Written by Arnav Mody
“India has won!” In a country of cricket and Bollywood, Narendra Modi’s tweet after a decisive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory in the 2014 General Elections became the most ‘retweeted’tweet in India, ever. The 1.25 billion strong democracy knew that Brand India now had a new image, whether they liked it or not. The challenger’s landslide victory gave the party an absolute majority of 282 seats, leaving the incumbent Indian National Congress with 44, its worst defeat in history. This shift would have been impossible to understand had it not been for the largest showcase of India to the world by India’s most robust Prime Minister.
Narendra Modi (#NaMo) had his slogans and hashtags posted everywhere -right from Curry Express on Lexington Avenue to every major social media platform. His Hindi slogan, “ache din aane wale hain”, translating to “good days will come”, made such a big impact that a month after he took office, an activist filed a case against him alleging ‘criminal breach of trust’asking, “Where are the good days?”
But India’s 815 million strong electorate is not easy to reach even with the catchiest of slogans, songs, and drumbeats. Success required seismic advancements in teleportation tech- nology. To reach all these people, Modi’s PR team took the next best alternative and organized campaign rallies through a 3D life-size hologram of the candidate at over 4000 events across the country.
Even though voters in the 543 constituencies vote for party representatives and not directly for the Prime Minister, the BJP only had a single product in the market – Narendra Modi. The presidential-style campaign revolved around one man with every available resource dedicated to putting him in office. This campaign was carefully tailored to reach every segment of the Indian market, portraying a rather ambiguous position on the political spectrum – with center-left economic policies and center-right social ideas. To India’s industrialists, he was the man who would bring in millions of dollars in foreign direct investment and boost investor confidence to bring the country’s growth story back on track. For others, he was going to put social infrastructure before all else as he promised to build toilets for every household before allocating more funds to temples.
When a Congress spokesperson mocked Modi’s “humble beginnings” as a “chaiwala” or tea vendor, his PR team reacted swiftly to ensure that that moment exposed the opposition party’s hamartia. Modi’s next few speeches included jibes on how the Congress could not tolerate someone from a backward class and poor background, consequently building his fan base among the middle class masses. He then went on to hold numerous “coffee chats” across the country and even invited tea vendors as special guests to his rallies.
India’s new Prime Minister was never thought of as a family man. The identities of his parents were not well known and the fact that he was married was only learned in the first week of polling in April 2014 when he filed his nomination papers. Through actions publicized on social media, Modi repositioned himself as a loving son. He met his mother on many occasions, taking selfies with her and posting pictures touching her feet. Thus, he struck a wonderful chord, cutting across social strata by taking advantage of the deeply family-oriented country, where a mother is compared to a goddess.
Despite a very successful end to Modi’s journey to capture New Delhi, his PR team has had no time to rest. India’s 15th Prime Minister continues to build his image in the country and across the world. Harvard student Dhruv Goyal, who worked extensively with Modi and his staff says, “His trip to America and the changing global perceptions about India and doing business in India are symbolic of his ability to further enhance his image as a global leader.” Recently, he addressed a sold- out Madison Square Garden event attended by 19,000 fans and three-dozen U.S. senators and representatives. With Modi- styled shirts, banners and slogans, the atmosphere could easily be confused for a Knicks game. Back home, he launched the ”Clean India Campaign” where he uploaded a picture of himself with a broom cleaning the streets of New Delhi. In his tweet, he nominated a number of other actors and politicians to clean the streets and take this movement viral.
The carefully crafted and smartly executed campaign to market BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate was possibly the largest campaign the country has seen since Mahatma Gandhi’s “Quit India Movement” in 1942, and can scarcely be compared to any other political campaign in the world. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi we see today is still in campaign- mode selling India to the world and out to win many more hearts before 2019.