Tag Archives | narratives

Has Modi lost the Narrative Dominance?

Modi’s PR machinery, which achieved such narrative dominance during the elections, has failed to take a hold of public discourse in the recent past.

It’s barely 18 months ago when there was jubilation from all corners when Mr. Modi took the office of Prime Minister of India. In the analytical circles, it was largely commented that the Modi narrative of development won the election much before the results came out in May 2014. Modi campaigned by building on the narrative of development, higher economic growth, rising incomes of the Indian population, etc. He promised better roads and bridges, better educational facilities, healthcare and overall, a better standard of living. He was especially successful in reaching out to the middle class. He tapped into their aspiration and made them believe that he would deliver in realising those aspirations. He also succeeded in getting the support and backing of the business community by his emphasis on governance over government. He made assurances of easier procedures to do business, cutting red-tapism, and improving the investor confidence in the India story. Given all of this and the exhaustive election campaign trail, the result of the elections was decided a long time before the actual votes were cast.

There were other narratives too. Competing, but not compelling – ‘The ‘Harbinger of Death’ and the communal agent. Godhra was thrown about without any hesitation. There were other stories existing as well. A dictator and an autocrat in the making, who would centralise all power. However, these narratives failed to gain traction despite a protracted effort by the opposition and Modi won the election with a comfortable margin. Modi’s PR machine, spin doctors and campaign managers were simply better.

This post is not to deal with whether the promises made by Mr. Modi were kept up; rather, it is to explore how he lost the narrative dominance in India. The issues that have been discussed in the media recently have nothing to do with what Mr.Modi achieved or failed to achieve. There have been a few achievements surely, but that has not gained the kind of national attention that his promises gained. The opposition has been extremely successful in taking charge of the national discourse and has diverted it from economic issues to more political ones. Dadri got more attention that the rural electrification program; ‘intolerance’ over the fact that 2015 saw the largest FDI inflows into India (double than that in 2014), Rohit’s death over Startup India. This is not to say that any of these issues are not important, but it is a cause of wonder as to how the BJP’s PR machine has entirely broken down and allowed their achievements to be sidelined while simultaneously giving way for constant criticism. The very same BJP’s campaign managers who successfully deflected attention away from these very issues and fears of communalism into the development story are failing miserable these days. Where are the spin doctors now?

Modi’s silence has not helped either. An extremely vocal person against his critiques during the election trail, he now barely responds to criticism. When the entire nation is worried, justified or not, over intolerance or minority persecution in the country, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to speak up and placate the citizens. Silence from him is handing over the narrative dominance to the opposition.

There’s also an appreciable lack of ‘chest-beating’ from the BJP about their achievements. People are not barged with full page ads, social media campaigns, etc about their achievements so far. There are a few ‘bhakts’ who religiously try to highlight the economic achievements, but these are not taken seriously as the label itself is designed to remove credibility.

Whether the BJP has actually achieved all that they wanted to or not is an entirely different matter. Achievement, usually, in Indian politics has nothing to do with publicity. And what the Modi government desperately lacks is clear messaging, a publicity strategy, and a hold on public narrative. They have allowed themselves to be sucked into issues from which they would rather stay far away.

Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at the Takshashila Institution and tweets @anupammanur

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The Indian grand narrative

Defining and building India with the right ideas
by Apoorva Tadepalli

There are many reservations that someone who wishes to be broad-minded and socially sensitive might have towards Rajiv Malhotra, founder of the Infinity Foundation and author of Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity among others. There are, arguably, many reservations that someone of this kind is wired to have towards someone who is known to be one of Wendy Doniger’s biggest critics, and who uses the word dharma in the context of Indian domestic and foreign policy. However, Malhotra’s talk at the Bangalore Literature Festival on the panel for “Debating Hinduism and the Indian Grand Narrative” proved interesting and less alarming than someone of this kind might expect.

Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian-American writer who worked in the telecom industry in the US before beginning to write. His books cover ideas like Western misconceptions of Indian culture and appropriation of Indian knowledge systems, among others. His talk, in the first ten minutes at various points, showed equal promise of being rife with overused sentiments surrounding secularism and first-world domination, and of being a moderate yet assertive talk on what India’s real agenda should be. His first attractive point was that he discussed India’s socio-cultural issues, policies, and international agenda as related factors, something uncommon in much of popular discourse today, because all these factors are significant to the idea of a “grand Indian narrative”.

The panel was based on the idea that every country needs its own narrative, a narrative rooted in its tradition and story; without this narrative, its agenda could be appropriated by more powerful countries, and the country is more likely to fail. India needs such a narrative. The problem, he argued, is that currently the Indian narrative belongs to the West – it is where the best quality education is for South Asian Studies, where an intellectual has to publish papers and attend conferences to be someone in their field. It is with an identity created for it by the West that India presents itself to the world.

Instead, Malhotra says, India should look at the concept of urvapaks, or the practice of looking outward, observing others. It implies having one’s own position from which to look at and understand others, which India does not have. One way of finding this position, he says, is to look at India’s contributions in the corporate sector globally. This is a field in which India has produced high functioning labour which is capable of adding value and negotiating on the basis of what India is good at; therefore, India should focus on strengthening its human capital.

What is currently happening is the importing of various Western concepts into the Indian narrative which Malhotra says is taking away from our own identity. Despite the unoriginal comments about why only Hindus get branded as communal when expressing religious sentiment, Malhotra managed to avoid many tired dichotomies and say simply that secularism is one such alien concept. A grand narrative is essential partly because it enables Indians to understand how to co-exist, and this narrative would be an Indian substitute for secularism, which is someone else’s narrative.

Another interesting factor Malhotra mentioned about why India’s narrative belongs to other countries is because India does not have the academic infrastructure that supports public intellectuals. These people have the potential to capture mainstream media and public thought with their ideas and writing, and in doing so create an Indian narrative collectively by influencing peoples’ perceptions of India or Hinduism. India has relatively few free thinkers and writers who are unaffiliated to political parties. The suggestion is that if India had more funding for academic or policy institutes for India-centric study, more of these people would have a space here.

Despite the heavy use of Sanksrit terminology, and the fact that the semi-interchangeable use of “Hindu ideas” and “Indian ideas” in his talk could have been managed much better, Malhotra’s ideas are generic and moreover relevant to India economically and politically, not just culturally. The ideas themselves spoke to a globally impactful, progressive yet historically rooted India.

Apoorva Tadepalli is a communications associate at the Takshashila Institution. 

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