Prime Minister Narendra Modi is always talking. Be it ‘Chai pe Charcha’ or ‘Mann Ki Baat’, he is communicating with the nation through TV screens, the radio or his campaigns. Once upon a time, every corner of our country used to hear the legendary voice of Lata Mangeshkar. Today, in a world full of sound pollution, that voice has been replaced by Modi’s incessant words.
The sound of Modi is not particularly pleasing to the ear. Those who have heard an exchange between Gujarati traders in Mumbai locals know that Modi’s voice has a peculiar Gurjari connotation; a dry practicality. Moreover, he stretches the last words of a sentence in a low-pitched, screeching baritone voice. Despite this, it is believed that no other orator in the Indian political scene parallels him.
Picture this scene:
Gondia. April 3, 2019. After dark. A BJP rally. The ground is full, and many of those present are women.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his speech by softly chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. His voice gradually gets louder. He starts speaking faster. The audience is captivated. They are being asked direct questions.
‘Are you satisfied with the efforts of your chowkidar?’
People raise their hands and answer – ‘Yes.’
Do you believe in the loyalty and spirit of this chowkidar? ‘Yes.’
Is the nation headed in the right direction? ‘Yes.
People are reminded of the surgical strike, A-SAT test. As if speaking to a child, the adults are asked, ‘We killed Pakistani terrorists in their homeland…you remember, right?’
Now his tone has become dramatic. It has gained a hostile edge. He says, ‘People who sit in air-conditioned offices in Delhi are claiming that the nation has forgotten Balakot. Tell me, have you forgotten Balakot?’
Some members of the audience wave their hands and say no.
Modi says, ‘If the nation has not forgotten about the war of ’62, how can it forget Balakot?’
This gibe is directed at Nehru, as if 1965 or ’71 never happened.
Every language has its own innate rhythm. The rhythm of the Hindi language in Modi’s speeches becomes apparent only through the lack of it. Abbreviating words is Modi’s nurtured style. Recently in Meerut, Modi created an acronym – ‘Sarab’ – using initials of the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party. He implicitly equated these three political parties with ‘sharab’, which means alcohol in Hindi.
This may seem like childish wordplay; Modi’s critics may laugh and make fun of it. But this only goes to show that they are completely missing his clever tactics. We all have used acronyms to remember things in as children. Modi has used the same technique to send across a definitive message that will be remembered.
Other BJP leaders try to follow Modi’s tactics. For example, BJP leader Amit Shah made the acronym ‘Kasab’ by taking ‘Ka’ from Congress, ‘Sa’ from Samajwadi Party and ‘B’ from BSP.
Modi uses small and easy-to-understand words. In addition, he is dramatic – like a salesman! It may have originated from the Gujarati business environment around him, but his acting is surely intrinsic.
A thesis on Modi’s oratorical prowess was presented at Uttarakhand University. Authored by Dinesh Sharma, it is titled ‘Linguistic Efficacy of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister’. According to the author, ‘Because of his connection with writing, directing, acting and management of plays, Modi’s language gained a dramatic quality.’ Dramatics is not only a part of his language, but also his overall behaviour. Actions like hugging other national leaders to show intimacy, bowing down before entering parliament as prime minister or washing the feet of sanitation workers reveal the dramatic nature of his personality.
Churchill tells us, “The orator is the embodiment of the passions of the multitude. Before he can inspire them with any emotion, he must be swayed by it himself. When he would rouse their indignation, his heart is filled with anger. Before he can move their tears, his own must flow. To convince them, he must himself believe. His opinions may change as their impressions fade, but every orator means what he says at the moment he says it. He may be often inconsistent. He is never consciously insincere.”
There are many inconsistencies in Modi’s behaviour. Modi, who criticised the Goods and Services Tax when he was with the opposition, promoted it through an elaborate event in parliament. Modi, who opposed foreign investment, embraced it as the ultimate solution. Modi, who denounced the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as a symbol of the Congress’s failure, extended it during his term. With time, his harsh criticism of Sharad Pawar turns into admiration of him as a mentor. Anyone else with this kind of behavioural inconsistency would have been considered delusional. But not Modi – not for his bhakts.
