Choosing a winning candidate for elections and showcasing his/her achievements and laurels to garner voters’ support is not new in politics. So it came as no surprise when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The four-time CM of Gujarat was the obvious choice over LK Advani, the aging BJP stalwart who was the party’s PM face in 2009. Narendra Modi’s meteoric rise to national political stage was as much due to propaganda as it was due to his long tenure as Chief Minister in Gujarat.
Casting Modi as the PM involved a two-pronged strategy. One, to showcase Modi as India’s only option and rid him of his anti-Muslim image. And second, to project the development of Gujarat as a national blueprint. The branding exercise was a well-crafted strategy. The agenda given to the team was simple: to mislead the voter. By 2014, social media had arrived with full force and the electoral campaigns used the platform to reach out to voters. BJP too used social media to full advantage. What the party and its PM candidate lacked in terms of facts, was faked.
Building brand Modi
First, Modi was shown as a decisive leader who held the masterkey to India’s development and had the capability to take the country ahead. His regional and right-wing image was given a makeover. He was portrayed as strong, efficient, self-made and incorruptible.
Who can forget the black-and-white photo of a young Narendra Modi holding a broom and cleaning floor? The picture, which went viral in no time, was used by BJP supporters in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls as a part of their election campaign. The picture portrayed Modi as a man who rose from a humble background and climbed the steps of success – a dream every hardworking middle and lower class Indian nurtures. People could relate to him. He was one of them.
Many other pictures like this, of Modi walking with tigers or the shadow of his face in a waterfall, inspired awe in the rural and uneducated masses. Here was a man who was their saviour. There are myriad examples of impudent and unabashed falsifications done in the name of promoting brand Modi. BJP Mahila Morcha’s National Executive Member Priti Gandhi endorsed a fake Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, endorsement - “America fears Modi because they know that he is incorruptible”. Wikileaks rebutted the claim in strong words.
The truth about the sweeping picture came out much later when an RTI filed by an Ahmedabad-based activist revealed that the image was a photoshopped one. The man sweeping the floor was not the ‘humble’ Modi but an unknown BJP worker. The RTI reply clearly stated that the photograph was morphed.
The morphed photo of PM Modi
Modi - the saviour
Hindutva has always been Modi’s strength. Modi’s repeat winning performance in Gujarat was clear enough proof that his anti-Muslim image had made a permanent place in the heart of Gujaratis. He was given the title of Hindu Hriday Samrat by his party men. Gujaratis loved him because he was the one who had taught a lesson to Muslims in the state. To them, he was the saviour of Gujarat and Hindus, for without him, Gujarat had lost its glory and Hindus were in danger.
The strategy to present Modi as India’s only option was quite uncomplicated. It involved showing Congress, the only other party having the calibre to run the nation, in a bad light. BJP started digging up old scams during previous Congress governments. Automatically, Congress-led United Progressive Alliance seemed more corrupt and feeble. Lack of a strong prime ministerial face from the Congress camp didn’t help the grand party either. And since the BJP and RSS’s ideology of building of a Hindu Rashtra was the antithesis of Congress’s ideology of strengthening democracy and secularism, BJP’s media team didn’t leave any stone unturned in its efforts to erase and malign the legacy of Congress and its leaders.
In his maiden speech in Parliament, Modi chose not to mention Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Even now, his references to the great freedom fighters and builders of our nation are bereft of any mention of the man who is considered to be the architect of the modern Indian nation.
Modi’s image carried the taint of 2002 riots in Gujarat. Very deftly, Modi toned down his Hindutva rhetoric and diverted the nation’s attention to his over-blown development record in Gujarat.
The second part of the strategy involved in developing brand Modi was to showcase Gujarat as a model state, which Modi would replicate on the national stage. The Modi era in Gujarat was turned into a narrative.
The Vibrant Gujarat campaign was launched to showcase the developments in Gujarat under Modi. ‘Happy’ images of Gujarat and its people flooded the social media. The ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ website claims of getting 800 billion dollars’ worth MoUs since 2003. The claim, however, stands preposterously overblown against the Reserve Bank’s figure of 7 billion dollars for the same period.
