Development, Pride and the ‘Modi’fication of India Through Public Relations
The internet has become the virtual battleground for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Any web page of utility is flooded with campaigns and slogans of major political parties. The leading figure in the battle however is the BJP Prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. Using the media (print & virtual) efficiently, BJP has put forward the agenda that Narendra Modi is the only person capable of leading this country and lifting its ‘pride’. Rallying on the word ‘pride’ is not new to Modi. Remember the elections immediately after the Gujarat Pogrom in 2002? Modi used the same tactics to win the game. Any criticism on the Gujarat leader was effectively manipulated as a blow to the ‘Gujarati pride’ during the election campaigns. The argument was that Congress and other secular parties were trying to tarnish the ‘Gujarati pride’ and therefore the election results would be an answer to the question of ‘Gujarati asmita’(pride)1.
There begins the story of Narendra Modi: from a Chief Minister who was widely criticised for being a silent spectator and abettor to the Gujarat riots (2002) to being publicised as the most eligible candidate to lead the nation in 2014 elections. The story explains a decade’s hard work aimed at acquiring the most powerful seat in the nation. Today it is not just Gujarati Pride, but India’s pride/Hindu pride that this leader is going to bear on his shoulders, and the model to be followed is the Gujarat development model. The task lying ahead is to replicate the Gujarat model of development on a nationwide scale. Now what is this ‘Gujarat development model’ and how different is this model from the current model of development followed by UPA government, that it deserves such hype?
One of the main aspects of the ‘Gujarat development model’ is the transformation of the urban landscapes in Gujarat to purportedly match world class cities. In the process, private investments are attracted to the state without compromising the Hindu cultural superiority. In short it is a peculiar blend of Hindutva and free market economy. Let’s just examine one such project in Ahmadabad: The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project and what it has to reveal.
The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project:
The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project (SRDP) is the first largest urban renewal project in the city of Ahmadabad. The project was carried out by the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited and Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation. The project was designed for reclaiming the riverfront for ‘public utility’ by transforming it into a leisure space and to improve the transportation, environment, and housing. Prior to this project the areas assigned for the project was a living space for about 40,000 families who were once displaced due to two important historical reasons: the closure of the textile mills in 1980s and 2002 Gujarat Pogrom. Officially the project has evicted nearly 14,000 families directly or indirectly. Due to the negligence of authorities in rehabilitating the displaced inhabitants, Sabarmati Citizen’s Rights forum was formed and a PIL was filed in the Gujarat High court. As a result an interim rehabilitation scheme was carried out. As Navdeep Mathur, a public policy specialist at IIM Ahmedabad, says these families were later shifted to a marshland at the periphery of the city which lay under electricity transmission towers and adjacent to a municipal solid waste dump site. Apparently the families were forced to live with little and infrequent access to basic facilities like drinking water and sanitation2.
Officially the project has evicted nearly 14,000 families directly or indirectly. Due to the negligence of authorities in rehabilitating the displaced inhabitants, Sabarmati Citizen’s Rights forum was formed and a PIL was filed in the Gujarat High court. As a result an interim rehabilitation scheme was carried out. As Navdeep Mathur, a public policy specialist at IIM Ahmedabad, says these families were later shifted to a marshland at the periphery of the city which lay under electricity transmission towers and adjacent to a municipal solid waste dump site.
In 2010, Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation had made some amendments to the ‘Regulations for the Rehabilitation and Redevelopment of Slums’. The eligibility criteria for a Projected Affected Person (PAP) were exclusionary enough to keep out a large number of slum dwellers from availing the compensation. Therefore most of the evicted people were not provided even this marshland and are forced to be permanently homeless in the city3. A Focus Group Discussion with the Homeless in Ahmadabad city conducted by the Technical Resource Group of the National Urban Health Mission have found that the homeless had to pay an amount of Rs. 20 for a bath and Rs.5 per use of the toilet in Ahmedabad city4. This should not be a surprise as we are talking about a government under whose rule all the human development indicators have gone down except the economic growth rate. One could ask me why I am so keen to talk about these aspects in Gujarat when there are rampant evictions and related issues in other cities also. To that I'd respond, if both development models are not different in its form and content then why is there hype for Modi and his Gujarat Model? Why are some people so impressed with Modi’s neoliberal policies and not the neoliberal policies of Congress government? One of the obvious reasons is the rampant corruption by the UPA government. But more than that, it appears there is something else that drives the political campaign for the ‘Gujarat model of development’.
