How sops and publicity have kept Narendra Modi in the race for 2019 polls

The game is not about development. It's all about jingoism, sycophancy and optics. And everyone, from advertisers to Bollywood, is playing a part.

 |  7-minute read |   25-01-2019
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"Our learned people, after blaming everyone from Nehru regime to Congress misrule, said that auditors are to blame for PNB scam. Thank God they spared the peon."- Shatrughan Sinha

Previously, there was a way that adults lied and children lied. Adults would lie in a sophisticated manner, keeping in mind that there wouldn't be too many fact checkers and that public memory was short anyway. Children blurted out anything that came into their minds and were caught immediately. If held to it, they would just stubbornly keep arguing, sounding progressively more absurd and then just go off into a sulk.

Now, with the internet, fact checkers, and social media keeping a record of everything, adults can't lie like before — they have become like children, but with the difference that they have invented a term called "alt truth". In the creation of this alternate universe, doctored images and manufactured truths blur the lines between what's real and fiction.

Yet, there is something very strange about the people of this country — their capacity for the suspension of disbelief, denial, confusion between pride and self-respect, the reverence for abstract constructs like flags and national anthems, the iconisation of the feminine divine, disregarding their corresponding sordid realities — and lastly, the instant defiance when all this is pointed out.

From the bizarre public exhibition of sycophancy to desperate draconian measures and the grandiloquent declaration of sops in the run-up to the 2019 general elections have revealed the underbelly of political opportunism in unique ways.

shah-modi1-copy_012319055113.jpgTime for a new measure? The declaration of sops in the run-up to the 2019 general elections reveal political opportunism. (Photo: PTI)

The Delhi police filed a chargesheet against Kanhaiya Kumar and nine others for holding an "anti-national" event at JNU in Delhi in February 2016 — and were promptly pulled up by a court in Delhi for not getting approval from the Delhi government. Speaking to the media, Kanhaiya Kumar said, "When the magisterial inquiry was done, it was concluded that no JNU student was involved. I want to say, the police filed a chargesheet after three years. We thank them…The filing of chargesheet after three years, ahead of elections, clearly shows it to be politically motivated. I trust the judiciary of my country."

A couple becomes famous when they design their wedding card imploring the guests to contribute to the BJP via their app and cast their vote for Narendra Modi in the coming elections. So much so that the PM himself, disregarding the dignity of his office, rewards this show of loyalty by actually writing a letter to the couple saying, "Heartiest Congratulations to Pokharna family on the joyous occasion of the marriage of Yuvraj and Sakshi. I noticed a unique feature of the marriage invitation card sent to the guests. The ingenuity of its content reflects your abiding concern and love for the nation. This also inspires me to keep working harder for our country.”

A group of Bollywood celebrities practically fall over themselves to take a group selfie with a beaming PM that sends the message of endorsement by young influencers.

A slew of films are made, one full of high-octane testosterone oozing patriotism, feeding off the “surgical strikes” touted by the Modi government as one of its achievements, another glorifying in hagiographic style a communal warlord, yet another presenting the former PM as a helpless puppet controlled by evil dynasts.

accidentalpm_012319055241.jpgA slew of films are being made to help PM Modi's case in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. (Photo: The Accidental Prime Minister)

The Kotler award, which only the marketing community has heard of, suddenly shoots into the limelight when it is bestowed on the PM for “outstanding leadership” with much fanfare, apparently without the knowledge of its founder (according to initial reports) and without a jury. After a few days of silence, Philip Kotler himself clarifies that the award has been given for “increasing the country’s image and visibility on the global stage.”

There is nothing about development here — only optics, which, to be fair, is the purview of a marketing award. But given the delay in the clarification, the question does pop into one’s mind — as a good marketing person, would you acknowledge that the award instituted in your name had been misused by person(s) unknown, and therefore your brand devalued — or stick by it stoutly when it came to your notice?

It is high time as a democracy to reflect on the fundamentals of our engagement with the political structure as a whole. Why is there this trend towards conformism and pro-establishmentarianism?

Why has 'protest' become a bad word?

Why have citizens become willing collaborators of the very people who manipulate and exploit them?

And, above all, how are Bollywood and cricket stars deemed 'social influencers?'

On January 19, after the inauguration of a National Museum of Indian Cinema the PM quoted a line from Uri: The Surgical Strike as he addressed a gathering of Hindi film actors and directors. “How’s the Josh?” The audience that included actors Aamir Khan and Kangana Ranaut, directors Rohit Shetty and Karan Johar, and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairman Prasoon Joshi – shouted back, "High, Sir!”.

Yes, India is high on militarist jingoism. Riding on self-propelled howitzers showcased as a success of the Make In India program in full media glare illustrates just that.

modi-clap-copy_012319055301.jpgAre we applauding jingoism now? (Photo: PTI)

What was not in the reports was that this Museum is in the grounds of the Films Division that has been virtually defunct, a far cry from its glory days when it used to produce wonderful documentaries directed by the crème de la crème of our film makers, that used to be shown in cinema halls across the countries.

Or that the Children’s Film Society in the same grounds that used to produce so many memorable films for children, many of which used to travel by vans across the countryside for screening to underprivileged children, has been without a committee or a Chairperson for a long time.

Modi launched the 'Beti Bachao' programme in 2015 for which the government allocated at least Rs 644 crore. Of this amount, about 56% has been spent on “media activities” i.e., advertising and publicity. Hype without content, froth without substance, sloganeering without follow up on the ground has been accepted by the general public, and even cheered and defended. The BJP government at the Centre has spent Rs 4,343.26 crore on advertisements and publicity since coming to power in May 2014, according to the Bureau of Outreach and Communication (BOC).

modi-it-copy_012319055330.jpgWhirlwind campaigns. But how much substance underneath all the hype? (Photo: India Today)

It is alleged that GDP data was manipulated by changing the base year to 2011-12 to create the impression of the “world’s fastest growing economy”. Modi had promised young India 100 million jobs by the end of five years. Recently, the government reportedly admitted it has no data on job growth.

Flouting the SC verdict on Sabarimala, assassination plots, a slew of propaganda films, group selfies with Bollywood stars, a hastily passed bill on upper class reservation, a highly publicised inauguration of some link road in Kerala, a crackdown on Kanhaiya Kumar and others all of a sudden after three years, some amateurish 'ISIS cell', the odd removal of Alok Verma, and now, a first time 'confidential award' all leading up to the general elections, events gathering tempo, an extreme anxiety so palpable that it fools no one, except the most diehard acolyte.

There are still three months left for the general elections. The Budget session of Parliament starts on January 31.

What more dog and pony shows will be occupying centrestage is up in the air — but rest assured, they will come thick and fast.  

Also read: When Tejashwi met Akhilesh and Mayawati. How the opposition is using Modi's strategies to defeat the BJP in 2019

Writer

Gautam Benegal Gautam Benegal @gautambenegal

Award winning animation filmmaker, artist, author, and social commentator.

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