Narendra Modi’s media blitz fraught with risk
(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.)
During Gujarat’s elections last year, incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi used 3D technology to appear at more than one political rally simultaneously. Now re-elected, the man has increased his omnipresence, if such a thing is possible, with help from the media.
On April 8, Modi addressed the women’s wing of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The same evening, he was at Network18’s summit outlining his vision for India. The next day, Modi addressed businessmen in Kolkata, West Bengal. Later in the day, he delivered a fiery speech to his party people. All of these appearances got plenty of TV coverage, website analysis and Twitter attention.
Overexposure can be harmful at times. The media bombardment during the BJP’s India Shining campaign in 2004 is one example. When the election results were out, it appeared people got tired of the campaign being in their face all the time.
“Modi is made for media at the moment; it’s an incestuous relationship where both are feeding off each other… but yes, there is a danger of the ‘novelty’ factor wearing off if he speaks virtually day in and day out,” said Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of the IBN18 Network.
Shaili Chopra, business editor for Tehelka magazine, made a similar point. “Agreed he is addressing different constituencies, but really, who has got the mind space to keep chasing him down.”
His repeated addresses and appearances outside Gujarat certainly make it seem like he is positioning himself for India’s top job. But what could the strategy be? How much more do people need to get to know him? Image guru Dilip Cherian has an interesting view. He thinks the constant media appearances are aimed at his party, and not at swing voters or undecided voters. “He cannot keep up this pace,” Cherian said, while explaining how Modi’s speeches are aimed at sending a message to internal party members, who haven’t decided who will be their prime minister candidate for 2014.
However, even if it is targeted at his party, the strategy has risks. Fissures in the BJP have re-appeared with a section of the party pitching veteran leader LK Advani as a possible candidate. Many think that Modi has grown larger than the party itself, and needs to be controlled.
The BJP calls the phenomenon merely a renewed interest in issues of development, governance and the role of government. “Modi doesn’t engage with people on the advice of image consultants,” said Smriti Irani, the newly appointed vice-president of BJP and a former TV soap queen. “In a democracy one needs to welcome the leadership which directly engages with people,” added the MP from Gujarat.
The media campaign is also supported by others. “As an image consultant I would say that any kind of publicity is good – negative or positive. He has surfaced from Gujarat as a national leader; any kind of publicity is working to his advantage,” believes Pria Warrick, a former Miss India America who runs a finishing school where corporate and budding politicians learn how to behave in the public eye.
Her only issue with Modi – addressing the FICCI businesswomen dressed in their Versaces and Louis Vuittons as ‘mata and behen’ and not being dressed to the occasion. That, of course, calls for a separate blog that may be tentatively titled: The would-be emperor’s new clothes.
(Follow Shashank on Twitter @shashankchouhan )