Take any of Modi’s speeches. There is a fixed template – one so overused that any thoughtful person should be bored. Yet Modi’s speeches only enhance the fascination around him. How is this accomplished? How do Modi’s speeches persuade people to overlook his inconsistencies, strategic failures and false promises? He addresses ordinary citizens. How are they so easily transformed into a violent mob?
His undignified attacks on the opposition can be shocking for some. Practically speaking, any political campaign takes cheap shots at the opposition. As Adolf Hitler said, ‘Propaganda should be simple enough to be understood by the dullest person in the crowd. The success of propaganda depends on its emotional connection.’ Hitler did not have a high opinion of ordinary people. With this background, let’s see Modi’s critique of the Congress manifesto.
When Congress promised to scrap the sedition law, Modi quickly declared this manifesto to be a conspiracy by Pakistan. Presently, sedition means treason against the ruler. There is a big difference between treason against the ruler and treason against the nation. Who can explain this to the masses? Thus, many believe the removal of sedition will be excessive.
Collectively, people have a weak memory. A case in which a cartoonist named Asim Trivedi was arrested in Mumbai for sedition by the then Congress government is completely forgotten. Writing ‘Jai Maharashtra’ was once considered a crime in this nation. Karnataka state had accused 12 people associated with the Maharashtra Unification Committee of sedition. This act of sedition consisted of welcoming a bus with ‘Jai Maharashtra’ written on it in Belgaon. By keeping such cases away from public memory, by translating treason against the ruler into treason against the nation, an appeal is being made to the feeling of patriotism in the masses. Breaking up facts into pieces, spreading half-truths and creating the desired emotional effect through it is the definition of propaganda.
And Modi is an expert. He is seen using certain propaganda techniques repeatedly. Demonisation of the opposition is an important techniques.
A few years ago, he created a binary between ‘hard work’ and Harvard’. It was not understood by many at the time. Scholars and intellectuals have always been dissociated from the masses. Many hold an animosity towards them. This animosity becomes apparent through the use of phrases like ‘writer or editors from their ivory towers’, ‘people sitting in air-conditioned offices in Delhi’, ‘Lutyens Delhi’ or ‘Lutyens media’. Modi sanctions this animosity through his speeches.
One must understand the motive behind creating an opposition between those who work hard and those who think. It aims to demonise morality, logic and intelligence.
Joseph Goebbels is known for his statement, ‘If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.’ Related to this is the ‘big lie’ imagined by Hitler. He has written, ‘In the big lie, there is always a certain force of credibility.’ The bigger the lie, the greater the belief in it. He proved this through his actions.
Modi’s opposition calls him ‘feku’. This means that Modi lies constantly. He tells half-truths. Many times, he abuses history. Once his statements are proved to be deliberate lies, he does not utter a word about it, let alone explain the situation. People make fun of him for it. They say his knowledge of history is inadequate. In reality, the lie is deliberate. He is inventing the big lie.
The rally in Gondia highlighted another feature of Modi’s oratorical skill – communicating with people directly.
This is not done merely through question and answers. It is on the lines of a musician encouraging his audience to clap to the beats during a live concert, or a leader asking the audience to switch on flashlights on their phones at the same time, or a speaker telling the audience to chant a name. It’s a way of connecting with people.
Modi does this through questions and answers. His questions are easy and designed to get the answers he wants. There is no connection to logic, no need to think about it. When Modi asks, ‘Are achhe din here?’, the atmosphere automatically generates a ‘yes’. Through such question-answer sessions, the audience emotionally surrenders itself. The bandwagon technique works wonderfully in such assemblies. When everyone is on one side, the idea opposing this side never crosses anyone’s mind.
French social psychologist Gustave Le Bonn has said that ‘nobody can maintain their individual personality in a crowd’. Once an individual is part of the crowd and the mob, they descend into a world of madness. Their face is merged with that of the crowd. They have become completely obedient.
In this time, their collective delusion is a reality for them. This is the mystery behind the fascination around Modi. If one watches his speeches keeping this in mind, the true nature of his appeal is revealed.
Visoba Khechar is a political analyst.