The BJP machinery, which has spent time and money managing the image of one man, must keep in mind that even the best marketing campaigns can’t fix a flawed product
In 1989, there was a huge anticipation and excitement about a new way to play video games. All this excitement and anticipation was the result of the marketing campaign behind the “Power Glove”, a wearable glove that would serve as a controller in video game consoles. The “Power Glove” was featured and referred to in feature films, found on billboards and plastered almost everywhere. Ask about it today though and you are likely to get blank, confused stares. This because, while the marketing campaign was admirable, the product was completely disconnected from what the consumers wanted. Overall, it was just not a great product.
Fast forward to 2019 and you have the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy encouraging his followers to buy T-shirts with the slogan “Main Bhi Chowkidar.” Not just that, this election season has seen Prime Minister Modi repeatedly post, comment, retweet and actively promote the sale of products with either his name written on them or with the latest consumer-friendly slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). How did we get here?
In an era of social media, more attention is being given to the cover of the book than the book itself and there is greater focus on selling; nowhere is this more exemplified than in the case of the BJP. Today, we have Prime Minister Modi’s name on T-shirts, mugs and even notebooks. Even in the BJP’s own manifesto, the Prime Minister’s face can be seen with HD clarity while the everyday people whom he is meant to serve are merely a low-quality backdrop. It will be apt to give a summary of the past five years, where the Prime Minister and the BJP’s machinery spent all the time managing the image of a single man and forgot about the millions of people who elected him to serve them.
Now, we have a channel with no licence that is focussed on him and a movie where the actor, who plays the Prime Minister, will also, unsurprisingly, be one of the chief campaigners of the BJP. Currently, the movie is not allowed to be released in theatres due to a directive by the Election Commission. However, there is no denying that we have all been handed a ticket to this theatre of the absurd.
It’s hard to get around without having seen a photo of Modi staring back at you. While it is important for India to maintain the right of every person, including the Prime Minister, to engage in marketing to the extent permitted under the law and to not restrict the freedom of expression of any individual, this megalomaniacal approach towards any personality is worrisome. Even North Korea, whose obsession with its leaders is often a subject of parody, doesn’t have a dedicated channel for its supreme leader. The reason why this trend should be checked is because a large amount of money is spent by the BJP on advertising and promoting the Prime Minister. The practice of asking for votes in the name of Modi rather than the BJP undermines our parliamentary system.
In 2014, for example, when this tactic was initially employed, most voters did not even know the individuals who were contesting the Lok Sabha elections in their constituency. Instead, all that the voters were sold was the image of one man who would solve all their problems. Unfortunately, this story unravelled dramatically over the past five years.
India is a parliamentary democracy, which means that in the Centre and States, the party with the greatest representation in India’s Parliament forms the Government and picks one person as the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister. The reason this system particularly makes sense for India is that we are a vibrant country. This vibrancy is not only in terms of all that is good in our country like the different cuisines, cultures and the people but also vibrant in the sense that each region has different needs and different requirements, depending on the constituents of a particular constituency.
I have heard certain people say that they want Modi at the Centre even if they don’t believe their MP is capable of representing their constituency effectively. Such an approach goes against the entire ethos of parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister Modi may promise the moon and the stars (and he often does). However, at the end of the day, it is the local parliamentarian who is required to raise local issues that can be discussed and debated in Parliament.
Take the example of getting a new hospital built or the opening of a new Central university. It is not as if the Prime Minister will help get your hospital built. As the Prime Minister, Modiji is required to ensure that the parliamentarians whom he leads, serve their constituents by raising the issues of each constituency in Parliament.
Ideally, he should also give credit to such parliamentarians for any work done so that they continue to serve their constituents and, therefore, as a whole, the nation moves forward. However, we hardly hear Prime Minister Modi talking about anyone other than himself. In fact, do you even remember a time when he complimented a particular parliamentarian during his speeches? You would be hard pressed to find an example.
Instead, Prime Minister Modi has ensured that he deflects blame for everything that goes wrong — corruption, unemployment, demonetisation, loss of lives due to terror attacks. And at the same time, he is the quickest to take credit when there’s a whiff of success.
The mugs, the T-shirts, the movie and the radio shows among others — they are all the hallmarks of a man who has made it quite clear that the only thing he has on his mind is himself. Therefore, if India wants to truly progress and move forward, it needs to reject this idea that any one man can be a panacea for all that ails our country.
We must remember that the parliamentary form of Government works for India because it helps highlight the varying nature of issues our very diverse country faces. While there is no denying that a Prime Minister fulfills a crucial role in this system, he must also remember that he is the first among equals. If Prime Minister Modi does not grasp this fundamental rule of democracy, it is likely his tenure, too, like the “Power Glove”, will serve as a lesson for future generations: Even the best marketing campaigns can’t fix a flawed product.
(The writer is Jharkhand PCC president, former MP and IPS officer. Views are personal)