Branding isn’t just what we can deliberately and consciously put on display; it is rather how others see what we are. So if India wants to be a source of attraction to others, its internal narrative must live up to its global branding. We can’t hope to project India in terms of democracy, pluralism and Mahatma Gandhi if we want to make India a leader. What the Haryana Minister could not state is Gandhi has become brand genericide for India. Enter Modi with a new patent.
Modi’s alliteration and acronyms, staccato as military commands, echo the beat of a triumphal march: ‘Make in India’; ‘Swachh Bharat’; the four Ps for progress — People, Private, Public, Partnership; the five Ts to revive brand India — Talent, Tradition, Tourism, Trade, Technology; the ‘Road’ to revival — Responsibility, Ownership, Accountability, Discipline. Like Shakespeare’s hero-king, India’s hero-PM speaks in resonant slogans and quotable sound bites.
Intellectuals? No thanks. The country can’t afford to have any more of them. What the country needs is an action hero, and that’s exactly what it’s got in Modi. Unlike his hapless predecessor, there is nothing accidental about him, beginning with his anti-intellectualism. Manmohan Singh was, arguably after Jawaharlal Nehru, the most intellectual PM the country has had. One got the country stuck for years in the rut of socialism — not to mention the parallel and equally pernicious rut of secularism — and the other through a mental twiddling of thumbs frittered away India’s golden opportunity to emerge as an economic powerhouse.
What many have not realised that boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a “manly” nation. Vivekananda’s garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi’s public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.
Modi is a lone ranger driven by a narcissistic streak that puts individual above party. Accompanied by the rise of rightwing media allied to their respective causes, he is a populist demagogues who sway his audiences with artful soundbites. Modi has created what’s been called ‘post-truth’ and ‘post-fact’ politics where hyperbole takes over from reality. Have used social media to great effect. Have positioned himself as the anti-establishment outsider challenging the privileges of Lutyens’ Delhi.
The Big B is worried because someone’s getting even bigger in the endorsement business. Time to change to a new wig ?