Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Swadeshi tadka of masculinity, nationalism

Mix This With Development Talk And You Get Brand Modi

Shiv Visvanathan

This Gujarat election was a test of the one of the most interesting experiments in political advertising – the creation of ‘Brand Modi’. One has to recognize that the Modi of the post-2002 riots is a designer politician, who decided to remake himself, realizing that blatant Hindutava is inadequate as a long-term strategy. 

    Modi was one of the first politicians to realize that the middle class and the urban voter might serve as an electoral constituency. Political scientist Achyut Yagnik was first to notice the change in Modi’s strategy. Brand Modi was a composite of middle class fears and majoritarian anxiety. The Hindu majority was tired of what is read as Congress appeasement of the minority. Modi also realized that anxiety alone is not enough to construct a constituency and added the middle class desire for development to his image rebuilding exercise. This combination of ‘electoralism’ and ‘developmentalism’ provided the basis for a superficial cosmopolitanism which Brand Modi identified as a technocratic way of thinking. Modi did borrow the language of the World Bank audit statement to sell his development, but he went beyond it to create a rhetorical style with international agencies, local corporations and free market advocates as stake-holders. To this language, he added a swadeshi tadka of masculinity and nationalism.This brand has worked wonders for Gujarat. It has provided a sense of security and growth. It caters to a middle class view of success.
    Modi won the election, but when one does the micro-sociological analysis of different regions one sees the tension of Brand Modi. Like in Kutch, one saw the tension of lopsided urbanization, in Saurasthra one saw the im pact of drought and failure to address local issues. Brand Modi had no sensitivity for caste nor did it have social ecological imagination which caters to the livelihood of tribals, dalits or minorities. It was open to business, but not to the future of ordinary livelihoods.
    The election results show that this brand can take the chief minister to victory, but lim its of the model are very clear. Brand Modi both as a theory of Modi’s personality and development, can’t be extended beyond Gu jarat. Unless the model is reworked to under stand plurality and possibilities of a coalition government.
    Brand Modi will remain a dialect confined to Gujarat. To expand its limits, it needs to be constructed from the ground up as a new im agination. Whether Modi has the courage to do this is an open question.