In Gujarat, NaMo TV markets the chief minister 24X7

Radhika Bordia [NDTV]

In Gujarat, NaMo TV markets the chief minister 24X7

Reported by Radhika Bordia |

Updated: December 12, 2012 16:09 IST

Ahmedabad: On a Sunday afternoon, in Ghatlodia, a middle class Hindu neighbourhood, friends and family are glued to their TV screens. The most rapt among them are women. 

What commands their attention is not a soap opera or a Bollywood bluster, but the man who is seeking a third term as chief minister of Gujarat.

Narendra Modi, who has his own TV channel NAMO, appears to enjoy high ratings here. On screen, dressed in a saffron kurta and red bandhini turban, he lists his achievements before sharing a catalogue of potshots at his rivals in colourful, idiomatic Gujarati. 

"He speaks so well and has made Gujarat strong" is the repeated refrain. 

In the 2007 assembly elections, women took the lead in voting for Mr Modi and today, in constituencies like Ghatlodia, where the BJP has won continuously since 1978, it's women who are NAMO's most loyal viewers.

The new 24-hour channel, funded by the BJP, was launched to coincide with the state elections and is already being beamed into approximately two crore homes across Gujarat. 

"Modi's rivals have launched a fallacious campaign to bring him down so we felt the need for a channel that would project the truth - give voice to the BJP workers and highlight the immense work that the chief minister had done for his homeland," reasons BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya. 

It is not uncommon for the BJP to project Mr Modi as a victim of his own success, eliciting calumny by critics jealous of Gujarat's development and a determination to check the ambition and progress of the entrepreneurial Gujarati.   

The channel often uses the emotional tagline of "Gaurav Gujarat" coupled with programmes that often have the word 'vikas' or development in them - 'Vaat Vikas Ni' (Development Talk), for instance, has a huge following. In many of its episodes, you see the chief minister out on the streets, at times picking up a broom to clean garbage, or sitting amidst new mothers telling them what to feed their children. 

Mr Modi, renowned as an astute and gripping orator, excels as a television personality. He is on the channel 24x7.

Away from the studios of NAMO, kept out of bounds from those curious like us, in many other sections of the Gujarati media, there seems to be a whisper of change.

After the riots of 2002, in which 1200 people were killed, the Gujarati media was criticised for speaking in one voice - the chief minister's. 

The extent of this was apparent when publications in their English editions in Mumbai would condemn the state for not containing the riots, while their Gujarati editions would insist the riots were the result of a spontaneous outburst of justified anger.

"After a decade of horrible insulation, finally in 2012, despite paid news and other such stuff, it has become possible for the media to question Modi. I am not sure how much depth there is in this criticism but now that Modi can be criticised, the space to think of alternatives has only just begun." 

When a veteran journalist like Prakash Shah makes this statement, any talk of a change in the Gujarati media has be taken seriously. 

In his white kurta-pyjama and thick black-rimmed glasses, Mr Shah is an institution in himself. He's the editor of a historical fortnightly called Nirikshak, or Observer, which reflects a rare tradition of Gujarati intellectualism that has managed to stay afloat. Nirikshak's founding members were men like the great Gujarati writer Uma Shankar Joshi, educationist Purshottam Mavalankar and HM Patel, India's Finance Minister after the Emergency. 

"These men were also politicians, came from different political traditions but worked together, surely that's the tradition of vibrant Gujarat we need to remember," points out Mr Shah. Ask him how he keeps the publication alive and he responds with hearty laughter and this: "I feel small publications like Nirikshak or Bhoomika have miniscule circulation but can help lead the debate on alternatives for Gujarat, where development does not have to come at the cost of intellectual growth or social justice. Gandhi, Nehru and Patel worked with some consensus, we need to perhaps revisit that to find some answers, not constantly try to pit them against each other." 

Nirikshak may be a radical world apart, but Prakash Shah's observation of a subtle shift in the media is an opinion shared by many on the ground. One reason for this is that a city like Ahmedabad is waking up to many new players in the print media. "When there is competition, reporters are forced to hunt for original stories, which often takes them to different sections of society. Inadvertently, that sometimes leads to a greater representation," argues Alamdar Bukhari, joint editor of Gujarat Today. 

At the Gujarat Today office on Shah Alam Road in Ahmedabad, the entrance has an open glass cabinet that prominently displays the awards the newspaper has received, primarily for fostering communal harmony. 

"We don't eulogise any leader nor do we go after anyone, which is why I think even the present government has recognised our work. And as a voice for the Muslims we are responsible not to use emotional or religious rhetoric but to stick to agendas of development and political empowerment," says editor Yunus Patel. 

Among the election stories of the day, a report on the absence of Muslim candidates in the elections is followed by an editorial by Bukhari on the same theme: "Out of six crore Muslims, the BJP could not find one suitable Muslim candidate and the Congress only eight. I wrote a column asking the BJP some tough questions on how they plan to explain this, given their thrust on Sadhbhavna (communal harmony)."

