Saturday, July 6, 2013

The metro focused Narendra Modi

I have been tracking Narendra Modi’s movements for a few months now. And surprise surprise, he only travels to the urban centers – that too only the biggest of them – for his speeches and campaigning. Except for his Pathankot visit, none of his other “massive rallies” have been held in any of the smaller towns, forget rural areas.

Now I know the BJP’s core constituency is the urban middle class, and to some extent it is to be expected that Modi will go to these places. But isn’t Modi’s job going to be to get new electoral constituencies to vote for him and his party? To get the rural folks interested in his plans? Shouldn’t he be visiting the “tough” states or seats where his party can gain from his charisma? Or is it that these places are just too dirty and murky to travel to? Just see the details of his travel of the last five months and decide for yourself:

He started it all off on Feb 6th, when he spoke at the SRCC in New Delhi. Then on March 3rd again, he spoke at the BJP’s National Executive Meet in New Delhi. Then on April 29th, he held an election rally in Karnataka for the polls there, but again, his biggest stop was at Bangalore! There was perhaps one in Mangalore as well, but then would you call Mangalore a “rural area”? Of course I can understand Modi didn’t want to “tarnish” his image by campaigning in a state long lost for the BJP. June 9th is when he was formally appointed the campaign chief of the BJP in Goa, and he gave a speech in Panaji, the capital of that state. Then On June 15th, he gave a speech while attending the Planning Commission meeting in New Delhi. Then he made that one visit to Pathankot, which can be considered a smaller town, but not really a rural area. Then on June 29th, he was in Mumbai. And oh yes, one other rally in Mumbai on March 17th was scheduled but canceled due to the internal bickerings within the party – between Gadkari and Munde as per media reports.

Finally today, Modi went to Bihar. But wait, he didn’t really go to Bihar. The “tech-savvy” CM of Gujarat and presumptious PM candidate of the BJP went to Bihar over Video Conferencing! What’s with this man really? Why couldn’t he just have hopped onto a chopper or plane and gone there physically? Is he the leader of only the urban folks????

There are several possible reasons for the above data pattern. First, Modi’s appeal is limited to the urban middle class. The kind of politics that Modi practices – attacking the Congress on “governance”, talking of esoteric, feku, “development” – these are more the staple of urban-area politics. His own appreciation of the politics of the rural areas – humble things like food security, a job-guarantee, mid-day meals, women’s healthcare… short, the “entitlement politics of the Congress” – is simply too poor for him to be able to make an impact there. That is why the HDI figures of his developed state are so poor. The CM simply has no interest in those sections of the population. So what could he speak there on?

But it’s not as if Modi doesn’t want to get the votes of the rural folks. He tugs at the other thing that typically appeals to them – religion. And in ample doses. His strategy has just started to be unveiled. His right hand man, Amit Shah, did his bidding yesterday by “praying” that the Ram Temple be built as soon as the BJP came to power. This is nice. Modi himself stayed out of this commitment, as part of his outreach to the Muslims. And yet he communicated his resolve to stick to the core issues to his fan base. And he put the onus on Lord Ram himself! Modi’s man prayed… its for God to deliver!

Here’s another thing about Modi. Even where he has gone, he has refused to engage with the real “people” – the aam aadmi – directly. In Mumbai, he spoke to the business community, attached to CII, a bunch mesmerized by his big land-concessions, high-profile-though-flop-Vibrant-Gujarat-shams and friendly-to-big-business policies. In Delhi, he has spoken to students of SRCC, kids who are in a rush and find an appeal in “dictatorial” politics, immature as they are and unaware of the consequences of such politics. And to his own party workers as he did in Bihar yesterday. Somehow – and to be fair, he may change this going forward – he has stayed away from the “messy” parts of the population, the ugly parts of the country. It’s like he has descended on backward India from developed Singapore (with which he compares Gujarat), and its taking time to adjust!

This urban focus is not limited only to his travel. Look at the other elements of his political style. He tweets (or rather, his agency tweets), but his twitter following is just about 2 million, half of which are fake, and half of the remaining probably live outside the country and are thus, unlikely to vote. The applause he gets for his net-savviness is way out of proportion with the reach of this medium (the BJP itself got in excess of 100 million votes in 2009). Then he addresses party workers via VC, thus starting off excited chatter amongst his young, urban followers about his tech-savviness. He wears designer kurtas, making his appeal amongst the urban folks even stronger. See the pattern?

In contrast, most other politicians, and of course Rahul Gandhi in particular, spend most of their time in the rural areas, talking to “real people” in their “real language” and about “real issues”. They get far less media coverage. They talk of far more mundane issues, as a result of which they are not projected as “the new messiah” or some such bogus thing. They don’t engage expensive PR outfits (oh….forget their denials). But they get far more relevant coverage. If Modi is elitist, they are “earthy”, if he is tech-savvy, they are people-savvy. And if he is PR driven, they are word-of-mouth driven. We’ll soon know who is the smarter of all of them.

The real truth is that Modi’s sticking-to-the-cities style is curious. It could be a strategy. It could be a weakness. Who knows. Like all posts that criticize Modi, this one will also be rubbished by internet trolls, as urban (foreign?) based fans will attack. In other words, the reaction will be in line with the usual style. Will this work? It may in Singapore, but in India????

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