This Article is From May 11, 2014

Truth vs Hype - Contenders 2014, The Making of 'Modi Wave'

Supporters of the BJP wear masks of the party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh

New Delhi: Narendra Modi has wrapped up one of the most relentless, high-decibel campaigns in recent political memory, asking for votes on the back of what some call the Gujarat Model.

'I transformed Gujarat', he has told (often frenzied crowds), 'now allow me to transform India'.

It is a message that carries resonance, as we found at a Modi rally in Lalganj in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

"We want UP to become like Gujarat," said one young man, a view echoed by many of those we spoke to. (Also Read: God save the country from this sort of model: Sonia Gandhi)

But as an increasing number of studies have found, the claims that Mr Modi transformed Gujarat do not quite hold up. A detailed piece by two UK based economists, Professor Maitreesh Ghatak of London School of Economics and Sanchari Roy of Warwick University, finds that while Mr Modi ensured that Gujarat remained a high performing state, it didn't significantly do better in his tenure than other high performers like Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra.

The Raghuram Rajan index (authored by the RBI governor) which rates Indian states on the basis of economic and social parameters placed Gujarat in the category of 11 'less developed states'.  

To look for answers to the depth and extent of the marketing of the Gujarat success story, and the building of Brand Modi means rewinding to 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 riots. As the Modi regime came in for widespread criticism for being unable to control the violence, the Gujarat government mulled plans for an image makeover.  

According to Pankaj Mudholkar, who heads Akriti Promotions, the Indian affiliate of American PR giant APCO, the government decided to host an investor summit in late 2003, timed to coincide with the Navratri festival.

At that time, Mr Mudholkar was with Grey Advertising.  In a rare interview, he says, "The thinking behind organising the summit was to mobilise investments in the state, to course correct the image of the state which had taken a beating."

Asked on what the brief for his agency was, he says, "We wanted to showcase the happy, happening images of Gujarat to the people and Navratri couldn't have been a better choice for it, when the state is at its colourful best."

Grey organised the first few editions of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit; since 2011, the contract has shifted to APCO.  Each summit became a high voltage media event, drawing top CEOs whose praise for Mr Modi as a go-getting Chief Minister was telecast across the country. 

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It ensured the reinvention of Mr Modi, from a figure of controversy to a Brand that delivers. 

As Mr Mudholkar put it, "A brand is a promise. You buy toothpaste, vis-a-vis a second toothpaste, primarily because that toothpaste has promised you whiter teeth, cleaner teeth and no bad breath.

The moment that product lives up to the promise, the brand building happens in your mind. Similarly, Brand Modi promised efficient administration and then he had followed up it with Swagat, which is an online site, and the results were there to see. So people believed in whatever he mentioned."  

Here too, some have found an element of hyperbole. Data suggests that only a small fraction of the MoU's pledged -- 1907 projects out of 17,705 -- have been converted. As of 2013, Maharashtra remains the highest ranking state for FDI inflows. Delhi is second. Gujarat slipped from the fifth to the sixth position.

And yet, as Mr Mudholkar told us, Gujarat scored through sheer hard-sell.

"One of the important things in communication and branding is that you communicate the same message and hammer it over a period of time once you identify what your core strengths are, which is what Mr Modi did very well with his government. They identified what are the core strengths. There is a very organised effort that went into this entire communication and brand building exercise."     

Mr Modi's critics have argued that his deployment of a high-spending corporate-style PR blitz has exaggerated his achievements and papered over weaknesses -- both on the economic and social fronts, as well as the disturbing legacy of the 2002 riots.

But Mr Modi's vociferous fanbase is unconcerned. At the rally in Lalganj, a BJP supporter told us, "Even marketing is a craft, practised by all parties. What is wrong if Modi ji does it better than the Congress or the Samajwadi Party?"

As another young man told us, "Besides, it can't be only marketing. There has to be a reason why a tea-vendor is today on the verge of becoming the Prime Minister."