Opinion | Elections 2024: Why Brand Modi Is Unlikely To Fizzle Out Anytime Soon

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The latest Morning Consult approval ratings of global leaders, based on data collected from February 29 to March 6, once again show Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the charts. He enjoys a net approval rating of 62% - that is, of the respondents, 78% approved of him, while 16% did not. 

Only six of the 25 leaders tracked have a positive rating, while the rest 19 have a negative net approval rating. They include France's Emmanuel Macron, the US's Joe Biden and the UK's Rishi Sunak. 

According to the C-Voter's Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey, in terms of domestic ratings, 55% of voters prefer to see Modi as prime minister again, against 14% of people who support Rahul Gandhi

Cyclical Shifts

Modi's popularity ratings have changed in cycles. They jumped from around 40% in February 2016 to 65% in January 2017 (just after demonetisation), then fell to 46% just before the Balakot airstrikes in 2019, before reaching 66% again in 2020 post his emphatic win in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic

During COVID-19, Modi's ratings plummeted to 24%. But steps like 100% vaccination through indigenously developed vaccines firmed up his credentials, and his approval record jumped to over 50% again in January 2022, and was touching 55% by January 2024, which was soon after the G-20 event in Delhi. 

There has been a lot of debate about whether Brand Modi has peaked, whether there is still some room for growth, or, in fact, whether it's on a decline. There are four stages in a product - or brand's - life cycle: introduction, growth, maturity and decline.

Votes And The Modi Factor

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, one out of every three voters (32%) who voted for the BJP would not have done so if Modi were not the prime ministerial face of the party, according to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies' (CSDS) National Election Study (NES). 

The NDA received 27.5 crore votes in 2019, a lead of 11 crore over the the UPA's 16.5 crore votes. Out of this, 8.5 crore, which is almost 80% of the lead margin, was on account of the 'Modi factor'. The MOTN survey in August 2023 showed that the share of voters who supported the BJP primarily because of Modi has increased from 32% to 44%. 

The Modi Brand, it seems, is still going strong and may be in a growth stage, which just precedes maturity. Opposition parties are hoping that this election will see his popularity peaking, and that by 2029, Brand Modi will start fading away. 

The Pillars Of 'Brand Modi'

Modi's image is built on three key perceptions: trust, good intent and delivery. He has been able to touch the hearts of people through many of his landmark schemes and their implementation. 

Experts have similar views. While author Santosh Desai opines that at the heart of Brand Modi lies "strength and clarity", Dilip Cherian a renowned communications consultant and political campaign advisor, believes that 'Brand Modi' works on a "sound, corporate" principle of "repeat, rinse, repeat". The director of Axis My India, Pradeep Gupta, says what PM Modi has is "intent" and a "one-point agenda on the development of the country and countrymen", and for Creativeland Asia Network founder Sajan Raj Kurup, the brand's success is because Modi has managed to keep voters engaged through both adverse and interesting times, and even through things that are irrelevant to you".

The party has managed to win the support of women, too, who are optimistic about their 'achche din' (good days) that have arrived in the form of LPG cylinders under the PM Ujjwala Yojana. Apart from that, there is the PM Awas Yojana for houses, Jan Ausadhi Kendras for affordable medicines, direct benefit transfer schemes to eliminate middlemen and leakages, and Jan Dhan accounts to improve financial inclusion. 

Why He Remains Popular

For Modi, being popular in his 10th year as PM is not easy. It requires continuous engagement with the people, consistent reinvention of his image, and the addition of new vote blocks. Modi also displays an uncanny ability to ride out public discontent over decisions that do not pan out the way he wants. Demonetisation is an example. 

Over the last 10 years, the Modi government has implemented several schemes for almost all categories of voters - namely, youth, farmers, the poor, and seniors. At the same time, it has delivered on its ideological promises and provided a conducive environment for business through structural reforms. 

Brand Modi towers over even the BJP's name and symbol today. The BJP's theme and slogan for this election is "Once again Modi"; the political messaging is about "Modi ki Guarantee" (Modi's guarantees), rather than "BJP ki Guarantee" (BJP's guarantees). 

It is Brand Modi that fetches the BJP additional votes, which consolidates voters from all walks of life irrespective of their ideological beliefs. It's Modi's oratory skills, policies, charisma, delivery and the perception of India's raised global stature under him that have bolstered the party's winning prospects in elections. To sum up, the difference between the NDA and the INDIA bloc is, in the truest sense, Brand Modi.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.