Just the fact that these tough questions can now be asked and debated, in itself becomes a story in Gujarat.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Modi’s McLuhan moment

Ashish Mehta

Modi’s McLuhan moment

Thrills and perils of mixing politics with virtual reality

First, a bit of theory. Marshall McLuhan (Wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan, a Canadian expert on communication, coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ in the 1960s. Simply put, his theory was that how you say something is more important that whatever you say. An advertisement or an election campaign will have a different effect if it is delivered through TV instead of a post-card.

Though Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi may not have heard of him, he has discovered McLuhan as he aims to win Gujarat for the third
consecutive time. We are of course talking about his 3D campaign. Modi is a very effective orator. He does not talk the clichéd language of politics that can put even insomniacs to sleep. He prefers simple, plain language, switching to even the colloquial register for effects and jokes. He connects with the audience within moments. He has penchant for dramatics, and his barbs aimed the Congress get claps. He has probably modeled himself on the supremely popular Ramayan kathakar, Morari Bapu. In short, a Modi rally is an entertainment item. Three youngsters going home after a 3D projection rally at Chhota Udepur in Vadodara district actually told me so: “Maja aavi (had fun).

Thus, point one: Modi the orator as the vote-catcher. Point two is that there’s nobody else in the party. The 11 years of the Modi rule are also the period when one after the other, all other BJP stalwarts have called it a day. They have either launched a new party (Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta), or have withdrawn from party politics (Rajendrasinh Rana), or gone to a better world due to reasons natural or otherwise (Ashok Bhatt, Haren Pandya, Kashiram Rana). Does anybody know who is the current state BJP president? Now if Modi alone has to carry the burden, how can he be everywhere, the way Lord Krishna was seen by every gopi? Live telecasts of speeches won’t bring crowds. So, live cast of 3D projection was a technology very much waiting for Modi. McLuhan was right.

Now add to that the fact that, whether bringing fresh faces (like so far) or repeating MLAs (like this time), Modi seeks votes in his own name, not in the name of the candidate. Parliamentary democracy, as envisioned by the framers of our constitution, might be slightly different, but Modi repeatedly has been telling people that it is the vote to select the person you would give the key of Gujarat to. The candidate might be a lamppost for all I know, but vote for kamal. For this brand of parliamentary democracy, where 182 Modis are in contest, you need the right medium to deliver the message.

The first time he used it was on November 17, in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. There were crowds. It was a hit – largely, though there were technical snags much highlighted by the Gujarati newspapers. The next day he addressed 26 rallies simultaneously and on December 5, as many as 52 towns heard him. People are impressed. “It looks like Modi himself,” you hear in the crowd. But Modi himself is the most impressed. Forget what I have to say, first look at how I am saying it. So he goes paying tribute to this marvel of technology, lest it has failed to impress you: “Gujarat once again sets a new trend. Never before in the history of the world has anybody [correction follows] any political party has used this 3D technology. It is my good fortune (saubhagya) to bring it to Gujarat [though the firm doing it is based in the Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh, but what’s a little detail between friends]. This dream has been realized on the land of Gujarat. Now a Gujarati youth can take pride and see eye to eye with anybody in the world.” In short, vote for me because I am campaigning hi-tech. That’s what McLuhan meant when he said ‘the medium is the message’.

As for creating a buzz, the technology has done its job. Now, as every Facebook user knows (I don’t know as I don’t use it, but you get the point), technology has its limitations. Modi, as it happens, knows this truth. So, he has to underline and emphasise that he is virtually right there, among people. “Brothers and sisters, I can see the smile on your faces here in the screens before me.” Hard to believe. “I can hear your claps.” From 52 places. Would you believe or the Congress' lies?

He knows the problem, so he cracks jokes. “Yesterday I went to Bhavnagar. One fellow refused to believe it was me. I had to tell him I am Modi, not that 3D-wala Modi.” Here are some more problems that the “tech-savvy chief minister” (as the background voice before his speech described him  twice) would certainly be aware of:

It was a major rally for the party, and yet the local candidate was nowhere in sight. It’s just this 3D show, you listen to Modi and then go home.

For the same reason, technicians were more visible than party workers. Technicians shouted instructions, they made the arrangements. Not only the candidate is redundant, so are the party workers. Talk of wonders of technology.

BJP workers from the village where I am spending the election month arranged for a bus and went to listen to ‘Modisaheb’ in Pavagarh, about one and a half hour’s rough road, when he came there to conclude his pre-election Vivekanand Yuva Yatra. I kept looking for them in Chhota Udepur, less than 45 minutes (actually 15 km). None turned up for this ‘padada-wali sabha” (the rally with curtains – a huge curtained box frame is the stage for the 3D projection). Their complaint: as the Hindi film song goes, jo baat tujh mein hai, teri (3D) tasvir mein nahi.

Region specifically, Modi spoke about Saurashtra, referring to what all he was doing for the Narmada dam and what all the Congress was doing to prevent him from doing. Stray references to a couple of places (like Bhavnagar in the joke above). Folks in this tribal belt on the eastern border of Gujarat did not have any take-home. Effectively, once the wonder wears out, 2D or 3D, it is like a simultaneous telecast.

Since Modi knows this, he is putting this up only as a sideshow, running to storm every constituency.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features