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The NaMo App is selling not just Modi’s vision but also Modi himself

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Narendra Modi inspires both awe and a refrigerator magnet.

Once Narendra Modi had promised us 56-inch swagger. Now he is selling swag to us. Or at least the NaMo app is.

On the Prime Minister’s birthday, the NaMo App started selling mugs, notebooks, stickers, refrigerator magnets, pens, caps, and t-shirts.

It seems that the Achhe Din revolution will be merchandised.

And it can be yours for a very reasonable price, from anything between Rs 150 and Rs 500. At Rs 199 the ‘NaMo Again!’ round-neck t-shirt is a steal just like the Rafale fighter plane. You have a choice of slogans for your t-shirts: ‘India MODI-fied’ in a pop-out saffron; ‘Yuva Shakti’ in psychedelic colours; And only an anti-national would turn down the ‘Make in India’ t-shirt (hopefully it’s not been made in China). For the true fan, a ‘Namo Namah’ t-shirt or notebook or cap. Want to be reminded about Modi ji every time you open the refrigerator? Say no more- how about a NaMo fridge magnet? Women’s empowerment? NaMo app has it covered with the ‘Naari Shakti’ magnet and stickers. Want to think of chai pe charcha every time you drink a cup of tea? Or coffee? How about the NaMo mug? LGBTQ rights? Sorry, wrong app.

Also read: Modi wants your money — donate from Rs 5 to Rs 1,000 on NaMo app

The NaMo app was hitherto best known on social media for sharing all your data and device info to a third-party domain. But who has time to worry about data leaks when you are wondering whether the 20 NaMo pens for only Rs 289 are leak-proof? That’s the only kind of leak a true patriot should be concerned about, other than gaumutra. There are no plans yet for a Holy Cow merchandise line on the NaMo app, but surely it’s only a matter of time before the cows also come home.

If anyone thinks it’s unbecoming of the Prime Minister’s app to be peddling trinkets, hold that thought. The money raised is going to help clean the Ganga. Does that mean the high-profile Ganga cleaning campaign is so short of funds that it needs to sell caps and pens? Who knows. But one thing is as clear as the Ganga is muddy, any objection to the Modi shop will be dubbed anti-Ganga. “The proposed sale of merchandise can be viewed from the perspective of involving citizens in the Clean Ganga project,” said BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli. If along the way, these become tools to help Modi’s re-election campaign that’s surely just a side benefit. Ma Ganga will not mind.

To be fair, Narendra Modi’s brand building is hardly unique. The Gandhis have been masters of it. While Modi might be putting his name on notebooks and pens, the Gandhis put their names of roads, bridges, hospitals, awards, stadiums, colleges, airports. But what is different is that the Congress believed in the deification of its leaders. In Modi’s India, the deification smartly comes alongside a more pop Disney-fication.

Thus, Modi becomes both a figure that inspires awe and a refrigerator magnet.

As Santosh Desai puts it astutely, the idea of Brand India “acts as a sign that the country has more active and articulate stakeholders that espouse its cause aggressively”. But it’s also an India you can own, wear and consume unlike an airport or a highway. Desai writes, “Brand India in many ways is Market India wearing national colours and its citizens are those who are part of the world of consumption”. Team Modi understands this in a way that others don’t.

Not surprisingly, America has been at the forefront of marketing its leaders as brands to be consumed. If you go to the Donald Trump shop you can buy a ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) pint glass, a ‘Stand Up for America’ football jersey, and even a Trump-Pence dog collar and leash. The White House gift shop sells wooden eggs signed by Obama, a Michelle Obama bobble doll, and a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in which Obama is playing pool with Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson and others. In a world where everything is commoditised, why should political leaders be left out? We can own a piece of them even as they own all of us.

Also read: BJP is leaving Twitter behind, wants to stay in touch via NaMo app

We already have shops selling Modi masks, Modi kurtas and Modi jackets. There even are Modi pedas in sweet shops. The market demand itself becomes a marker of Modi’s own saleability. It’s not surprising that Team Modi wants to position him in the sweet spot where our craze for political strongmen meets our out-of-control brand-consciousness. Thus, a Modi rally filled with cheering people wearing Modi masks and Modi t-shirts makes for a powerful visual statement of a brand going viral, Modi addressing a sea of Modis. It is the triumph of the brand.

But the Modi app takes it all a step further. The app was meant for the Prime Minister to connect with ordinary people, to apprise them about his programmes. Now, it’s selling not just Modi’s vision but also Modi himself. The app can tell us about the newest yojana as well as the newest addition to the gift shop. The leader used to be above it all even when he was packaged and sold as a product by those around him. But now, the leader is also the gift shop, conveniently located on every phone with the app, in the name of the Ganga no less. But then Ram, Teri Ganga was already so Maili, what difference will a little e-commerce make? The app also allows you to donate directly to the BJP as little as Rs 5 to as much as Rs 1,000. It’s becoming its own ecosystem, of sorts.

In fact, just as Team Modi led the way in politicians using social media as a powerful tool, this could well be a new frontier that Modi is breaching. If it works, others will follow.  One can already imagine mobile ringtones with Mamata Banerjee poems.

Also read: Modi, like Richard Branson, is a brand that needs undiluted attention

How about a RaGa “Dalit Lunch Box”? Or a Biplab Kumar Deb inflatable rubber duck?

Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.

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