As United States President Donald Trump stares at an impeachment inquiry just a year before the presidential polls, he can take a few tips from his ‘Howdy!’ friend on how to conveniently turn any situation from hostile to friendly.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a master of playing victim, projecting everyone as conspiring against him and then using that to garner sympathy and votes. President Trump could do well to learn this skill – convince his voters that his ‘enemies’ and opponents are ganging up against a ‘self-made’ man who wants to Make America Great Again.
In fact, Trump isn’t the only one who can benefit from Modi’s political theory. There are many lessons to be learnt from Modi’s politics, or ‘Moditics’ – from how to turn criticism to trophies, pretend to be the perpetual ‘outsider’ even when you are as establishment as can be, be the eternal victim, dominate media and mind space by holding high-on-spectacle-but-low-on-substance events, conveniently distract from pain points, master the peculiar combination of being a statesman and a rabble-rouser, resort to monologues but make it seem like you are truly a ‘people’s politician’, and generally, be able to outsmart rivals.
Eternal victim and outsider
Modi may be the PM – for a second straight term no less – after having served as the chief minister of Gujarat for over a decade, but he will always remain an ‘outsider’ and a politician everyone seems to be ganging up against.
The criticism he received from all fronts after the 2002 Gujarat riots when he had just taken over as CM, the denial of US visa and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s scathing ‘maut ka saudagar‘ (trader of death) attack – all became useful tools for Modi to project himself as a victim, someone who was constantly being badgered. He turned every attack about the riots into an attack on Gujarati asmita and five crore Gujaratis. His rise in politics – from state CM to BJP’s most powerful face ever – has been nothing short of spectacular, but he still wants to project himself as wronged.
It has always been Modi versus the rest. So, any criticism of him became about how a ‘self-made outsider’ was being targeted by the ‘insiders’, the privileged, the dynasts. The entire ‘naamdar‘ vs ‘kaamdar‘ (the entitled versus the hard workers) narrative has been very much a part of this strategy. It reached a feverish pitch in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections when former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s ‘chowkidar chor hai’ jibe at Modi over the Rafale deal completely backfired after the PM craftily used it as an example of how he, the ‘outsider’, was being viciously targeted. What’s more, he even turned it into a jibe at all chowkidars of the country by conducting a video-conference with security guards across India.
Artful communication strategy
Modi’s communication tactics – make for a great chapter for students of ‘Moditics’. Every small and mundane thing – from Yoga Day to Teachers’ Day becomes a grand event. The ‘Howdy, Modi!’ spectacle in Houston in September this year is a stand-out example of how to make a mountain out of a molehill. It is for good reason that L. K. Advani called him an efficient event manager.
Look at the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, nothing from unemployment to farmer distress to Congress’ Rafale allegations managed to resonate on the ground. Modi was projected as the saviour of nation, his weapon – Balakot airstrikes, welfare schemes and fight against privileged dynasts.
His monthly radio show ‘Mann Ki Baat‘ is nothing but a Modi monologue, a neatly available platform for him to talk about literally anything under the sun that he wishes to. Most of his ‘interactions’ in fact are one-sided and well-orchestrated. And yet, he is able to project himself as the ‘people’s PM’. What helps is the fact that he is constantly seen and heard, in whatever manner, and he is smart enough to involve people in his initiatives – from Swachh Bharat to Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and most recently, prohibiting single-use plastic.
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde syndrome
The dichotomy in his personality – a carefully crafted one – perhaps defines Modi’s political theory. As the Prime Minister, he is the statesman, says all the right things, condemns the wrong, maintains a squeaky-clean social media image. As Modi the BJP leader and the party’s chief campaigner, he doesn’t shy away from being a rabble-rouser.
His mantra is: Be every bit the ‘democratic’ prime minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, but don’t stop short of making overtly communal statements while campaigning. Remember his ‘kabristaan-shamshaan‘ remark in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections? Or his bizarre, and frankly unacceptable, theory before the Gujarat state elections about his predecessor Manmohan Singh holding a ‘secret meeting’ with Pakistan officials at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence.
Modi could teach his political theory to world leaders. And as he battles a crisis, Trump can just dial Modi, say Howdy! and take notes.