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Brand Modi rules!

June 02, 2018 10:00 IST

The public feels there is a mismatch between what the PM says and what happens on the ground, but Narendra D Modi continues to enjoy public support, reports Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Narendra D Modi has made himself irreplaceable for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

It was a cold November morning in 2016, days after the government had announced demonetisation.

At 6 am, a gaggle of bedraggled, tired men were already outside a branch of the Punjab National Bank which had announced, via a handwritten notice, that it would open at 8 am to enable 'valuable customers' to change their money. 

Some had been waiting since 4 am.

Sensing a business opportunity, a chaiwallah had set up his cart early and soon the air was fragrant with the smell of tea stewed with cardamom and ginger.

With nothing to do but wait, inevitably the conversation turned to politics.

"Just look at us," said a man with disgust, "waiting here to get to our own money."

"Not all of us!" guffawed another, "some of us are here to get other people's money!"

"This bank has to be the worst bank on earth," complained another. "They never open on time. Just watch. The manager will come out and say he's run out of money. And then he will pass on all the new notes to his brother-in-law."


"Why blame the manager?" chipped in another. "He is only doing his job. It is the Pradhan Sevak we must blame."

There was a short silence as people thought about that.

Then, as arguments started about who was right, another man said with an air of finality: "I don't know about you, but I saw TV last night. The prime minister's mother came in an auto to change her money."

"He is the prime minister of India. He could have opened a bank at her doorstep if he'd wanted to. But she stood in a queue just like us. He says he's trying to root black money out. So we must stand by him, even if it is a little inconvenient for us."

The queue nodded in unison.

A few months later, despite much vaunted unity of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in the Uttar Pradesh elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the assembly poll.

Hundreds of thousands of desperate, hollow-eyed families lost employment and what little livelihood they had. But many of them voted for the BJP.

The persona of Narendra D Modi has undergone an enormous transformation since the days in 2013 and 2014 .The word 'poor' is mentioned at least once in one out of every three speeches he makes.

Financial inclusion and the Mudra loan scheme hold powerful political allure although the jury is still out on how effective these ideas have been in practice.

Modi's election speeches have been all about beating back deprivation and handicap, offering a new deal to people.

Communication is seamless: At one election meeting in Karnataka, when people objected to the translation, the PM dispensed with his services and spoke in Hindi, responding to the chanting crowds.

And it is all Brand Modi.

Through the Give It Up initiative, he asked people to voluntarily give up a second gas cylinder so that it could go to the less fortunate.

At last count, the campaign had saved the government nearly Rs 42 billion in subsidies.

If monetised, that is a part of the value of Brand Modi.

In politics, he has made himself irreplaceable for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Although the party is now ruling a large swathe of India on its own or in coalition, elections where he has been less visible, like Bihar and Delhi, and by-elections like Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh, have been lost by the BJP.

So if the BJP's tally of winning elections, as long as it has a winning horse, is so high, what is worrying it?

The social dysfunction for one.

Dalits continue to be uneasy with the BJP -- while Modi preaches Ambedkar, attacks on Dalits by gau rakshaks and vigilante groups continue.

Despite the party's outreach to Shia Muslims, the minority continues to suspicious about the BJP's real agenda where the PM talks of sabka saath sabka vikas, but attacks, lynchings, and encounters rule and attract only a slap on the wrist from Modi.

Cracks are beginning to show.

Congress politicians concede that shell companies have been dismantled and banks no longer get calls from Delhi.

But at the state government level, corruption is widespread, especially in government enterprises where you can get away with shoddy work for a payoff.

The argument cited in defence of the breakdown in the BJP-Telugu Desam Party relationship was corruption (the state government did not furnish completion certificates in respect of grants given by the Centre).

But how many BJP governments have furnished completion certificates is a matter of conjecture.

In Rajasthan and Haryana, people are seeing a mismatch between what Modi is saying and what chief ministers are doing.

But till this perception gains ground, Brand Modi rules.

Aditi Phadnis