How Narendra Modi Fashioned An I-Me-Myself Style Of Campaign
The capitulation and surrender by BJP veteran L.K. Advani can possibly be seen as the veteran reading the writing on the wall. At the release of the party’s manifesto in New Delhi last week, the 86-year-old said that he does not remember feeling such “joy” during the 16 elections he has seen in his lifetime. He then went on to endorse precisely what he had bitterly fought against over the past year: “I don’t remember ever such an advantageous reaction to the announcement of a PM candidate...the campaign that followed has been unprecedented.”
It has actually been the biggest blockbuster campaign of all times in Indian history. Modi Shining, Modi Smiling, Modi Descending, Modi Coming...Brand Modi has been energetically and carefully crafted, deliberately built around just one man, reducing others to footnotes. More than just being Him and His Will, there has also been the natural evolution of a process and strategy to bombard India with a presidential-style campaign in an age of media-driven personality politics. Besides the traditional BJP apparatus, now flush with funds (that are apparently more than that of the party that ruled India for the last decade), there are independent groups of the faithful not directly affiliated to the BJP/RSS but followers of Modi who have taken time off to work for the campaign.
Certainly a month before the electoral verdict, it does appear that Modi has made all, party and parivar, the instrument of his will.
Certainly, the possibility of Modi becoming prime minister challenges cosy privilege. But more fundamentally, he stands for a recasting of the idea of Indian nationhood. Were he to succeed, Modi would have followed a tradition of strong muscular right-wing world leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who have also stoked sectarian differences, and yet emerged stronger than the forces they beat down. They combine nationalism underpinned with a sectarianism, yet prevail as reformers and agents of change. Modi could be poised to do just that.
Like in Gujarat, therefore, Modi will function as a single window clearance. Sources say that Modi would also be inclined to take on the RBI to bring down interest rates, curb the role of the Planning Commission, give packages to states from where alliance partners have come or otherwise need to be wooed. “His target will be to change the sentiment of the economy and to create jobs,” says a veteran BJP leader. It’s all as ambitious as the campaign that is now being witnessed by the country.
One can, therefore, only conclude that not only has Modi run a presidential campaign, were he to get the numbers, he would even function more like a president than a prime minister who remains accountable to his cabinet. That is why it is no secret that the RSS and many BJP leaders are hoping for a modest win, just upwards of the BJP’s 1999 record of 182 seats that would leave Modi dependent on allies and his own ideological parivar and party colleagues. Yet, the possibility of him running away with the show cannot be ignored.
This strategy has paid off as the man once considered untouchable can now boast of having 28 smaller parties on board the NDA formation. The more significant players, such as the dmdk in Tamil Nadu, the ljp in Bihar and the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, came on board after it appeared that the Modi campaign was gaining momentum. Says right-wing columnist Swapan Dasgupta, “The trend for the past decade suggested that the age of mass rallies was over. Modi has reversed that trend.”
How was it all done? At the heart of the planning was Modi himself. Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, and national treasurer of the BJP and head of the party’s ‘information communication campaign committee’, Piyush Goyal, played the role of facilitators and enablers of a campaign that then moved through the process in the traditional BJP structure. Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, did suggest making the campaign more about the party than a personality, but there was no other voice of dissent.
He has also quite deliberately chosen to operate out of Gandhinagar and not set up camp in Delhi. Even so, he has retained the presidential-style approach to managing his own election. There is, for instance, an independent real-time poll tracker whose results are not shared with the entire BJP but only with those who are seen to be part of the trusted core. It has a good sample size, is done in the greatest confidence, and the results are handed over to Modi who is quite adept at going through and reading data.
The presidential style of campaigning, says a senior leader, “was intended to gloss over differences of caste and identity”. It is also meant to just ride roughshod over traditional arguments of secularism and communalism, socialism and capitalism. And to surmount the conventional wisdom that the BJP can never cross a certain threshold. Whether or not Modi can prevail over all the ambiguities and diversities of India with a single unitary message remains to be seen. But what has increasingly become clear is that his campaign has already succeeded beyond the expectations of some of its early promoters and planners.
