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The political success of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’

Whether or not Atmanirbhar Bharat can yield economic dividends, it is already a political success in giving people an economic vision in times of recession.

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In the time of Covid, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s main pitch to the people has been about the economy: Atmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India, has been his slogan for nearly a year now.

Some view this slogan as hollow economic nationalism; others fear or support import substitution and protectionism, hoping the government’s policy measures will mean a boost for manufacturing. As the coronavirus disrupted supply chains and the world’s factory, China, took to military aggression against India, perhaps ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ was the only choice for us.

It is the political success of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ that has not been commented on. Many wonder why Narendra Modi remains popular despite an economic recession, coming as it does as a high-point of non-stop economic decline since the 2016 demonetisation. The answer you’ll usually get is Hindutva, propaganda, media control, weak opposition, and so on. Yet a big part of the answer is also a political campaign undertaken by Narendra Modi and the BJP, namely ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

As Covid and the lockdown wrecked the economy, the obvious question the voter would ask is, what is Modi doing about the economy? Where’s the money? How do we buy roti? When are we getting our jobs and growth back? The media and the masses were still struggling to understand Covid when Modi did a pre-emptive ‘surgical strike’ on the economy question with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

In the latest India Today ‘Mood of the Nation’ survey, 46 per cent of respondents said ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ was a “very good initiative”. That’s roughly equal to the vote-share (44 per cent) of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

With ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, Narendra Modi used his strongest political asset, nationalism, to give an answer to his biggest weak point, the economy. It is surprising that he took a while getting to the point of outright nationalism on economics given that the world has been swept by this current since at least 2016, when Donald Trump disrupted the globalisation consensus.


Also read: Not signing RCEP could be one of Modi’s biggest blunders, ‘atmanirbhar’ an admission of defeat


Vision Se Vision Tak

Whether or not it is a clever slogan, whether or not it will yield any economic dividend, the success of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ has to be understood in terms of a ‘drug’ addiction called Vision. A form of supplying hope, Vision is the opium of the masses. Keep giving people a Vision and they’ll think you’re taking them to some place better. The train is moving. The journey may be long and arduous. Delhi is still far. But we’ll get there.

Narendra Modi’s political journey could be described as ‘Vision Se Vision Tak’, from one vision to another. He began by promising ‘Achhe Din’ or the good days. After the failure of demonetisation, he moved on to ‘New India 2022’. A lot of other slogans in between, on This India or That India, were duly discarded.

In regular surveys like the ‘Mood of the Nation’, Modi’s lowest ratings are seen around January 2019. This was when farm distress had just taken away the BJP’s bastions of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. No, it wasn’t just Balakot but a number of defensive measures such as putting cash into the bank accounts of farmers that helped Modi reach a high point in the Lok Sabha election that followed.

Immediately thereafter, he pre-emptively began to make people forget his 2022 promises by coining a new slogan, $5-Trillion Economy by 2024. (Not very atmanirbhar to define India in US dollar terms, from the vantage point of 2021.)

Five Trillion was never going to be possible, thankfully Covid gave us the excuse to forget all about it. That’s when we got ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

You can mock all you want at this vision-peddling, but it works wonderfully in politics. There was once a man who was so good at selling Vision that he is remembered and looked up to in popular culture even today, many years after his death: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.


Also read: ‘Need to Make in India to make for the world’ — Modi’s I-Day call for Atmanirbhar Bharat


Vision board your life

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey has been selling the idea of a “vision board” to Americans for many years now. She wants everyone to “vision board” their lives. Write on a board the things you want to accomplish this year. The idea is that writing your vision will help you visualise it and make it feel real.

Campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008, his wife Michelle tried to make voters actually believe an upstart Black Senator could be President. She said at a rally, “I want you to leave here and envision Barack Obama taking the oath of office.” Oprah Winfrey, who was present at this rally, came home and pinned two pictures on a board: one of Barack Obama, and one of a gown she thought she’d wear at Obama’s inauguration.


Also read: India matlab Narendra Modi: How the PM learnt branding from Coca-Cola


Garibi Hatao

The implication of the power of vision and visualisation is obvious for the opposition. If the opposition has to succeed against the BJP, it must give voters an alternative vision, a better one, but also be able to visualise that vision and have a succinct slogan. When Indira Gandhi said ‘Garibi Hatao’, she was selling a Vision. In 2004, the Congress party asked voters, “Aam Aadmi ko kya mila?” Or “What did the common man get?” That clearly articulated an alternate economic vision to ‘India Shining’.

