For a PM who hasn’t completed even one term yet, the ability to spark a publishing trend single-handed is a remarkable achievement, writes Kanika Datta.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is putting together a detailed plan, according to a report by Nitin Sethi in scroll.in (external link) that "suggests a well-coordinated media blitzkrieg”. Particularly striking about this campaign is that it is deemed necessary despite the existence of a robust body of literature devoted to Modi himself.
Most PMs get critical post-mortems -- no one more so than Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Several former PMs have been talented writers in their own right.
At least one, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was a gifted poet, and the late P V Narasimha Rao a novelist of unexpected sensuality. Modi has reportedly authored several worthy books and a book of poetry. But in terms of books written about him, he outstrips all other prime ministers excluding Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
So far, close to 30 books (and counting) have been written on Modi, and 99.99 per cent are paeans to his multiple abilities and dynamism.
Most are in English but some have been written in Hindi and Gujarati and, needless to say, translations are available in India’s many languages.
Come to think of it, no Indian PM has had a comic book created about him or her.
The one that did the rounds just ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections (Bal Narendra) chronicles Modi’s unrelentingly virtuous early life, overflowing with good deeds that are impossible to verify.
As for the books, several were written in 2014, ahead of or just after Modi’s Lok Sabha victory.
Apart from one impartial assessment, Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times by journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, the rest are admiring accounts of varying intensity.
The titles alone are giveaways: Narendra Modi: Great Personalities of India; Centrestage: Inside the Narendra Modi Model of Governance; The Narendra Modi Phenomenon; Narendra Modi: Change We can Believe In… you get the drift.
Unusually, this adulation extends to two books written by foreign writers, who are usually expected to be unbiased.
One, written by a chap called Andy Marino and published in May 2014, was billed as an account by “the only foreigner known to have unfettered access to Modi”. What insight did he glean from such preferential treatment? To say Marino was overwhelmed by his subject is to be charitable.
Another, written more than a year later, has been authored by a former spin doctor for Tony Blair called Lance Price.
It is amusing not in content (which is dutifully complimentary) but because of a post-launch interview to The Times of UK in which Price said he had been compensated in some fashion for writing The Modi Effect, and confessed he had never heard of Modi until one of the PM’s associates approached him about writing this book.
The notable point about this publishing trend is that three years of Modi’s regime does not appear to have diminished the torrent or the implacably uncritical nature of the books.
A recent one by Nitin Gokhale, founder of website \bharatshakti.com, is titled, without irony, Securing India the Modi Way. It hit the stands just as we avoided a perilous standoff with China by the skin of our teeth and, surgical strike notwithstanding, Pakistan’s border incursions have grown more brazen.
This concerted outpouring of adulation is not limited to the vibrant business of self-publishing or to bucket shop imprimaturs expecting modest print runs. Several of the books come from the desks of well-known publishers -- HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Roli Books,Bloomsbury, Rupa and so on -- suggesting that the prime minister remains a profitably marketable subject.
Still, these publishers are the exception. Several of the books carry publisher names such as Team Spirit India, Popular Prakashan and Shubi Publications. Among the more indefatigable publishers of the Modi genre is the Okhla-based Diamond Pocket Books, which has put out at least three kunji-type products.
For a PM who hasn’t completed even one term yet, the ability to spark a publishing trend single-handed is a remarkable achievement.
In a country as notoriously argumentative as India, this assembly line of uncontested hagiographies speaks of an awesome ability to successfully craft a self-image.
Interesting, then, that no fan has felt compelled to write about Modi and demonetisation, the biggest such exercise in the world and the most significant policy decision of his regime.