Ahmedabad/Mumbai: Narendra Modi isn’t just the chief minister of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state of Gujarat which goes to the polls on 11 December. Nor is he merely the face of the party. He is, according to some of his followers, larger than the party itself, and a brand in his own right.
“We have been active in our constituency and our party has a firm base, but today, we are perceived not as party candidate but either a Modi-man or not a Modi-man. It is brand Modi that will help us sail through (the elections),” says a senior BJP leader who is contesting the polls for the fifth time in a north Gujarat constituency.
While this candidate does not wish to be identified, Kaushik Patel, the state’s revenue minister has no such qualms. Soon after filing his papers to contest from the Shahpur constituency in Ahmedabad, he said he would win because a “Modi fever” had “gripped the state”.
According to marketing consultant Nabankur “Nobby” Gupta, people in Gujarat “appear to be identifying with Modi” because of which the man has become a brand, “at least for the people of Gujarat.” Most marketing experts agree that Modi is a strong brand. “You either love him or hate him but cannot ignore him. He evokes strong reactions,” says Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Integrated brand-comm Pvt. Ltd, a brand consultancy. The Election Commission is currently investigating complaints that Modi violated the code of conduct candidates and parties have to follow while campaigning, by allegedly endorsing state-sponsored violence against an individual who was killed in an encounter with the police that is now being investigated. The Supreme Court will hear a petition related to Modi’s comments, which were made at a recent public rally, on Monday.
A political analyst who did not wish to be identified says such complaints merely prove the point that the elections are a personal contest and only about “Modi versus the rest”.
Thus, while rivals continue to paint him as the architect of the anti-Muslim riots that took place in the state in 2002, some of Modi’s supporters see him as someone who protected the rights and pride of the majority Hindu community.
One expert, however, doesn’t associate the Modi brand with development. Josy Paul, the national creative director of JWT India, says, “Modi is a ‘provocative brand’ with a ‘definite point of view’. He is a sharply defined brand, just like (railway minister and former chief minister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav)... He’s an icon moving to a cult status.”
According to the BJP’s media cell in Gujarat, Modi’s rule has been all about “development”. “Even the Planning Commission and the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation have praised Modi and his governance,” says Yamal Vyas, member of BJP media cell. Vyas claims investments into the state during the Vibrant Gujarat events launched by the Modi government as an occasion to showcase Gujarat’s capabilities and hardsell these to investors have largely come about because of Modi’s charisma. The Gujarat government inked memoranda of understanding (MoU), or formal agreements to invest, worth Rs66,000 crore, Rs1,06,000 crore and more than Rs4,50,000 crore in 2003, 2005, and 2007 editions of the event, respectively.
Modi’s critics, however, claim that not all MoUs have led to investments.
A non-resident Gujarati from the US claims he was motivated to invest in the state because of Modi, but also that he was arm-twisted into agreeing to invest an amount far higher than he had initially planned to. “I came primarily because Modi is ruling the state. But I was shocked when I was asked to sign on the dotted line committing to set up a project at Rs2,300 crore and employ more than 30,000 professionals. I was told by officials that Modi had cleared the project and I will have to sign the MoU even though I cannot afford the project,” says the businessman.
A recent advertisement in local dailies, put out by Sardar Patel Utkarsh Samiti, a group of existing and former BJP members who are opposed to Modi, has Keshubhai Patel, a former chief minister of Gujarat and tall BJP leader, saying: “Vibrant is all about talk big but delivering small. Hardly one-fourth of MoUs inked have seen implementation and what is the purpose of signing MoUs that do not create employment?”
And there are people who claim that only 15% and 17% of the MoUs inked in the first and second editions of Vibrant Gujarat have actually been implemented. Mint was not independently able to ascertain the truth of these numbers, and no official in the Gujarat government would comment on them. However, this pattern (of MoUs taking a long time to translate into real numbers or not doing so at all) can be seen in investments into other states and into the country as a whole, too.
Gupta, who has worked with Videocon and Raymond and now runs his own consulting firm Nobby Brand Architects and Strategy Consultants, says it is unlikely people outside Gujarat see Modi as a brand. “A brand has to be experienced—Modi is a brand for the people of Gujarat as they have experienced his governance and value system,” he adds.
Gupta says that Modi will have to reinvent himself if he wants to do this. However, K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, says even that might not work.
“You could get him to change packaging but then it wouldn’t work. For Modi, there needs to be a transformation more from within, rather than from outside,” K.V Sridhar adds. “Modi may have brought out ads that compare him to (Mahatma) Gandhi. But the fact is that anything more unlike Gandhi may be hard to find. He reflects not the best of BJP, but the worst of BJP.”
Narendra Damodardas Modi
Born: 17 September 1950
Birthplace: Vadnagar (Mehsana district in north Gujarat)
Education: Masters in political science from Gujarat University
1974: Joined Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and anti-corruption movement Navnirman in the state
1987: Joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
1988-89: General secretary of BJP’s Gujarat unit. Actively participated in Somnath to Ayodhya Ram Rath Yatra led by national party leader L.K. Advani and subsequently Kanyakumari to Kashmir Ekta Yatra lead by Murli Manohar Joshi
1989-95: In-charge of the election campaign. Keshubhai Patel becomes BJP chief minister (CM)
1995: National secretary in-charge of various states
1998: National general secretary
October 2001: Replaces Patel as CM
December 2002: Re-elected as CM with more than 127 seats in the 182-seat assembly
2003: First Vibrant Gujarat investment summit that saw MoUs worth Rs66,000 crore signed
2005: Second Vibrant Gujarat investment summit that saw MoUs worth Rs1.06 trillion signed
2007: Third Vibrant Gujarat investment summit that saw MoUs worth Rs4.5 trillion signed