MODI-fication of India:
At the heart of this political campaign is the capital intensive and professionally innovative campaigning technique which has its roots in the United States. This type of election communications is often characterised by a disregard for conventional election campaigns, and “a fixation on the candidate’s image...target group marketing, news management, spin control, permanent campaigning and negative advertising”. The most popular imported form of this model of campaigning is called as “shopping model” because they can be modified and implemented to be context specific. The shopping model’s primary focus is on the “down to earth techniques that can easily be implemented in the national context while maintaining country-culture specific campaign styles and philosophies”5. One of the important aspects of this innovative campaigning technique is the use of emerging technologies. In India the BJP has exploited this technique very well. In 2004 general elections it was the ‘private television networks’ and ‘India shining campaign’ under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee and in 2014 it is the ‘internet’ and the ‘Modi for PM’ campaign. The 2004 TV campaign was said to have cost Rs. 650,000,000”6
However, in the Assembly elections (2002) immediately after the Gujarat Pogrom, the scene was a bit different. As the national media played a major role in displaying the atrocities against Muslims, the Gujarat government and the BJP were very critical of the national media for displaying the identities of the victims during Gujarat riots (the administration praised the channels when they displayed the identities of Ramsevaks and repeatedly displayed it during the Godhra incident). In the process Modi drew a distinction between the national media and Gujarati media. The National media’s criticism of the Gujarat government’s silence during the Massacre were translated as “an attack on ‘fifty million Gujaratis’ and an insult to Gujarati ‘asmita’(pride)” in every election speech made by Narendra Modi. According to Nalin Mehta, a writer and media critic, “In fact manipulating the media and using it as a ‘force multiplier’ was a crucial element of his (Narendra Modi) drive to paint himself as the Hindu Hridayasamra (King of Hindu Hearts)...His strategy was simple: just remain in the news by constantly issuing controversial statements. It worked a treat”7. Thus in the 2002 Gujarat elections, Modi remained in the television longer than any other candidate as a controversial figure, and by smartly changing the game as a battle between the pride of Gujarati people and national media he swept the polls.
Prior to the next elections, in 2007 Modi hired a professional consultancy agency named APCO worldwide to promote his ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summits that occurred every two years. The summit on the one hand served the exhibition of Gujarat as an investment destination for global capital and on the other helped to reassert his image as a true leader with a nationalistic fervour promoting development programmes. Since then the agency has become the spokesperson of Narendra Modi8.
The shopping model of election campaigning is best exhibited in the 2014 elections. During the period 2007 to 2013 APCO have set the ground for Modi’s Candidacy by professionally working on various aspects like his image, designing and reaching out to the target group(youth), managing the news about Gujarat model of development and Modi’s efficiency as an administrator by permanently putting him in the media for controversial things. BJP have then bought this professional propaganda into their election campaign at the cost of other senior leaders.
For 2014 Lok sabha elections Modi’s engine of campaign is not just television, but the internet and social media. Today Modi maintains his controversial stature (unlike the one during 2002 elections) by consciously tailoring the Gujarat Development Model with both original and bogus messages and images. Two results of this conscious effort are that he remains in the limelight without failure and the other a definite binary can be drawn between the “best efforts of Modi” and the “eagerness of the media to tarnish him”. The second one however can easily be translated into questioning “India’s/Hindu pride”. No wonder a fellow passenger once told me in casual conversation “I know there is some hype in the Gujarat development model, but you know I am ready to forget it as he is the only person who can lead this country and make it proud. Who else can clearly show a model that can be followed?” Her ignorance of other development models cannot be attributed to her lack of interest in politics, rather it is the result of penetration of mind by continuous advertising.
At the end, I just want to share this thought. Impregnated by the continuous advertising, if Modi alone is your driving force to vote in 2014, a reflection of the past would be good. Remember always that that there is a force called RSS, behind this gigantic image of Narendra Modi, who will be the deliverers of communal identity politics and exclusionary measures. By just remaining a silent spectator to the blood stains and submitting to the Hindu psyche and global capital through his public relations and media management tentacles, Narendra Modi can still get away with a clean chit. India can remain a fool’s paradise!