Elections 2014 and Modi
It was September 1964. The American TV stations had beamed a commercial paid by the Democratic Party, ‘The Little Girl and the Daisy’. This was a very simple advertisement. A little girl picks a daisy, tears the petals and counts one, two, three… When she reached ten the frame freezes and one hears the reverse countdown of a missile launch ten, nine, eight.. The blast is heard duly when it reaches zero and one hears the Democrat President Lyndon Johnson’s voice, ‘This then is the future, whether to love each other or to go into the dark.’ So powerful was the message that the TV spot was not repeated by Johnson campaign.
Fast forward to Patna on 17 October 2013. There was a massive BJP rally at the Gandhi Maidan where BJP’s Narendra Modi was to deliver his war cry against the party’s former ally Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister. Before the scheduled speeches bombs started going off in the venue. Unperturbed the BJP leadership along with Modi went ahead with the rally. Nobody mentioned the bombs. The only reference was by Modi, ‘Poor Hindus and poor Muslims must fight their common enemy, poverty, not each other.’ The incident handed over the Modi-campaign its ‘the little girl and the daisy’ moment. Like the Johnson-spot, the real life incident was not repeated – in fact could not be repeated, nor did the Modi-campaign used the footage. But the various TV channels in the country, most of which are Modi-baiters, had shown it time and again as a reminder of sorts, winning friends, supporters and sympathizers for the Modi for PM campaign.
No political campaign has ever flourished without a leader. A political communicator will like to have a person who can be presented with praises, as somebody whom others will like to follow. Narendra Modi, judged by the media reports since 2002, is perhaps the worst possible candidate in India. From the huge volumes of reports on Modi the basic personalities of Narendra Modi can be summarized as: Dictatorial, Ruthless, Unforgiving, Scheming, Non-transparent, Introverted and most important of all Divisive and Communal. Most important of all is that Narendra Modi at best has been a regional politician, heading the western state of Gujarat. To devise a campaign for such a person and help him emerge as the most important face of Indian politics in the 2013-14 election season is as difficult as selling an Eskimo’s Igloo to a Sahara Bedouin.
Apart from the oft-repeated aberrations of the leadership of Narendra Modi, the publicist in a Modi-campaign faced the problem of a hostile media. The extent of hostility is so deep rooted that even when the signals indicate that the Eskimo and the Bedouin are negotiating over the purchase of Igloo, media refuse to accept the same. Thus they highlight the discomfiture of those like Mr. Advani, Jaswant Singh and Uddhav Thackeray et al who all have been past masters to sell sand to Bedouins and ice to Eskimos. That the world has moved in this age of communication, that the aspirations of Indian voters have changed are not what the Modi critics cared to see. Their myopia provided Narendra Modi a new road to tread on – the road for development, a road he successfully built during his dozen years in Gujarat.
The next major problem for Narendra Modi was the reluctance of the media to show anything positive of him. TV, the critical most medium for reaching the target, had been overtly hostile to Narendra Modi. The celebrated anchors of the Indian TV channels could even accept Lal Krishna Advani, the leader who campaigned on a clear communal platform in 1990s, but never felt comfortable to Modi. In the age of print media, a leader was distant whom people could adulate from a distance based on the favourable reports. Take India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for example. Then came TV and his daughter and grandson could exploit the medium with their good looks. They also could use the official media to their advantage. In later days, even the private TV channels fell for the ruling leaders with anchors and editors seeking state patronage. Modi-campaign started on a wrong note thanks to the strong dislike of the ‘objective’ media.
Narendra Modi, thus, was left with the grand choice of ‘stump oratory’ – talking to the people in different rallies. In the age of electronic media, it is ridiculous to think that stump oratory can replace TV channels. Recall in 1952 and 1956 the fate of challenger to President Eisenhower, an excellent orator Adlai Stevenson who doggedly pursued stump oratory as his campaign medium. And then came John F Kennedy who observed TV antenna is remote places of West Virginia and realized the power of the medium. Modi-campaign had no access to the Indian TV channels. It was destined to fail in 2014, as was Stevenson’s in 1950s.
But communication meanwhile has moved beyond TV to You Tube – from telecasting to web casting. All the ‘Modi4PM’ campaign needed was to make people watch the same. The two factors helped Mr. Modi. First his excellent oratorical skill. Coupled with careful research his speeches turned entertaining not merely informational. Second was the clever use of social media. Through word of mouth, twitter and Facebook, Narendra Modi nearly made the TV channels irrelevant in the political debate. This forced all the channels, even the most hostile one from New Delhi, to telecast Modi’s rallies.
Election 2014 is now between the once-pariah Narendra Modi and the rest. Daily Modi-bashing is the staple political campaign diet for all, including media’s darling spit and run campaigner Arvind Kejriwal. To the dismay of the scores of Modi-baiters, especially among the left leaning liberals and analysts who love to hate anything connected to India, the Bedouin has bought the igloo. The deal is expected to be confirmed officially on the 16 May.
The author is a communication consultant