The PM’s social media team was always one step ahead, ensuring that his messaging at political rallies was significantly different from the much more structured content he delivered on his app.
Minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s social media team tweeted a photo of him, on 12 May, praying in front of the beautiful shrine of Vishnu at the Muktinath temple in Nepal’s stunning Mustang valley, he tweeted:
Urging my sisters and brothers of Karnataka to vote in large numbers today. I would particularly like to call upon young voters to vote and enrich this festival of democracy with their participation.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 12, 2018
By this time, the PM had been in Nepal for more than a day, travelling from the Terai town of Janakpur to capital Kathmandu, and then the pristine mountain valley where the Vishnu shrine and Shakti peeth are located.
But the PM was clearly unable to tear his mind away from the make-or-break Karnataka election, knowing that the mother-of-all-battles would be a harbinger of his and the BJP’s political future, kicking off a series of state elections and culminating in the general elections a year from now.
By 3 pm Tuesday, though, the PM’s social media team hadn’t said a word about the BJP’s splendid performance in Karnataka — up from 40 seats in 2013 to 104, which makes it the single largest party.
The victory mascot
Clearly, there’s no denying the PM’s inexhaustible energy that has helped colour large parts of the state saffron. From holding 21 rallies, upping focused interactions on the NarendraModi app, and paying special attention to Congress strongholds, to speaking directly to aspirational young voters, Modi has once again proved that there is no political challenger to him in the country today.
Right from the beginning, the BJP focused the message simply, sending just three big leaders to storm the state — Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa. Each of them went to different parts, like an army intent on conquer. In contrast, in the Congress, outgoing chief minister Siddaramaiah was more or less forced to accompany party president Rahul Gandhi everywhere for his big rallies.
Speaking in Hindi, with or without a translator, the PM demonstrated again and again that he and his party were hungry to win. Siddaramaiah, too, displayed a similar cunning guile – which is why the vote share for both parties is about the same, at 37 per cent.
Both party leaders had their fair share of ugly, personal attacks, with Modi never shying away from focusing on the sensitive “dynasty” underbelly.
“They are the naamdaar, we are the kaamdar,” Modi said, again and again, across Karnataka, hitting the raw nerve and driving home the point that the Congress presidency had fallen into Rahul Gandhi’s lap, that unlike him and his party leaders, the Nehru-Gandhi scion hadn’t had to work his way up.
One day before the campaign wound up on 10 May, the PM addressed a huge rally in Chikkamagaluru, which had sent Indira Gandhi back to Parliament in 1978, after her post-Emergency rout. From here, he taunted Indira’s grandson, who, in response to a persistent questioner the day before, had said he was ready to be Prime Minister in 2019 if the Congress won the polls.
“The Congress party thinks the chair of the PM is reserved for one family only, that nobody else can sit on it…The Congress got only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, has lost all the assembly elections it contested in the last four years, but the ‘naamdaar’ still wants to become Prime Minister,” Modi said.
A morale boost
At Kolar, just before, Modi had said: “Yesterday, someone made an important declaration. He said, ‘I am going to be PM!’ He came like those bullies, barging his way ahead when there are others who have many years of experience. How can someone just declare himself the PM? This is nothing but arrogance,” the PM said.
The importance of the attack in Kolar, 30 per cent of whose population is Dalit, did not go unnoticed. Remonstrations elsewhere in the country at the PM’s language were roundly ignored – the stakes in Karnataka were, clearly, far too high for courtesy.
Crowd shots of Modi’s rallies showed ecstatic workers and volunteers videotaping his speeches on their mobile phones. BJP leaders attested to the fact that younger voters, much more at home with Hindi via Bollywood and TV programmes, didn’t really care whether the PM spoke Kannada or not. The great communicator was making his point and it was reaching the people.
The PM’s social media team was always one step ahead – even though the Congress social media strategy, throwing some effective punches, drew huge attention. But the PM’s media men (there are no women in that team) ensured that his messaging at the huge political rallies was significantly different from the much more structured content he delivered on the Narendra Modi app.
So whether it was talking to party workers, or women, or Dalits or farmers, or the urban poor in Bengaluru, the PM followed up each major political rally with an address on his dedicated app. The use of the app was said to be much more fervent in Karnataka than in the Gujarat polls.
The BJP also realised that the PM was the only one to breach the Congress’ feudal strongholds such as Chamarajanagar and Chikkodi. People from the surrounding Vidhan Sabha constituencies were bused in to hear him speak everywhere he went, thus motivating party workers not used to the sight of stirred-up crowds.
Of poverty and corruption
The focus on the Bengaluru region, India’s most ambitious and aspirational city and home to 28 seats, was intentional. Even the poor in Bengaluru are different from the poor in any other urban centre in Karnataka, BJP leaders say. So the PM’s attack on corruption in the city, on why it had failed to reach the heights it should have and promising a turnaround, was something the party focused its sights on.
Meanwhile, the regular stream of WhatsApp messages sent to potential voters in each BJP election was ramped up several times. The strategic nature in which RSS volunteers spread out in each village and mohalla (without whom no Modi victory is possible) was energised as well.
Certainly, party president Amit Shah helped silence several warring factions in the party by forcing Yeddyurappa’s former Karnataka Janata Paksha to unite with the BJP (although the BJP infighting is no comparison with the unhappy factions within the Congress, whether Mallikarjun Kharge or Veerappa Moily or the unhappy Vokkaliga leader, S.M. Krishna, who left the party last year). Meanwhile, the PM made it known that the 75-year-old Yeddyurappa would lead the state, no matter that he had crossed the party’s cut-off age for contesting elections.