The needs of the campaign in Uttar Pradesh, trusted to Modi’s key aide Amit Shah, will determine the rhetoric from now to May 16 when the results are declared. Some trends will become known to the political class after the first two dates of polling in the huge state. By April 10 evening, 10 seats of western UP will have voted; 11 more on April 17. This is the region that has one of the highest percentages of Muslim population in the state, between 25 to 35 per cent in seats like Rampur, Amroha, Bareilly, Aligarh. Riot-hit Muzaffarnagar, part of this belt, too goes to the polls on April 10.
Those with their ear to the troubled and polarised ground of Uttar Pradesh say that by the time the first two phases in the state are done, some clarity will emerge as to whether there will be a modest improvement of seats for the BJP or an almighty surge that will then impact the rest of the phases in the state up to May 12, when Modi’s own seat Varanasi goes to the polls. If Modi’s rhetoric becomes overtly communal, then one can perhaps surmise that his special election tracker polls are telling him that a certain “charge” needs to be given to the campaign along old faultlines. President Modi is ambitious and skilled enough to both fly high and to strike low.
The seeming hunger for Narendra Modi’s leadership style mirrors the rise of similar top-down, authoritarian figures in Asia and Europe
Apropos your cover story Modi Metrics (Apr 21), is Outlook along with its ‘liberated’ readers missing the woods for the trees? The key issue facing the electorate is how to vote in a government which has sufficient majority to rise above the need to appease the limited agendas of coalition partners and set the country on a clear path of growth for the next five years with a focus on job creation. Having adequate laws and checks and balances on paper is not our problem. The problem is the ease with which politicians have hijacked the growth agenda for personal wealth creation. Now that we have a PM candidate with the guts to put development as the primary agenda of the nation, Outlook is as paranoid as the rest of the establishment. What do we have against Modi? One has to be extremely naive not to acknowledge that a man coming from less than the humble background he comes from must have the ambition, commitment, passion and the will to succeed in spades.
Pradip Chanda, Gurgaon
All of you who are so wise, so intelligent and so prescient can surely divine that if a megalomaniac figure such as Modi does succeed in seizing power at the Centre, there will be no free elections, ever.
Uncle K., Pune
Modi is a bold and upright leader. Sadly, the prejudiced journalists, particularly in India, can’t digest a saffron patriot ruling the nation of diversity. We have had enough of a pseudo-secular alliance with false agendas. Modi, with his fierce and patriotic fire, will surely burn down India’s rampant corruption.
Salil Gewali, Shillong
Modi’s gimmicks have paid off? Don’t joke. Every Indian will be ashamed to have a goon like him occupy that chair on which once sat honourable men like Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
George Jacob, Kochi
Right now, there is hype surrounding Modi as he seems to march ahead, unstoppable, to Delhi. However, his strong leadership is also proving to be a double-edged sword for him. Besides his Hindutva leanings making the Muslims wary of him, his image of a no-nonsense, decisive leader is also giving a scare to other institutions and organisations functioning in democratic India. Modi appears dictatorial and unaccommodating. If the BJP wins a comfortable majority without depending on too many political parties for support, there are chances that Modi will rule with an iron hand, brooking no criticism from any quarter. Will this be the price countrymen have to pay for a strong, stable government at the Centre?
Vijai Pant, Hempur
Even the known Modi-baiters like N. Ram and Saba Naqvi have resigned to the fact that Modi is coming as the next prime minister of the country. It is ironical that they are not happy that Modi’s campaign is not about caste and identity but governance, development and growth. It is pathetic that you have The Economist endorsing Rahul Gandhi over Modi. It is the same publication that had the infamous cover of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency calling her the “Empress”.
Rajiv Chopra, Jammu
The Nehru family has been in power for most of the time since Independence and mostly owing to the carefully built cult around the clan. This can be countered only by another cult and hence the necessity of a presidential-style campaign built around Modi. Also, being a democratic party, pulling together everyone in the BJP is possible only through a top-down approach. The 2004 and 2009 campaigns failed because of the bottoms-up approach with laissez faire leadership.
