Sanjukta Pathak (Ahmedabad)


Is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi really the great achiever he is made out to be or is he a grand myth manufactured by an incredibly efficient public relation machinery? The jury is still out on the first one. There are many ways to interpret `achievement’ and given the extreme irrational excitement any discussion on Modi evokes, it is futile to expect a satisfactory answer. The second question is interesting though.


Modi is a smart politician. It cannot be an act of impulse that he would give the ‘Hang me if I am guilty’ interview to an Urdu daily with a predominant Muslim readership a few months before the assembly polls. It cannot be just happenstance that anything negative about the Modi or the state, barring the 2002 riots, would go missing from the news space. It also cannot be accidental that hordes of social media trolls would pounce upon every written word perceived to be against Modi’s interest. Obviously, a lot of calculation goes into making him larger than life.


Modi has been handling his public relation with extreme calculation. He is active on the cyberspace. He already has a fan following of 7.8 lakh on Twitter. He regularly writes a blog and his office maintains professionally-run website which provides minute by minute account of his schedule. Two public relations firms, Washington firm APCO Worldwide and Mutual PR, cater to the world media and Indian media respectively. Modi is image conscious to a fault. If media sources are to be believed, he has a team of professionals keeping a watch over his speeches, providing him feedback on his every move, including voice modulation and gestures. The team also works a firefight unit, ensuring nothing negative on him gets posted online. His detractors say the team tried to manipulate the Time magazine online poll to select 100 most influential people by sending hundreds of emails through various portals of Gujarat government to people and asking them to vote for him.


Modi was leading the positives votes when the opponents flooded the poll with negative votes. Why would a popular state leader be desperate to manufacture support online? The prime ministerial ambition kicks in here. He has to build an audience across the borders of Gujarat — a readymade base before he moves to the national centre stage — and the Internet provides the best opportunity for him to reach out. But is it limited to online only?


One rarely hears of dissent in Modi’s Gujarat. There are no farmers’ protests, tribal anger or the odd act of violence by disadvantaged groups, common happenings in other states. There is something artificial about the picture that comes through in the mainstream media. Gujarat under Modi appears too perfect to be convincing. Obviously, the chief minister’s team believes that nothing works like hype. It’s job is cut out. It has to project Modi as an achiever, an accessible leader, one who has acquired a colossal status with his single-minded pursuit of development. Vikas Purush is the epithet they are going with for him for quite sometime now. Earlier, the catch phrase was Gujarati asmita. Surely, the agencies working at Modi’s image makeover are working hard. And they are going at it unabashedly. One of the latest examples is the portrayal of Modi as Lord Krishna in a vernacular news daily in Rajkot in April this year. A part of BJP’s promotional drive for a Kishan Yatra, the ad had Modi mouthing sermons like the Lord from The Gita. The state also witnessed massive hoardings of Modi with not so subtle comparison to the other Narendra – Swami Vivekananda. Now, he wants to emulate US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the run-up to the assembly polls. He will reach everyone’s home across the country via Google+ Hangout, a popular live chat platform, which will be broadcast by You tube channel in the month of August. Modi will be the first Indian politician to use the platform.


Like everything about the chief minister, it has generated enough buzz in the media and elsewhere. With all this knowledge, it is difficult to gauge how much is real about Narendra Modi and how much is hype. Whatever the case, there’s no denying the fact that he is smart. He is miles ahead of competition when it comes to using the media.

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