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Be a marketing whiz with Professor Modi

Modi and his colleagues have repeatedly asserted that the BJP government has done more for India than any other government.

One thing we’ve all learned these past four years from Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the art of marketing ourselves. Yes everyone including the reticent former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah who launched his own personal brand in the months preceding the recent state election. But more on that later.

Modi is scheduled to celebrate the fourth anniversary of his government this Saturday by addressing Indians about “48 months vs 48 years.” According to news reports, the PM will list the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) achievements during these past 48 months and contrast them against the 48 years that the opposition Indian National Congress ruled the country, “directly or indirectly”.

Modi and his colleagues have repeatedly asserted that the BJP government has done more for India than any other government. “Some people are asking what did the Narendra Modi government do? I want to say, it did in three years what all governments did not do in 70 years,” BJP party president Amit Shah said in Hyderabad last year. Now that assertion has been crystallised in a catchy tagline—48 vs 48.

Of course, everyone knows it’s not possible for any government to be responsible for more development in four years than another has overseen in 48 or 70 years. But that doesn’t matter. Every marketeer and public speaker worth their catchphrase knows that these are most effective when they used repeatedly. Vande! Vande! Vande!

Modi has always been clear about who comprises his target audience. In 2014, he understood exactly what dissatisfied, upwardly mobile Indians wanted; he plugged into the anger against a corrupt government and was embraced by a people eager to believe in something, anything, even the oxymoron of “development politics”.

These Proud Indians, who now identify with and market themselves as nationalists and Angry Hanumans—after a flag created by digital artist Karan Acharya for Ganesh Chaturthi three years ago—are all sold on the idea that they, the majority, have thus far been the real persecuted Indians. Thanks to Modi, their time has come.

Modi’s USP is one that he never tires of reminding his follower base—he’s an ambitious politician with a rags-to-riches story who rose from outside the political establishment. As brand positioning goes, his is one that every Indian who works hard can aspire to emulate.

If previous governments, both BJP and Congress, have been identified with one or two famous marketing slogans, Modi markets a slogan a day, each one symbolising hope, new opportunity, and a changing India—all under his tutelage of course.

Who cares if these are only half-truths? All our political parties are guilty of that, Modi just fools us more effectively. It helps that he’s a dramatic speaker and uses the power of technology to transmit his words to millions.

To his fans, it doesn’t matter that hate is at an all-time high, there’s a newly empowered class of criminals called cow terrorists, and the BJP’s elected representatives and its close associates routinely get away with the most divisive statements because they know their leaders will never reprimand them. Just last week former BJP MP Tarun Vijay tweeted Ramzan greetings that you might easily mistake for a threat: “Ramadan greetings to only those who shun violence and wear Tiranga. Our world and your Ramadan must connect essentially with glory of our nation. Otherwise…”

For his followers, it’s okay if Modi uses contested data to “prove” that 3 million new jobs were created in the six months to February 2018. Or that people aren’t really using the millions of toilets being constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) for the purpose the government intended. Rural sanitation programmes existed before Modi and millions of toilets have been constructed every year since 2008. SBM is, in fact, an amendment of an earlier rural sanitation programme, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, started on April 1, 2012, IndiaSpend reported. Full marks to Modi though, for embracing these schemes, rebranding them as his own and taking ownership of their messaging.

It helps that, as Print editor Shekhar Gupta wrote last week, “Modi has perfected a new kind of messaging where he prescribes for you good things: Cleanliness, honesty, education, use of technology but places the onus on you to it for yourself and not set targets for himself you can judge him against.” No targets equal no failures.

One big effect of Modi’s marketing abilities is that, in recent years, several politicians have been inspired to build their personal brand. How this will play out for Indian voters remains to be seen, especially if they follow the Modi model of slogan first, the details will figure themselves out. But at least we can now tell one politician from another.

Siddaramaiah, Karnataka’s reticent chief minister for four years, set up his Twitter account last year and positioned himself as one of the Prime Minister’s biggest, most aggressive critics. As the #KarnatakaElection2018 action unfolded on Twitter, @Siddaramaiah emerged as the most mentioned candidate on the platform, the microblogging site said. From 25 April to the present, four of his five most popular tweets began with a Dear…. His most popular tweet, retweeted 9,599 times and liked 20,145 times was:


In Siddaramaiah’s case, though, the brand building was not enough to counter the mistakes he made on the ground.

Why just Siddaramaiah? In January, Odisha’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik released a full-page advertisement in English dailies across the country, with a big photo of himself against the Konark Temple, positioning himself as “India’s Adarsh Mukhyamantri” (ideal chief minister). “Odisha is proud of its transformative leader,” the advertisement stated. In March, Patnaik began talking to villagers directly through video conferencing.

Telangana’s K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) launched the state’s ambitious Rythu Bandhu (friend of the farmer) welfare scheme which provides lakhs of farmers cash to support their two crop cycles—with an advertising blitzkrieg starring himself.

My favourite brand transformation is the one that Congress president Rahul Gandhi has undergone. These days, Gandhi is the balm for an embattled India, struggling with the hate that’s emanating from its citizens. “My father taught me that hate is a prison for those who carry it. Today, on his death anniversary, I thank him for teaching me to love and respect all beings, the most valuable gifts a father can give a son,” he tweeted earlier this week.

Love is a word Gandhi uses often these days. “While the BJP spreads anger and hatred, the Congress spreads love and brotherhood,” Gandhi told his party. On another occasion, he told Congress workers: “Show them, love, even if they abuse you.” In Singapore addressing students, he said, “I am a person who has been taught to love even those people who dislike me. I feel no animosity towards anyone who opposes me. This is what makes me different from PM Modi.”

Now that’s a positioning that should make Indians feel optimistic.

Priya Ramani is a Bangalore-based reporter. She writes a weekly column for Mint Lounge.

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