Authoritarian, megalomaniac and communal. These are the words most commonly used by the media to describe Narendra Modi 10 years ago. Today the same Modi, headed handsomely into his second term as the Prime Minister of India, is being variously described as self-made, strong, efficient, inspiring, incorruptible, sincere, credible and a committed leader. What an unbelievable transformation! Consistent brand planning combined with faultless execution and high marketing spends have made him a hit brand. However, it hasn’t been easy.

Modi’s brand handlers had five major challenges in shaping his brand in the initial run-up to prime ministership in 2014. First, though he was a three-term chief minister of Gujarat, he was relatively unknown outside his home state. So, he was a regional brand aspiring to go national. Second, within his own party, he wasn’t the tallest leader. Within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi was a challenger brand and not the market leader. Third, back then in 2014, Modi was already 63 years old and the prime target audience he wanted to influence were first-time voters. So he needed to make his brand appeal more youthful. Fourth, Modi has always been very fluent in Hindi and his native Gujarati. Rarely did he ever speak in public in English. The language usage was critical to connecting with audiences. Fifth, Modi carried the stigma, if not stigma at least the overhang, of the 2002 anti-Muslim Godhra riots. So he wasn’t seen to be a secular brand.

The selling of Narendra Modi started with a simple but evocative rebranding. The active use of “NaMo" as a marketing moniker, but in reality a reverential Hindu salutation to the gods, was the first masterstroke. Sartorially, the Modi jacket and physiologically the superhuman 56-inch chest soon became synonymous with Brand Modi, as did his “brahmachari" status flaunted as a driver of his selflessness and indefatigability. Most importantly, Modi positioned himself as a harbinger of change, an agent of disruption. He inspired confidence. He reached out through rallies, events, meetings, television interviews, and mobile auto-dialers touching voters across the length and breadth of the country. His messaging was uncluttered: personal integrity, governance, progress and inclusion. “Achhe Din" was a slogan that held out the infinite promise of a better tomorrow. The Gujarat model was used to portray a leader who knew what he was saying. Combined with tactics such as chaiwala, chai pe charcha, NaMo tea shops and NaMo merchandise stores, Brand Modi maximized voter hi-touch.

Then came the active and first-ever use of social media in political brand-building in India. Modi had embraced YouTube way back in 2007. He got onto Facebook and Twitter in 2009. In 2010, he invested in a website of his own. As on 30 December 2013, NaMo had three million Twitter followers, while on Facebook he had 75.6 million likes and 960,982 people were talking about him (Source: FollowerWonk). No competitor was even remotely close. Modi’s ascension to Prime Minister in 2014 did not mean that work on Brand Modi slowed down. In fact, it got propelled to higher levels.

He ousted seniors such as Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha, and became the undisputed leader of the BJP and its only public face.

As Prime Minister, he sent out a clear message that he stood for a strong leadership, corruption-free governance, transparency, social inclusiveness and nationalism.

Modi’s fan following has grown exponentially. Today, he has more than 43 million Facebook followers, about 47 million Twitter followers and more than 20 million on Instagram.

However, Modi had his share of controversies and mis-steps. Demonetization was the biggest downer of his first innings. The introduction of the goods and services tax has had its critics. “Suit boot ki sarkar" has had its supporters. Rafale has had Modi on the back foot.

But almost all of it has been neutralized by Modi’s bold put-Pak-in-its-place nationalism: the Uri strikes and Balakot as retaliation to Pulwama have given him the kind of aura Indira Gandhi enjoyed post-1971. A Modi app, NaMo TV, a web series, a biopic and the “chowkidar" campaign all helped to embellish Brand Modi, boost his franchise, and the interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar was the icing on the cake.

Brand Modi has grown considerably in the past five years and he is leagues ahead of any other political brand.

Modi is unassailable today. He just needs to change to higher gears, from salesman to statesman. For the past five years, Brand Modi has been constantly evolving, but has been in combative mode, always battle-ready, sometimes battle-bruised. This second innings should be a more mature, accommodating, inclusive and humble Modi. I am sure Prime Minister Modi will do just that and carve out for himself a place in history.

Sandeep Goyal is an expert in human brands. He holds a doctorate in the subject from Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi.

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