We must all learn a thing or two from our beloved Prime Minister about the important aspects of brand-building — after all, he is almost always in a winner’s position. From being called authoritarian, communal to now being termed as a credible, sincere, efficient leader of the nation, Modi definitely has come a long way. Of course, it hasn’t been easy to keep up. And very recently his brand has been in question about his response to matters of the Chinese border attack and the COVID-19 pandemic. Has Modi’s brand taken a hit or is the popularity still rising without an evident obstacle in its path? Let’s look at a few current events and what the experts have to say.
The good PR leading to the rise
Just like every person wants to nail their first impression, Modi did too while trying to establish himself as the leader of a country rather than a state. His rebranding could be traced back to the time he was called “NaMo” which actually sounds like the short form of his name but in reality, is similar to a reverential Hindu salutation to the gods. With this, he hopped on to the correct political track and there’s been a rise since. Soon after, followed the Modi jacket, the 56-inch chest which all gradually became significant recognisers for brand Modi. His ‘Achhe Din’ slogan put him in a position where he inspired change, portrayed himself as the agent of disruption in the longstanding rule at the Centre by Congress. His connect to his followers, supporters, citizens, in general, was through rallies, events, meetings, television interviews, and more leaving no voter untouched in every nook and corner of the nation. The terms his brand lived by then was — inclusion, personal integrity, progress for a better tomorrow and good governance. All of this combined with the humble, down-to-earth chaiwala image definitely helped him maximize the voters’ confidence in him and the government he would bring in.
Even after all this, a successful political campaign needs to have a robust communication strategy so that the public connects to their leader. Modi is this paternal figure in all of his ‘Bhakts’ or supporters’ lives who has built a personal connection over time maintaining his popularity at the same time. Modi is all over social media and more so he could be called the first-ever Indian politician to usher in the social media as a political branding tool used in mainstream Indian politics. With a whopping 50 million and more followers on his Twitter, Modi is one of the most followed and most popular leaders across the world. Even his website is not quite behind in putting forth his brand image, it is updated regularly to connect with the youth of the country and showcase his vision, mission and execution strategies for the nation’s development. The PM has held virtual sessions, video conferences with students, beneficiaries of government schemes and special interest groups such as farmers and investors and then streamed those through his NaMo app. This not only makes his brand image stronger but he himself sends a clear message that as a leader is more approachable and accessible to the masses.
What does brand Modi not have? An app, NaMo TV, a web series, a biopic and the successful ‘chowkidar’ campaign all helped build a stronger brand image for the PM, boost his franchise even more in the past few years. What keeps him floating is also the right kind of campaigns and PR initiatives like the interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar during elections, which could be called icing on the cake.
Something’s not right
DK Singh, Editor, Politics at The Print writes, “Something seems amiss. His public persona has been built on five pillars — strong and decisive leader; ‘vikas purush’ or man of development; global statesman; a fakir who keeps his family away to work for others; and a ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (Emperor of Hindu Hearts). The first three pillars seemed to be under stress.” Commenting on the PM’s recent Man ki Baat, Singh adds while “paying tribute to the armed forces on the 21st Kargil Vijay Diwas, he attacked Pakistan but was silent on China. The Prime Minister skipped any reference to the Chinese intrusions. Quite uncharacteristic of a strong and decisive leader.” Adding more on the COVID response, Singh says, “Modi chose to highlight India’s low COVID mortality rate as compared to many nations but the confidence that oozed in his previous addresses — when he declared the nationwide lockdown and urged people to clang thalis (utensils) and lit candles — was missing.” Singh goes on to say that three pillars out of the five that Modi’s persona is based on, seems to have “developed cracks and damages.”
“The most astute Indian politician that Modi is today, he would certainly know that his mass popularity and electoral victories were not just about his image as a protector of Hindus’ interests. What made him the most popular politician was a blend of the five elements or built on five pillars, especially his aspirational politics. That’s where the BJP seems to be losing the plot,” adds Singh.
Experts have been saying that brand Modi is the only thing that differentiates the BJP from its opposition the Congress. Reiterating this, TN Ninan, Business Standard Chairman says, “Modi obviously can see that the positive change narrative around him is untenable. Everything happening in India is not going through a big positive change and resurgence.” Ninan states that the Prime Minister needs or should give himself a reality check even when he and his party or followers do not like being criticised.
This brings us to Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir and how the construction cannot wait until the pandemic flattens. “The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is at the very heart of BJP’s politics and the party’s national rise. The beginning of the Ram Mandir construction, therefore, is not the kind of opportunity Modi, or any BJP leader in his place for that matter, would allow to simply pass by without reaping the maximum political dividends out of it. Modi, in fact, has been keen to project himself as someone who is correcting all of India’s historical wrongs and bringing closure to long-pending issues,” writes Ruhi Tewari, Associate Editor for The Print.