Any alternate economic vision by the opposition today will have to be about naukri (jobs), rozgar (income), and unemployment. In survey after survey since demonetisation, it has emerged as the top concern in the Modi era. We saw recently how Tejashwi Yadav managed to create some hype in the Bihar assembly election simply by promising 10 lakh jobs.

Rahul Gandhi’s 2019 slogan “Chowkidar Chor Hai” was no Vision, apart from targeting the wrong issue (corruption). But he and his party did give a visionary slogan: “Ab Hoga NYAY”, promising a minimum basic income support scheme. They launched the slogan just before the election. They should learn from that failure and understand that one must have a slogan for every year, every season, and not just one month before the general election.

This seems so obvious, and yet the opposition is unable to do it. Or maybe they do talk about it all day and we don’t get to hear it. They need to speak in slogans, create a vision board. If they don’t like the thought of learning political communication from Narendra Modi, they could look at Oprah Winfrey and the Obamas, perhaps?

The author is a contributing editor. Views are personal.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. They sold empty slogans only which their supporters, that is nearly 50% of votes polled, happily accepted. So what is the issue. They got more seats than 2014 and they hope to cross 400 mark in 2024. When the majority of the voters are ready to accept these non performers others should not hold any grudge. It is democracy. It is people’s choice

  2. Spent force BJP, divided opposition unity, unfortunately GOP lead by incapacitated leadership, lethargic son added BJP to become stronger inspite of all-round dismal performance under the capaintancy of Modi. Ache din slogan never be Ground reality under Modi leadership. Farmers agitation meticulously weaken by Delhi sultan’s is well known fact.

  3. This author is very predictable and essays the same story again and again. Please write thought provoking and analytical stories. Such a huge waste of time reading the article and then seeing the authors name.

  4. They are way better than my great grand father, gran mother, father was PM , so vote for me, I haven’t done a single job or earned a single rupee, but vote for me.

  5. Fall of UPA in 2014 was solely due to witch-hunt of Rahul and Congress on TV news channels day and night

    Success of BJP-RSS even after all kinds of big disaster is solely due to
    -TV channels getting inside people’s home and mind day and night to tell them ALL is WELL, never been better + Congress is still the problem if you are facing any problem

    • Well said Mr MS Tony !

      Not only is Congress the problem for the bhakths, but even more fundamentally, Nehru is the reason for every problem affetcting the country, even 50 years after his demise. And educated Indians buy that bullshit lock, stick and barrel.

      One wonders though if the propensity to consume bullshit is in anyway linked to gomutra consumption … !!!

      • I believe if only BJP-RSS allow TV news channels to openly criticize BJP-RSS and run real stories & debates on its work, actions, and eventual consequences on We THE People of India (Real ones, no Fake needed)…….
        There will be mass Kranti against BJP-RSS & complete removal of its Sakhas from OUR land.

        There is so much resistance and force against BJP-RSS, its just that they won’t let us unite.
        TV channels put peoples mind in a Trance of BJP-RSS bhakti and poison of hate for others. This Trance has to be broken.
        I know 20 channels on YouTube who are doing the task of showing real threat of BJP. But on TV box …. Only NDTV vs 20 fierce pro-BJP TV anchors.

  6. So you are saying Modi is selling a vision, a vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Why are people buying this vision? Have they critically examined it? Or thy buy anything that is on sale? You have a big problem ignorant, politically immature people buying any nonsense. Like Modi, Trump is still a very popular leader in America, even after his humiliating defeat! 74 million voters, second highest ever, voted for this defeated president, a traitor to his own country! Why would even ONE sensible voter would vote for such a man? BUT VERY CLOSE TO 50% VOTERS VOTED FOR HIM! AGAIN, IGNORANT, POLITICALLY IMMATURE VOTERS! The experiment of democracy has failed. Even today the Department of Homeland Security in the US has issued a nationwide terror alert: “WASHINGTON: The US Department of Homeland Security declared a nationwide terrorism alert Wednesday, citing the potential threat from domestic anti-government extremists opposed to Joe Biden as president.” The new president Biden has almost an impossible job of uniting the country. WHY ALL THIS? BECAUSE, LIKE MODI, TRUMP SOLD A VISION TO TH PEOPLE THAT DEMOCRATS WOULD TAKE THE COUNTRY TO HELL, AND THE STUPID, IGNORANT, IMMATURE P[EOLE BOUGHT THAT VISION! What is happening in America can also happen in India, if the electorate keeps buying every nonsense that is thrown at it.

