. The Chinese are on Indian territory at multiple locations in Ladakh. Even where they’ve retreated there are doubts they’ve fully vacated Indian territory. Mr. Modi’s confused statement is interpreted as an attempt to hide the truth. By the same token it also diminishes his 56-inch strong man image and his promise to defend India’s national interests.


    It’s this twin target Rahul Gandhi wanted to hit. But read what he actually said and ask if it’s an impressive way of making his point? Doesn’t it reveal more of his own immature manner than the Prime Minister’s contradictions?


    “If you want me to lie that the Chinese have not entered this country, I’m not gonna lie. I simply will not do it. I don’t care if my whole career goes to hell. I’m not going to lie. So, frankly, I don’t care if its costs me politically. I don’t care if I have no political career at all after that. But I’m going to say the truth as far as Indian territory is concerned.”


    If Rahul Gandhi had carefully considered what he wanted to say and done so with greater gravitas he might have sounded more adult and less adolescent. He wanted to expose the Prime Minister but ended up exposing himself.


    The other example is very different. It’s a case of being torn between wanting to say something and not upsetting those who are its target. It’s what I call falling between two stools. Let me explain.


    It’s said Rathin Roy has resigned as Director of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy because of differences with the government. An article he wrote for the Business Standard after Nirmala Sitharaman’s July budget of 2019, revealing her revenue and expenditure figures were misleading, reportedly annoyed the Finance Ministry. Perhaps this is why he was dropped from the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council when it was reconstituted in September. It’s also whispered he’s been told not to speak to newspapers and television channels critical of the government. But when questioned about this in a recent interview Rathin Roy was caught between confirming the reports and not upsetting the government.


    Asked whether his article had annoyed the government he first said: “If your question is were some people unhappy the answer is unquestionably yes.” But when questioned who had told him off second thoughts got the better of him. “May be I don’t even know. I don’t know the precise quarter where that came from. What I heard I heard from hearsay.”


    He answered with similar ambivalence when asked if he’d been told not to speak to certain media outlets: “It was conveyed to me sometimes that the particular outfit I spoke to was not one which would gather me many affirmative laurels in government.”


    In both instances the intention was to say yes but the message conveyed was confusion. A few might have understood Rathin Roy’s dilemma but many probably felt he doesn’t know what he wants to say.


    So, now, do you get my point? When you speak in public you need to be sure of what you’re saying but also of how to say it. Otherwise your message might not get the response you hope for.

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