Ahmedabad: In the 2007 assembly elections in Gujarat, thousands of followers of chief minister Narendra Modi wore masks resembling him. If the “Modi mask” became a point of discussion then, this time around it is Modi’s three-dimensional, or 3D, campaign address that is raking up controversies.
Modi used 3D holographic projections to address four meetings simultaneously on Sunday—a first in Indian politics.
The Congress, the main opposition party in the state, and the newly formed Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) promptly moved the Election Commission seeking a probe into the money spent on the address and the source of funding.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state held four political gatherings simultaneously on Sunday—at Naranpura in Ahmedabad, and Rajkot, Baroda and Surat. A pre-recorded speech of Modi at Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, was accompanied by his 3D image. According to a BJP official, who declined to be named, the estimated cost of the exercise did not exceed Rs.80 lakh.
The opposition estimates a much higher figure.
“The cost involved, as per our information, was Rs.5 crore for each projection and they are planning to use it in all assembly constituencies of the state,” Gujarat Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia said on Monday, according to a Press Trust of India report.
There are 182 constituencies in the western state.
The hologram technology used by Modi has been around for years and was used by Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Al Gore, Ratan Tata and Prince Charles, among others.
Modi’s Sunday programme faced some technical glitches and the audio output was not available for a few minutes.
Modi claimed that for the first time in the world an election campaign was being launched using 3D technology and telecast in four places simultaneously.
“You are witnessing a unique and first-ever incident,” Modi told the crowds gathered.
The BJP has explained that the money came from donations from supporters.
According to the GPP, led by former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel, Modi’s hi-tech exercise may have cost around Rs.1.4 crore. The party has written to the Election Commission giving details of the cost of using 3D holographic projections.
Patel quit the BJP earlier this year to form his own party.
The technology was provided by Dubai-based Mehirr Nath Chopra in association with a technocrat from Germany, who had also given a proposal to the GPP for the technology.
According to the GPP, the cost of the five 3D events is $1 million (about Rs.5.5 crore). This is for a set of five 45-minute 3D shows that can address an audience of 10,000-20,000 people across four or five centres.
It excludes the cost of live transmission of speech (another $50,000).
And, if the speaker wants a “live” two-way transmission—so the audience can react—and insurance, he would have to pay another $250,000, according to the GPP.
By that estimate, Modi’s meeting, which effectively marked the launch of his election campaign for assembly elections in the state, would have cost Rs.1.1 crore and an additional Rs.27.5 lakh for the audio.
A political analyst said this was a case of what he termed “above-the-line” spending on a campaign—where a party spends openly on something.
Chopra said his company used a patented technology to create Modi’s 3D image. He declined to disclose the details of the cost in creating the holograms, saying the information was confidential, but confirmed that he had written to the GPP on the cost of such shows.
This costing has been used by the GPP in its communication to the Election Commission.
“One must understand that the cost of technology comes down considerably as the number of events (3D) goes up. Gujarati people bargain hard and they would not spend more (than necessary),” Chopra said in a telephone conversation from Dubai, implying that the actual cost incurred by the BJP for the event may have been lower than the Rs.1.4 crore estimated by the GPP.
Modi is arguably the most tech-savvy chief minister in India. He is the second Indian politician after Shashi Tharoor of the Congress party to have a million followers on micro-blogging site Twitter.
He tweets regularly. Last year, after the Supreme Court refused to pass an order on Modi’s alleged inaction to contain the Gujarat riots in 2002, Modi tweeted, “God is great”.
He has at least 1 million “likes” for his Facebook page. A few months ago, he launched iPad and iPhone applications that lead to his blogs, speeches, books and images.
On Google+ Hangout anchored by actor Ajay Devgn a few months ago, Modi answered questions on topics such as governance, administration and food.
His digital outreach can be gauged by the fact that the show was viewed by 600,000 people.
“He has such a strong following on the Internet that there is a joke doing the rounds that if the elections for India’s next prime minister were held online, Modi would emerge as a sure winner,” said a BJP official, who did not want to be named.
Modi also has a website to his name, managed by a team of experts, that continuously gives updates of his public speeches.