The media is impressed with the turnout at Modi’s rallies and believes that this represents actual support for him and his party. Modi’s PR set-up has again managed to con the media. Because the numbers claimed are hugely exaggerated, the people present in the crowds are often non-voluntary, and the BJP’s interpretation of the high numbers is mostly self-serving and untrue.
At the Patna rally for example, the BJP yet again exaggerated the numbers. It claimed that there were 11 lac attendees. Now a quick search of the internet shows that the capacity of Gandhi Maidan is no more than 2 lacs and even including “spill overs” outside the ground, the crowds cannot be more than a little over that number. So how exactly did the BJP get this number in its head? It’s a bogus number as all of the party’s numbers are!
Another search of the internet will show that when crowds of a million people do assemble, the gathering creates mind-numbing visuals. The crowds go on for kilometers on end and spread out radially in all possible directions (See today’s ET – page 3 – “Did Nehru attend Sardar Patel’s funeral” – it mentions that a million people crowded 6 miles of Bombay’s roads!). It’s impossible for everyone to assemble in a single “ground” – even if it as big as the massive Tiananmen square in Beijing (where a million students had assembled). Gandhi Maidan is no Tiananmem square!
I think the BJP is under some pressure with respect to Modi’s rallies. Somehow, the BJP feels that Modi has to set a record. It’s not enough for him to get the crowds, the crowds must be the biggest ever. Again, the truth is unimportant. The PR is. The crowds must generate a “buzz”. Well, going by media’s reactions, it sure looks like Modi has succeeded. But Modi’s scant belief in truth being well known, one soon starts to wonder just how true these numbers really are!
Then the BJP does another thing. It actually ferries crowds from “neighboring” areas, which in many cases include those outside of the state. Since there are no elections in many of these states (for eg, in UP, adjoining Jhansi where Modi’s next rally is to be held soon), I don’t know how these crowds will vote!
In any case, these crowds are not voluntary crowds. They have been given a free ride into the nearest town (remember, Modi only addresses crowds in the big towns!). It’s a picnic…..why should they object? Everyone has a party when on the trip, with meals and entertainment taken care of by the organizers! They can always go back and vote for their favorite local leader, or the one who pays them for the booze, anyways!
TOI reports on 10th October (http://tinyurl.com/mwromhk) that the BJP hired 10 trains to ferry people for Modi’s Patna rally. Now assuming the trains are crammed (as they always are in India!), and they have 18 bogies each as the article mentions, then each train could accommodate as many as 2000-2500 people. That’s 20-25000 people coming to Patna just by trains! Add to that 5000 buses reportedly deployed (and there could be many many more), those would ferry another 25-30000 people. So as many as 45-55000 people were ferried from across Bihar (and UP and Jharkhand which don’t even go for polls!) for Modi’s rally at Patna – all free of cost, with no proven proclivity to vote for Modi. For the BJP, it’s the numbers that matter, no matter where they come from, who they vote for and whether they are paid or voluntary!
The article also mentions that Laloo Yadav used to do similar things in the past; the article mentions that he hired as many as 35 trains in 2007 for a rally in Patna. Now I am sure he must have got the crowds, but two things stand out. First, everyone had panned Laloo’s fake crowds then; suddenly they are following in his footsteps! And second, did these crowds vote for Laloo? Not in the 2010 state elections! Not even in the 2009 Parliamentary elections! So much for the crowds assembled via trains and buses!
There is also a competition in the BJP to ensure ever bigger crowds. Apparently for its forthcoming Jhansi rally, the target is go past the “lac-plus” (what is the real number?!) crowd at Kanpur! So the party unit has again ordered a train (http://tinyurl.com/l4trd6x) and several hundred buses! Hope the EC is keeping a tab on expenses!
So how should one interpret these claimed “high” numbers? Does it mean that Modi and the BJP really have a big following? Well, lets take a hypothetical example. Suppose Hitler could be resurrected and he could perform in Mumbai. How many people would turn up to listen to him?! Or if Saddam, Assad or Gaddafi were to deliver speeches in Delhi?! Everyone and his uncle and aunt would turn up because they would all want to see the tyrants who ruled the world for so long. This curiosity wouldn’t be indicative of support at all, as all the above named realized pretty soon! I am not saying Modi is any such person, but his “track record” in Gujarat (I don’t know if it is about development or his Hindu nationalism) does arouse curiosity which draws people to the rallies.
In contrast, Rahul Gandhi is an upright man who speaks from his heart, narrating personal stories from his life; the type that connect with the people. He’s been around a long time, and they already know him well enough. He’s a good orator (maybe not a superlative one like Modi), and one who speaks the truth (again, not like Modi!). Somehow he never learnt lie, though it remains to be seen if lying can win elections. His subjects are more mundane and local – a massive drug problem in Punjab, a huge disenchantment amongst the population of Muzaffarnagar – not pompous statements of future nothings. He gets smaller numbers – 50000 to 1 lac still – but these are genuine numbers, not including those goaded into free buses and trains. His speeches are to the point, laden with facts, and relevant to the people present – not meaningless rhetoric aimed at TV audiences. Besides, Rahul speaks in smaller places; places where TV crews would shudder to go, places where a Modi wouldn’t even know what to speak.
The real truth is that the BJP could be in for a massive surprise if it starts to believe that these concocted crowds are for real! But the BJP is in that mood right now. It has fallen into its own PR trap! It’s position is a little like Anna’s was at his peak. He saw the crowds and thought nothing but the Jan Lokpal would do. Well, very soon, he lost the plot…..Is Modi going down the same path? Only time will tell!