From Nirma to NaMo


It is interesting how media reports of Narendra Modi’s rallies differ from the real thing. To see the difference for myself, I attended Narendra Modi’s recent rally in Ranchi.

More than 10 days in advance, the rally had been the object of a massive publicity campaign in Ranchi. There were giant posters of Modi and his party colleagues at almost every chauraha, sometimes ten or twelve at a time. On the main roads, it was almost impossible to look in any direction without meeting Modi’s eyes.

The rally was very well planned and the crowd was huge. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) obviously has great organisational skills, and a lot of money. It would be interesting to know where the money comes from. But like other mainstream parties, the BJP has resisted any financial transparency norms.

A series of party stalwarts spoke before Modi arrived, but the crowd did not show much interest. Clearly, they had come mainly to get a glimpse of the famous Modi. Only Arjun Munda managed to connect with the crowd to some extent.

When Modi’s helicopter arrived, Bollywood-style, the crowd woke up with loud cheers. The party workers took the lead but everyone stood up to greet the legendary saviour. His entry on the stage was skilfully choreographed, with powerful sound effects, video clips, and chants of “NaMo, NaMo”. BJP President Rajnath Singh warmed up the audience, comparing Modi to Ram himself.

Modi spoke with dramatic tone and gestures. He raised and lowered his voice for best effect, with solemn pauses in between. But his rhetoric had the contrived feel of a film audition and the content was flat. Perhaps that is why people started leaving the grounds in large numbers soon after he started speaking. Those who remained showed little interest in what he said and rarely clapped or cheered despite prompting from party workers.

To me it looked like Modi had failed to connect with the audience. One reason, perhaps, is that he came across as an outsider, who had been quickly briefed about Jharkhand but had no feel for it. Another reason is that he failed to go beyond the platitudinous promises of any politician who is begging for people’s votes. He kept asking people to reflect on the mess they were in, blissfully forgetting that Jharkhand has been under BJP rule for 8 out of 13 years since its creation in 2000.

I have learnt one thing from this rally: there is little difference today between politics and business. Electoral campaigns are just another job for the public relations industry. Some sell Nirma, others sell NaMo – the same advertisement agencies use the same techniques for both purposes.

The people of Jharkhand deserve better. No amount of propaganda can hide the fact that the BJP bears a heavy responsibility for Jharkhand’s ruin during the last twelve years. Other mainstream parties, including the Congress, have also taken part in the loot. Let us hope that others with a different vision will come forward and present the people of Jharkhand with a real alternative, as happened recently – to some extent – in Delhi.