Arun Kumar, Hyderabad
Modi’s self-promotion is not just presidential-style politics. It is the deliberately cultivation of a personality cult in the style of the late president Hugo Chavez or the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, using all the props of Madison Avenue’s advertising industry. But in fact, unprincipled exploitation of covert prejudices and overt disgruntlement is the main driving force of the Modi machine.
Notice how Swapan Dasgupta, who supports Modi, is dismissed as a right-wing journalist, while all those who rant against him are either “intellectuals” or “eminent people”.
Cdr Arun Visvanathan, Chennai
Saba, your article is biased. Many of your previous articles have been so too. I like the way you write, but as a journalist you must keep bias (and taunts) out of your articles.
Navdeep Singh Gill, Noida
Modi hasn’t made the party and parivar instruments of his will; it’s the other way round. When we talk of the presidential system, the context is the American system of governance, which is not possible in the model of parliamentary democracy we have adopted. There, the president is elected directly by the people, and the executive authority rests with him. The elected House has nothing to do in the selection of the president’s team and the survival of his government. Here, the executive authority rests with the prime minister who is elected by the members of the House and in turn has to choose his team out of its elected members. And the survival of such a government depends on its majority in the elected House.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
The rise of Modi is due to the inept leadership of the Congress, which had been basking in its victory in the last two elections. Sonia and family need to step down and allow the Congress to be led by an able and intelligent leader. Their job is at best to save Congress, but not lead. Once Modi is in power, he will harass Sonia and her family and finish off the Congress. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party is the only silver lining in this overall gloomy picture.
Nasar Ahmed, Karikkudi
Narendra Modi is set to become PM either by absolute majority or with the inside and outside support of regional parties, which will make a beeline to join and jump onto the BJP bandwagon, as none of them will risk another election in a few months. But India is not Gujarat and Modi will have to bear that in mind.
M.Y. Shariff, Chennai
“Modi is ambitious and skilled enough to both fly high and strike low,” you say. Shouldn’t it be “stoop low”?
V.N.K. Murti Pattambi, Naduvattam
This cover story amounts to “normalising the evil”. It’s stunning the way it assumes Modi is the prime minister.
Ajit Hegde, Bangalore
>> "We don't have two worlds, one for the mystics and one for the scientists." - Dobson.
When you talk of science, you talk of the scientific method. When you talk of mystics you talk of intuition. Finding parallels is a poetic fling. I have no problems with poetic flings. But let us not see more than there is.
>>>>>>>> They find either wisdom or beauty in Vedanta, but what science do they see in Vedanta? Please give specific quotes.
There is no shortage of quotes -
Neils Bohr - “I go into the Upanishads to ask questions.”
Heisenberg - “Quantum theory will not look ridiculous to people who have read Vedanta.”
Schrodinger - “The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. This is entirely consistent with the Vedanta concept of All in One.”
I would advise you, if you are sincere about it, to read John Dobson's Advaita, Vedanta and Modern Science. John Dobson is the inventer of the Dobsonian Telescope.
Dobson seems to be answering sceptics like you when he says, "We don't have two worlds, one for the mystics and one for the scientists. There's only one of it."
Adwaita, without a second. No physics, no metaphysics. No body, no soul. Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda. Get it?
>> Anwaar knows more about science than Nobel laureates lie Schrodinger, Winger, Feynman and others.
They find either wisdom or beauty in Vedanta, but what science do they see in Vedanta? Please give specific quotes.
>> Gujarat is the problem for these hypocrites!
What an idiotic comment form our resident hate merchant!
>> " The title itself is misleading. It is merely a rehash of old accusations against Modi and does not tell us about what it is to be a Muslim in Gujarat."
It describes life in today's Juhapura. The accusations against Modi will continue to be made today, ten years from now and fifty years from now. That is not a "rehash". They bear repetition.
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