Modi's PR spin is brilliant, but his convoy is holding up traffic

Only a few must know who these geniuses are because the guessing game is hot and rife and yet, no specific names comes up.



By Bikram Vohra

Published: Mon 14 Oct 2019, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 14 Oct 2019, 9:56 PM

It is less a coat of paint than a veneer cultivated and applied with exquisite strokes. In the end the image manages to navigate the wear and tear placed on the garment by detractors and those who like to nitpick his every move. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's PR machine is so highly professional that it clasps the pulse of the people on a 24/7 basis and makes moves with the depth and forward-thinking insight of a chess master.
Only a few must know who these geniuses are because the guessing game is hot and rife and yet, no specific names comes up. Either of a person or a company though the rumours abound. The identity of these marketing gurus remains largely a secret.
The latest foray into imaging was again central earlier this week when Modi used not a vacation but a summit meet with China's president Xi Jinping in the historical coastal town of Mahabalipuram. The political import of this meet was temporarily set aside as Modi chose the occasion to go on a 'plogging' (ragpicking plastic items) mission.
Indian media inundated the nation with shots of him painstakingly cleaning up Mamallapuram beach with a bag in his hand as he sifted through the jetsam and the flotsam. That the whole area must have been sanitised before his sandy odyssey did not detract from the lavish praise. A lesser personality would have been laughed at outright and for the old guard it was a reminder of the time Indira Gandhi rode on rickshaw to work to save on gas, a message that fell by the roadside unsung and largely mocked. And herein lies the rub. Modi does not get mocked. Every such exercise enriches his image and is so well packaged that there is not one little peep of derision.
Here is a man who cares for the lives of his people and for their safety and the quality of that life. Try telling the public this is a gimmick or just a ploy especially against the backdrop of 8,000 plastic manufacturing units facing closure. I took a litmus test in South Delhi the morning after and got a 95 per cent positive rating for the beach clean-up. The trick is in the message and it resonates with the man in the street who has even shifted gradually from bemoaning the heavy traffic fines imposed in Delhi to 'at least the man is saving lives' which translates into the same sentiment: he cares.
And yet, the chest thumping, pumping VIP hands in warm clasps and being folksy Prime Minister extraordinaire is the same person whose cavalcade causes so much inconvenience.
Jammed for over 30 minutes on a major artery where you cannot move for fear of trigger-happy commandos you stand idly by because the PM is off to a mela (fair).
The intersections are blocked, thousands of cops placed on special duty and the city in the throes of a blocked artery, the recovery from which takes time, money, and underscores aggravation. It is eerie how the 'no man's land' is created for the drive past.
So, I ask those on the inner track of the power grid why he cannot just take a chopper and whizz over the city and save us all some grief. There are security reasons cited but they seem unconvincing. Who is going to know which chopper the PM is in and where it is going. And between the air force, police, private, and traffic control fleets, a chopper flying over the city is not an unusual sight.
Perhaps the real reason is the disconnect aerial transportation causes between the projected image and the message given off by taking a plane. Oh yes, the gurus probably do not think it is a good idea, the need to be on the same level as the people and avoid criticism of over-expenditure and wastefulness being paramount. That the waste of holding traffic and the logistics of creating a security umbrella would be a hundred times costlier than a whirlybird's bill is not even factored in.
Until those pundits rework their plans one can only stand and wait ... and hope one will still be served.
-bikram@khaleejtimes.com


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