Thursday, August 15, 2013

Modi’s speech: Strong on rhetoric….very poor on content

Modi is a good orator. That was on full display yesterday. But the problem with his speech was the problem that every good orator faces. The content tends to be poor, maybe because the content is typically given a go-by. That’s then the most accurate description of Modi’s speech: entertaining (to his fans), but zero in content. The PM’s speech in contrast was statesmanlike, non-partisan, and well chosen for the moment. As an Indian, I felt proud that the country was making progress, even as it was struggling on several fronts.

Modi’s problem is something that is well known to the corporate world. It is said that a “decked up” presentation, with lots of visuals and graphs and smart lines and all, has very little real “juice” in it. Shoddily packaged presentations on the other hand have better content. Here’s something similar from the world of advertising. Big brands like Pepsi have realized that when they hire a big star – Shahrukh or Sachin for example – the “creative quotient” of the ad drops. While the ad creates good PR, it hardly does anything for the brand in real terms. Want one more example? Take movies. Typically (with the exception of Aamir’s films), the bigger the star, the poorer the script! The best films, from a content perspective, are those which have smaller stars!

The exact same thing happened yesterday. Modi delivered a speech which was high on rhetoric, low on content. Shorn of that rhetoric, the speech was low brow, and in terms of decency (something that clearly doesn’t matter much to Modi) very guttural. The TOI reports that Modi referred to the PM 49 times in 50 minutes. A man who is so busy trying to be PM should instead have spoken 49 minutes about his vision for the country. The people already know what the PM’s vision is. They’ve seen him for 9 years.

That brings me to the general point of the kind of language BJP leaders and supporters speak. With 100% guarantee, I can say that this post will be panned, and I will be personally attacked. I will be called a Congress stooge, a paid blogger, a moron…..some will even use the most crass of Hindi abuses against me. In the world of a “Sanghi”, there can be no opposing view to theirs. In a style that reminds us of Bush’s famous “You are either with us. Or against us”, anyone who opposes Modi and the BJP are portrayed as anti-national, “soft” (in military terms), muslim-appeasers, and god knows what. So its hardly surprising that Modi’s language was also harsh.

He spoke about being tough with Pakistan and China. But that made me wonder why he doesn’t first encourage more Gujaratis to join the Army? There is a joke that the slimmest book ever written is the one containing the names of Gujaratis in the Army. Modi’s admiration for China is well known. He likes the authoritarian style of its leadership and the single-party rule there. But does he also know that China is no pushover militarily and that India needs to be “smart” rather than the street bully who flashes his karate moves to threaten his opponent but is instead shot in the head with a gun (remember Harrison Ford in Raiders….?!)? His statements on the “which rocket” in the context of the PM’s honest “a lot needs to be done”, and “mama-bhatija” and “saas-bahu-damaad” were particularly distasteful. Modi probably doesn’t realize this. Indians love underdogs. With so much anger against Indira Gandhi for imposing the emergency, they still voted her back to power within 3 years when they found her opponents needlessly harassing her. With his style of aggressive and rude language, Modi is making MMS and Sonia the underdogs.

The usual lies were there too (remember #feku?!). The Food Security Bill promises a minimum of 25 Kgs rice at Rs 3. That’s the obligation upon the country. No where does the Act say that a state cannot enhance this offer. The jab about families getting 35 kgs now having to settle for less was a lie. Likewise the thing about states having to fend for themselves in a drought year was an obvious lie. Then the attempt to usurp Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, without telling his audience that both had a terrible opinion about the RSS – remember Gandhiji was shot by an RSS ideologue and Sardar Patel banned the organization. Sardar Patel was particularly caustic of Modi-like RSS folks: (the RSS) is a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.". "Hindu Raj...that mad idea". "All their (RSS) leaders' speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result of the atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi's assassination) became possible...RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji's death." (Source: Outlook, available at, story titled: Excerpts from Sardar Patel's letters to M.S. Golwalkar and S.P. Mookerjee.)

Then there were several half lies. Yes, unemployment in Gujarat is the lowest (5 per 1000 people) in the country, but Modi forgot to mention that it is also the highest in a BJP ruled state, Goa (91 per 1000). Then the reference to “game of corruption”, but Modi failed to explain why his state has not had a Lok Ayukta for nearly 10 years, and why the RTI office in Gujarat is so frugal with information.

What was really missing in Modi’s speech was his vision for the country. Modi said “We need freedom from the status quoist mindset. We need to have a new vision and a fresh enthusiasm”. But what is this vision of his? Based on his speech, one gets the impression that Modi will attack or take a hard-line on Pakistan and China, enhance the Food Security bill’s provisions (don’t be disappointed if you are one who complains against the Congress’s subsidy culture), and somehow (don’t ask how!) reduce corruption, improve governance and improve GDP growth. The only proof for all this is Gujarat. C’mon Modi….you could have done better.

The only time Modi was truthful was when he shared credit for Gujarat’s success with the six crore Gujaratis (thank god he remembered them finally!) and other CMs of the past (very grudgingly said!).

The real truth is that it was Modi’s speech that was un-inspiring, not the PM’s. It was an ordinary “attack the Congress” speech. It was all rhetoric, style, and flair. But there was no content. Now if just rhetoric and style won elections, Vajpayee should have won a second term in 2004, no????

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