    • An outstanding comment Mr Rohit Desai ! And a truly perspicacious comparative analysis of the deadly and deeply disturbing demagogue phenomenon roiling both Indian and the US. Sadly, men like Modi, Trump, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Turkey’s Erdogan, Poland’s Kaczynski, Brazil’s Bolonaro and so on continue to hoodwink the masses by appealing to simple identity politics, nationalism or by stoking up prejudice.

      Thus, Donald Trump secured votes from poor white people in poverty stricken West Virginia by promising them a bright future whilst at the same time openly advocating the removal of Obamacare. Indeed, I recollect a BBC interview with a sick coal miner and his equally sick wife. Both had monthly medical expenses of upwards of USD 11,000 which were covered by Obamacare such that they had to pay nothing. Yet, they voted for Donald Trump who pledged to repeal Obamacare ! Likewise, Trump incited a mob of mostly working class white Americans to storm the Capitol building but then quickly dumped them when he realised the adverse impact of that riot on his own future. Facing prosecution now, the many useful idiots who participated in that deadly assault are now thoroughly disappointed that Trump did not pardon them ! Clearly, in the US, appeals to white supremacy, Christianity, unfounded fears of immigration, Muslims, Mexicans and coloured people in general got Trump votes. Even though he was no saviour of the US working class and in all likelihood a traitor who danced to Putin’s tunes. And yet, as you point out, nearly 50% of American voted for this uncouth, corrupt and un-Christian political dilettante and charlatan !

      The American satirist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) predicted this state of affairs in the US. As he once said of Americans:

      “As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
      ” !!!

      Mencken’s prophecy came true.

      PM Modi is not very different from Trump when it comes to demagoguery as opposed to actual delivery. Like Trump, he too appeals to the Hindu identity using the divisive, dangerous and deadly ideology of Hindutva and to stokes Hindu prejudices against Muslims, Christians and now even Sikhs. The economy of the country was in doldrums even before the COVID crisis; the bureaucracy is slowly being emptied of professionals and replaced by Hindutva friendly apparatchiks and BJP yes-men; crony capitalism under Modi is far worse than what it has been under the UPA; communal violence simmers; the press is gagged; comedians get arrested; Godse is worshippeda and Gandhi is vilified. On the external front, India’s soft power advantages abroad have been thoroughly squandered. Worse still, by engaging in the utterly idiotic Howdy Modi circus in Houston and promoting Trump “Ab ki baar Trump ki sarkar” nonsense, Modi’s amateurish stunts have come to zero with the election of Biden & Harris. Worse still, BJP trolls have vilified Kamala Harris and consider her to be a traitor to Indian causes !!

      And then, one must not forget the fact that the Chinese are slowly nibbling away Indian territory – although the BJP would rather not talk about that.

      But none of these facts on the ground will deter the middle class, Modi devotee from voting for the Messiah again and again even though the middle class gets poorer by the day and the Amabanis and Adanis get richer by the day.

      Going back to satirist H.L.Mencken who wisely sums up demagogues like Trump & Modi in his quote:

      “The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.”

  7. in fact opposition is not lead by a competent guy, congress party remained a family enterprises, at least writer must agree with Modi ji on dynast ruined the country imagine if dynasty have been in cricket only Gavaskar or Kapil dev kids been opening or captaining indian cricket team, MSD, VIrat, Rohit and other just been serving as drink boy to the ground.

  8. Abey gadhe, (sorry, but pyaar wala hai, itni si baat samj me nahi aati tum logo ko) he is popular even with economic downturn because Nationalist Indian know that he is trying his level best. when you guys were mocking for thali bajao etc. initiative and making fun of Indian civilization, it was seen by common people as an act to rally together. Ask your chief editor how his own prejudiced eyes did not let him see 2019.

  9. Get over your blind spot caused by your hatred of Narender Modi (or your ferver to bring Congress to power i.e Rahul Gandhi who despite your insistent advice, sometimes packaged as an instruction book like a recipe, has failed to mend his ways).
    That a mule would never win against a racehorse in any race is not that hard to comprehend.
    is it not Mr Vij?

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