January 11, 2020
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The Design Element

Brand Modi was painstakingly designed, concentrating hugely on creating a powerful visual personality.

The Design Element
Illustration by Vidur Conrad
The Design Element

Election 2014 will perhaps be most remembered for how Brand Modi was painstakingly designed, concentrating hugely on creating a powerful visual personality. Never before has a political party or leader lavished so much attention to detailing the visual content of a campaign. The stylish, if extravagant, backdrops created for the podiums from where Modi addressed a record 437 public meetings and 1,350 3D rallies were significantly different from any other political party in the fray or BJP’s own earlier campaigns. For a Hindutva party that had so far relied largely on clumsily morphed images of Lal Krishna Advani as Arjuna on a chariot or as Ram avatar (as he was fondly addressed in the Vajpayee household) for visual iconography, behind onstage Modi floated banners that the creative department of an advertising agency had designed to showcase a lavish and premium product.

Again, as a first, great attention was paid to the sartorial aspect of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Traditionally, Indian politicians, barring Nehru perhaps, have dressed austerely so as to appear as one among the poor in the electorate. No one embodied this better than Modi’s fellow Gujarati—Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He conducted all his political life in India in a mere loincloth, earning from Winston Churchill, the butcher of Bengal, the unflattering epithet of “half-naked fakir”.

In contrast, Modi’s wardrobe, whether he was appearing at public rallies or on televised interviews, comprised not just sharply-cut jackets and kurtas, with his image managers running riot with the palette of colours—green-mauves, fuchsia-beiges, ear­thy brown-cappuccino creams—combinations even most po-mosexual men would think before getting under. Yet the man carried the colours with the same aplomb as he did his campaign. Equal thought, it seems, went into choosing the fabric and cut of the garments he wore.

From the banners behind Modi on stage to what he wore, it was all redesigned to precise perfection.

Alongside Modi, though, something else went through a subtle image makeover, in keeping with the overall BJP-lite rebranding exercise. It was the BJP election symbol—the lotus. Saffron in colour ever since the BJP came into existence in 1980, mid-way through the campaign, it went white, its petals marked out by a thick black border. They began appearing as brooches, first on Modi, then on other party spokespersons, but caught the public eye when Narendra Modi very publicly took a selfie with a black-and-white lotus cutout after casting his vote.

By doing so, was the then prime ministerial candidate signalling a shift in the party’s colour affinity? Or was the move from saffron to white a mere design exercise? In pure visibility terms, a small object in a melange of other objects, the shapes and colours of which are not constant, white, any graphic designer will tell you, stands out the most. The rejig of the lotus colour scheme was meant to achieve exactly that. It is difficult to imagine that a political party would plan its campaign strategy in such detail.

There’s of course, more to white than this. The colour represents neutrality, at a time when saffron has come to represent aggression and majoritarianism, and which, along with green, has come to identify two communities even more indelibly in the wake of the viciously polarised election campaign. White lies between saffron and green, a half-way mark of compromise and coexistence.

Will it be overly hopeful to expect the new dispensation to govern us by the virtues of the colour white? Or was this a strictly rebranding exercise, which no doubt has given far greater returns than anyone had expected?

Bishwadeep Moitra is executive editor, Outlook; E-mail your columnist: bishmoitra [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com

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