Rahul Gandhi has challenged Modi on home turf, and the supposedly invincible messiah is rattled. Now, it’s over to the image managers to win the Gujarat elections.
In just about two months, Rahul Gandhi has broken through Arnab Goswami’s firewall, and all of a sudden, ‘Pappu’ has challenged ‘Big Boss’ Narendra Modi. Even the otherwise servile media (primarily television) is flummoxed, and cannot quite comprehend what has really changed.
Modi has planned an elaborate blitzkrieg in Gujarat to regain the lead and supremacy. Over 50 rallies planned by his campaign handlers in the next one month effectively cover Gujarat’s 182 constituencies. Money is flowing as though from a punctured water pipeline.
And yet, leading news magazines say the supposedly invincible messiah is rattled. There is something in the air indeed.
Modi has most things on his side — the aura of ‘Gujarati asmita’, the state government and the police, a bureaucracy possessed by fear psychosis, the statewide RSS cadre, and the gangs of Modi bhakts who have faith in his cult, and who say nothing has changed.
They also believe in the strategic skullduggery of Amit Shah. These people say that the BJP will form the government, and that too, by winning the 150 seats targeted by the BJP president. (Then they add in a soft voice: surely, they will maintain their present strength of 115.)
Gandhi’s campaign managers do not get dragged into the numbers game. The Gujarat Congress, which consolidated more after the departure of Shankarsinh Vaghela, is aiming only to defeat the BJP. If the ruling party is indeed defeated on its home ground, then not only will the so-called ‘Gujarat model’ be exposed for its hollowness, but high-Richter scale shockwaves will ripple right through the Delhi sultanate.
Some over-optimistic Congressmen have already started dreaming of coming back to power in Gujarat after 22 years. But with the party organisationally and financially weak, its image still fractured and media penetration limited, its only hope is that the demonetisation coupled with GST will do the BJP in. They see it as David versus Goliath, but this Biblical myth will not necessarily be repeated in Hindu Rashtra.
Image is everything
However, Goliath is surely panicked, and the image managers have repositioned themselves to defeat and destroy young David. For them, the stakes are not just the epic battle of Gujarat, but the full blown war in 2019 (or earlier, if the general elections are brought forward).
The projection of two individuals, rather than two parties with their parallel programmes, is itself the image managers’ game plan.
For about three decades now, image managers have begun to occupy central positions in election campaigns, often even overriding the senior leadership. This army of marketers was supposedly successful in 1968 in the US, when Richard Nixon’s victory was attributed to their plan. The book titled ‘The Selling of The President’ became a major reference work in all advertising agencies and public relations firms.
Now this game has become several times more sophisticated, with smartphones, vast social media and new algorithms in the possession of marketing generals with their trolling armies. Several hundred ‘soldiers’ in these armies are generating any number of fake news, slander, innuendo, calumny, and outright fabrications of historical truths.
The polarising Ayodhya issue, Vande Mataram, and now even poor Shahjahan and his beloved Mumtaz, as well as Padmavati, are now in the image managers’ plans. But they haven’t invented this. A long time ago, the Advanis and the Thackerays made this a fine art; the image mangers are merely refashioning the mayhem formula. The fact is that Gujarat is going to define the future politics and governance of India.
Politics is rapidly getting commodified and communalised, and communalism itself is a part of commodification and political marketing. Selling the candidate is considered like selling a product — package the candidate properly, create a suitable and simple slogan, generate attractive but brief visuals, organise visual and print media spreads, and repeat the message and visuals (ad nauseam) till the message and medium get integrated in a McLuhanish way.
Since all the parties and candidates now know this marketing game, it is believed that the ones who can spend most will win. But there is a catch, and it gets exposed when the leader loses the race. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton deployed the same image management and media strategies. The whole media backed Clinton and yet Trump won.
What is that catch which defies opinion polls and actual results? Every election is different, more so in India, and therefore in India, there are more catches. The religious divide is not the only polarising factor, just as ‘development’ is not the only issue. Language and caste, regional autonomy and local aspirations, mindless rivalry and hatred take their toll too.
Take for instance, the case of Tamil Nadu. J. Jayalalithaa passed away almost a year ago, and the by-election to her assembly seat should have been held within six months. But neither the Election Commission nor the media, the government nor the opposition, have raised the issue. The AIADMK fears it will lose the seat to the DMK, and if that happens, the BJP game of placating or blackmailing the AIADMK will miserably fail.
In Punjab, the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-election was held in time after Vinod Khanna’s death, and the BJP lost the seat by huge margin. But Modi had no direct stake in Punjab. One seat in Tamil Nadu can do immense damage to the NDA. That is why it is being held back till after the Gujarat elections. After winning Gujarat, Tamil Nadu will not be as damaging to Modi, or so the image managers feel. For Modi, the image is the message; the medium is merely the carrier of the image.