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Why Modi should avoid 'selfie'

April 22, 2014 11:48 IST

Why Modi should avoid 'selfie'

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Bharat Bhushan

The consequences of Modi's campaign can prove to be negative and his political 'dysmorphic disorder' is bound to come in the way of delivering good governance, says Bharat Bhushan

In a newspaper report, an anonymous Bharatiya Janata Party source compared Narendra Modi's campaign to a "selfie" where "one is only thinking about oneself and how one looks... you are the subject, you are the photographer... nothing else is important" (Frontline, April 18, 2014; Page 34).

Psychologists will tell you that a selfie -- or a self-generated portrait using a smartphone -- may be harmless and self-affirming although a self-absorbed picture of oneself.

However, some experts say that it could be a sign of body dysmorphic disorder, which involves checking one's appearance obsessively.

The Daily Mail reported recently that "Selfie fans with BDD can spend hours trying to take pictures that do not show any defects or flaws in their appearance, which they are very aware of but which might be unnoticeable to others."

BDD is a mental ailment where one cannot stop thinking about one's appearance and body image. The perceived flaw causes distress and can impact the daily functioning of the individual.

Modi's campaign is certainly analogous to a selfie in its self-indulgence and narcissistic overtones. However, it is less spontaneous than a selfie. It is an organised marketing exercise for Modi's social acceptance, well aware that there is a certain odium associated with him.

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Bharat Bhushan

The campaign centres on moulding public opinion through avuncular, smiling photographs of Modi but also more recently through seemingly intimate interviews where an "honest" and "sincere" Modi even suggests that he should be hanged in the public square if found guilty (of the pogrom against Muslim citizens in Gujarat in 2002).

This is precisely what a selfie also seeks to do. By its rawness, imperfection, self-conscious authenticity (self-conscious, because it is meant for public consumption) and intimacy, it tries to say -- "this is the real me".

One might wonder why it is more important how a person comes across in a contrived projection during an election campaign than how he behaved in real life.

Perhaps because like a selfie, it tries to mask from public perception the warts, the knowledge that Modi has already hung and quartered his critics -- police officers and social activists -- who tried to expose the complicity of his government in the most well-organised communal riots in the history of independent India.

One is also expected to forget that he had tried to frame his critics with sedition and criminal charges. Apprehending his arrest, an eminent sociologist facing criminal charges, had to move the Supreme Court.

Large sections of the media have also collaborated in helping Modi reinvent his public persona. Yet through adulatory interviews, friendly journalists have tried to generate affection and familiarity towards suggesting that he is a man much wronged. 

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Bharat Bhushan

Modi can star in his own reality show and his fans can vote for him. Nobody should have any problems with it.

Psychologists say that posting self-affirming selfies can be empowering and that they can even readjust the social standards of the beauty ideal. Perhaps some people will readjust their spectacles to see Modi as he wants to be seen.

The point, however, is that neither Modi nor the BJP occupies the entire social and political universe of Indian society. And, therefore, there are people who might find his arrogant campaign detrimental to social cohesiveness, even injurious to the nation's political health.

In a democracy, such a highly-personalised campaign can be interpreted as bragging and self-focused -- violative of social (and even political) norms and the accepted rules of self-promotion.

Listening to him bragging incessantly on TV can make him more unlikeable as a public leader. Modi acolytes ascribe such lack of belief to a sort of pathology. To not worship Modi is designated a disease.

But despite media packaging, the dysmorphic features in Modi's political persona will come out.

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Tags: Modi , BJP

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Bharat Bhushan

If he can wear a turban in Punjab and not become a Sikh by doing so, wear a Naga headgear carrying a "dao" in his hand and not become a Naga Christian, don the traditional "dumluk" of the Adi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, put on an Assamese "Japi" in Guwahati, the "koyet" turban in Silchar, and a turban with peacock feathers and a green velvet coat in Imphal, why does he find the Muslim prayer cap so distasteful and a symbol of appeasement?

The consequences of his current "selfie campaign" can be negative even for his own future in politics. For the moment, his supporters are so taken up by his campaign that they are not only salivating in anticipation of grabbing political power but they are already apportioning their respective shares - deciding which Modi groupie will get which Cabinet portfolio.

However, even if Modi is able to cobble together the numbers post-elections, he will need more than groupies to man key positions in the government. He will need the support of those experienced in governance even if it means including critics of his political style.

He will also need the support of the party itself once the balloon of voter expectations bursts, and his honeymoon with the middle class ends.

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Bharat Bhushan

The fate of the Manmohan Singh-government in the last few years should be a lesson for Modi -- where even those who benefitted from it have not hesitated in giving a parting a kick to the down and out prime minister.

But if the party continues to become synonymous with his persona, destroying all institutional buttresses and differences of opinion, that will become difficult.

Modi will need to correct his self-obsession even at this late stage to prepare for assuming political power. He has to learn and practice new inclusive skills for dealing with a complex country like India.

He will have to overcome his negative thinking not only about the minority community but also about those who disagree with him within and outside the BJP.

Otherwise, his political "dysmorphic disorder" is bound to come in the way of delivering good governance. However, that is assuming that the election will go according to plan and that the Indian electorate will not deliver yet another surprise.



Tags: BJP , Modi , India

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