When did Narendra Modi become a “poster boy?”

April 8, 2013

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

I’ve encountered some interesting descriptions in the press of India’s political leaders. My favorite is “supremo,” which I’ve heard comes from British English. “Honcho” and “strongman” are common too. The one that catches my attention, primarily because I disapprove of it, is “poster boy.”

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was today’s poster boy, according to the Times of India print edition (I also see the article here). I’ve seen many more examples in recent weeks and months. Perhaps that’s understandable. Wherever you live, you will read a lot more about Modi in the next year because many people say that he will be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s selection for prime minister. As the most likely chief rival to the Gandhi family dynasty and its scion Rahul, Modi has captured the nation’s attention in a way that few other politicians have.

Why call him a poster boy? The term comes from the United States, where people used it to describe children with diseases who appeared on posters or other literature meant to get people to donate time or money to efforts to fight the disease. Its meaning evolved to describe people who are emblematic of any number of causes or movements. I suppose that this describes Modi. He is the face of opposition to the Congress Party. He is the most recognizable BJP politician. He articulates economic policies and says things that appeal to enough of India’s voting population that it might just put him into power next year.

But… “poster boy?” When I was in college and my friends and I spent our time mocking everything that we could, “poster boy” or “poster girl” was a term that we threw around like an insult. “Oh, him? He’s the poster boy for Deadheads.” That sort of thing. It reeks of sarcasm in the land where the term was born. Maybe over here, it doesn’t. Maybe few people even know what it means. Regardless, wouldn’t you prefer a more conservative approach to news writing? We could call him the chief minister of Gujarat. We could call him possible prime minister candidate. But calling him the BJP’s “poster boy” when he’s a 62-year-old politician feels just the slightest bit on the wrong side of right.

I understand that news editors sometimes like to jazz up their copy to keep the kids reading and to sound cool and so on. That’s where you get the strongmen, the honchos and the poster boys. But think about how well you can apply that term to others. Imagine the Times of India writing about Mahatma Gandhi as “the poster boy of Indian independence and non-violent resistance.” Or, “Guru Dutt, the poster boy of self-pitying, suicidal alcoholic movie directors.” You could, given the chance, but why would you?

(Reuters photo: Modi speaks during the 29th annual session of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Ladies Organisation in New Delhi April 8, 2013. Photo: Adnan Abidi)


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Can I suggest you to read The Hindu or Mint or Business Standard instead of The Times of India?

Posted by TheCentrist | Report as abusive

hehehe really, poster boy is something insulting! I thought it was something good, implying rockstar sort of thing, someone whom you would follow, so cultural difference huh? or I say welcome to Indian Englishhhhhhhh

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

Frankly when I first saw your post I thought you will be objecting to the idea on why is Indian media making him a star, he is culpable for 2002 riots. Recently, I have been reading a lot on Indian history and frankly I am shocked by the Congress. I am not just talking of 1984, there have so many riots after Nehru? I want to know what has Congress party done to rebuild the relationship between Hindu and Muslims? There were riots as late as 2013 for example in Assam, what is the central govt doing? Congress is honestly “sickular”.
I saw the two speeches today, first to FICCI and then to network 18. Frankly, I am surprised at the fact that most news channels are just covering the first. The second speech is fantastic, he covered such crucial points:

– the need to move into manufacturing (SRCC)! How long are we going wait. We have to start fast before China goes too far and then starts harassing us and our manufacturing sector. I am sure our goods can compete with them in price. Bad spell for U.S, okay okay lets start producing for our markets at least. 300 million materialist middleclass is waiting for buying Indian goods, only if socialist Congress wakes up or gets out.

– decentralization, I agree with him it means more efficiency, the tussle between the states and centre has to end

– cutting the red tape through technology. I was thinking of increasing the working hours of bureaucrats and make them do more work and less talking, other than laying them off. But maybe technology is a better alternative and thankfully he is making people pay for them, and yes people are willing to pay for faster work, before this we were used to paying bribes for getting our files passed! We can pay for better technology.

– respect for public property.

– profit making public sectors ? “good” but I hope he privatizes them , not all politicians can handle business and moment we have a politician without any business acumen, PSU go into losses and become a liability on us and our taxes. Why is govt anyway running airlines, TV channel and other stuff, they have to administer than do business, leave business to business class and other entrepreneurs.

I know some Muslims may be apprehensive about him, but I think that unlike Congress he understands the importance of riot-free and peaceful atmosphere for industry and business. i think he will not harm them, I hope so. but congress is in no way secular and inheritors of MK Gandhi. This is indeed a different Congress.

Posted by Woman21 | Report as abusive

Ah well. You are being too finicky there.

Here. I wrote about Rajiv Gandhi. Err … I mean Rahul Gandhi … which inevitably led to Narendra Modi too.

http://explainingindia.blogspot.in/2013/ 04/being-rahul-gandhi.html

Posted by Sachi_Mohanty | Report as abusive

There is no such thing as “too finicky” when you’re an editor. There’s good and bad.

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

I read those too. Thanks!

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

We have launched a petition to request President Obama to reconsider US Administration’s stand on Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat,India.
Please visit http://www.modi360.com to review and sign this petition.

Posted by Modi360.com | Report as abusive