In February 2013, Modi addressed a huge gathering of students at New Delhi’s Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC). He was seeking to connect with the youth considering that the general elections had almost 150 million first-time voters. He threw in words like roads, electricity, women's safety, peace, industry, education and governance. He spoke of slowing economic growth, high inflation and lack of new jobs – issues which resonated with young and urban voters. To the assembled students, he offered another candy. He said, “This nation is being ruined by vote bank politics. This nation requires development politics. If we switch to politics of development, we will soon be in a position to bring about lasting change and progress". Ironically, vote bank politics under Modi raj has assumed new dimensions. But as with fake photographs, a fabricated speech is what Modi presented.
Spinning another lie, Modi said, “Gujarat used to be a water-deficient state. But its agricultural growth has been more than 10 per cent in the last decade. Water level is decreasing all over India but in Gujarat, it is increasing”. At that time, according to a United Nations (UN) report, Gujarat was one of the most water-starved states in India. A 2012 report of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) said more than half of the bore-wells in Gujarat had recorded a considerable dip in the water level.
Keeping the nation caught in his fancy words, Modi hurriedly built a fake Gujarat model.
Fraudulence then, fraudulence now
There have been innumerable and often embarrassing instances of BJP’s own members spreading false propaganda and circulating photoshopped images of Modi. Not long ago, BJP minister Babul Supriyo tweeted a picture which he claimed was that of Rajkot Bus Stand whereas in reality was just a digital impression. In another incident, thousands of messages were circulated around declaring that Narendra Modi was chosen as the best PM in the world by UNESCO.
Barring a few instances, promoting fake messages by BJP members just shows how desperate the party supremo and its members are to contrive naraatives and hide real facts. What is more shocking and pitiful is how BJP/Modi’s official social media cells are spreading bogus and fraudulent information. BJP’s official Twitter handle tweeted pictures from other countries, showing them as Modi’s achievements. An image of a motorway in Poland was shown as an example of Modi’s magical reforms around the country.
In another instance of faking images to portray Modi’s government in a positive developmental light, Piyush Goyal, who recently handed over the Ministry of Power to RK Singh, posted an inauthentic image announcing the government’s progress in lighting Indian roads. The image was infact borrowed from an article on American technology website Cnet. The minister later reissued the tweet with a different picture but by then the falsified image had been circulated widely through Whatsapp, Twitter etc.
The inauthentic image announcing the government’s progress in lighting Indian roads
While fake images travel faster, the rectifications do not find many takers. The benefit which Modi’s government desires out of fake propaganda is delivered right to his doorstep. Thousands of gullible people take these fake images at face value and put their faith and hopes in Modi’s ‘good governance’ every time the great orator asks people to vote for his party.
With an eye on the 2019 elections, team Modi is again relying on fake messages and propaganda to capture votes. If religious lines were not enough to send the tide of votes towards Modi, the party hopes fake pictures will. Last year, when Modi completed two years in office, a website was launched to showcase the successes of his government. Among the ‘Then-Now’ pictures, was one showing his contribution in uplifting the state of agriculture in the country. The picture, which has been removed, showed a parched land as ‘then’ and a green pasture as ‘now’.
The fake picture, which has been removed, showed a parched land as ‘then’ and a green pasture as ‘now’
The parched land, which Modi claimed to have turned green, was actually a 2009 photo of a dry river bed in California, USA. Surely, Modi could not have irrigated it during one of his world travels.
In 2014, India did not vote for Narendra Modi but an image that was created by team Modi to catapult BJP into power. The saffron party had found the ultimate weapon. After trishul and sword, it used social media to bend minds and write new rules of ethics (and non-ethics) in politics.
Team Modi has become quite effective at misrepresenting images and spreading false propaganda to promote its party’s interest. What is it doing to promote national interest is a colossal mystery.
Sadhavi Khosla is a passionate social activist, writer and a political analyst.
The views expressed in the above opinion piece are the author’s own.