They say politics is just a game. Be the player rather than the played. A large part of this game is managing people and you can really hone your HR skills but a big chunk of the politics is managing perceptions. The art lies in managing a positive perception of yourself by the people and creating perceptions of negativity around your competitors. The art of managing perceptions has changed and it’s now a 24x7 job in India as well.
Leaders are crafted, packaged and sold to the public. It helps that there are so many more mediums to reach the electorate and get your message across. The communication technology revolution that the Rajiv Gandhi led Congress government unleashed in India in the 1980’s has now sprawled to every corner of India. Perceptions are easier to create and manage nationally now than ever before.
Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare’s movement utilised it first-hand best nationally and Arvind could go on to create a pan-India platform. The results in New Delhi surprised all, maybe even the Aam Aadmi Party.
Modi’s campaign team has taken it to another level and the electorate of India, a little tired of the now jaded Congress government, has taken complete advantage of it. You can blame the palace guards for protecting Rahul Gandhi from governance but sometimes the leader has to decide things for themselves. In the scenario of today’s general elections, Arvind is a marginal phenomenon on television but Modi has grown to be larger than life.
If we wind back to the early 1990’s Pramod Mahajan and Narendra Modi were the prime architects of LK Advani’s rath-yatra which culminated in the not just the demolition of the Babri Masjid but also several riots across India with thousands of deaths to follow. Modi as the head of Gujarat’s BJP government presided over the last decades worst riots in India in 2002. However communication technology has changed a lot of people’s perception about him. He has gone from the RSS’s lunatic fringe chief minister who presided over mass murders in Gujarat in 2002 to the messiah of development in 2014 by virtue of better use of communication tools available to the BJP and Team Modi. The perception is managed to this extent that one of their candidates, Paresh Rawal (a well-known actor) said a benevolent dictator in India was fine for Modi.
The Congress had 10 years of mostly good governance where they did great things to help India grow further. A silent Congress more than anything else could suffer big reverses only because perception has been created that they did not perform. Now don’t get me wrong, the last three years have been tough for India but the government of the day chose not to speak much to its citizens even during this time. They tell you in times of great crises the greatest of leaders speak up to its electorate and spoke the loudest.
Who can forget Indira Gandhi’s greatest speech ‘Mere ek ek khoon ka katra agar iss desh ke liye kubaan ho jaye…’ it was made at a time when Punjab was still burning in the aftermaths of Operation Bluestar even though large scale terrorism there was on the wane. Atal Bihari Vajpayee called Indira Gandhi ‘Maa Durga’ post the partition of Bangladesh and Pakistan, the war that India won under the late Gandhi.
Now cut to present times, Arvind Kejriwal’s motley crew could create a massive wave in New Delhi, formed the government, but could not manage to sell his resignation as a ‘tyaag’ for the higher ideals he espouses today. If he had managed to do that, this election would be a different story but today especially in eastern UP he has to live with the title ‘Bhagoda’. If we look around the world, Barack Obama has a well crafted image. Bill Clinton’s image of being an efficient economy manager saved him from further embarrassment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
If we look around today Team Modi has made best use of the all available means of perception management while the Congress, a late starter, has managed to catch up somewhat. AAP’s dedicated volunteer force has been working very hard on twitter, face book and other forms of digital media. The sheer scale of the BJP campaign to give Modi a very clean scrub in these elections is commendable and note worthy. His speeches are crafted, his interviews fixed, his pregnant pauses a reminder of Vajpayee and his symbols all keep pushing into us that he a steroidal Hindu but with a magic wand of development of India. His choice of Varanasi as his second safe constituency, his plastic cheap white lotus symbol, his ‘Maa Gange ne bulaya hai’ are all crafted to suit his audience but could have been used by his competitors, instead he has got a free run so far.
His nearest competitor, these days as I see it is Priyanka Gandhi, is neither a post holder in the Congress party nor a candidate from any of the constituencies going to polls. Her mannerisms, her retorts (‘Is desh ko chalane ke liye Chappan inch ki chhati nahin, dariya jaisa dil chahiye’), her dress sense, her television presence and the way she is comfortable with the citizens of the country are all things that make her a great leader to craft for image-gurus in times to come. We should look forward to some more of her and maybe a lot of her starting in the near future.
As for now, let’s look at two more weeks of elections left in India in which small symbols, mannerisms and who says what is starting to matter a lot as constituencies have tight three or four cornered battles in the very important area of eastern Uttar Pradesh or Poorvanchal.