How The ‘Man Ki Baat’ Initiative Is A Master-Stroke From Narendra Modi

Posted on October 6, 2014 in Politics

By Amrita Garg:

“Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi” beseeched the posters on every wall, the hoardings at every street corner, every ad and every forwarded text. Though the paraphernalia of the 2014 General Elections has long been discarded and the world moved on, this phrase rings truer today than ever before. For in Narendra Modi, India has got a man who might be a great leader but first and foremost, is the consummate marketeer. From the advertising blitzkrieg that was his election campaign to his recent trip to the United States, the world has seen it all. In what was indisputably a master-stroke, PM Modi delivered his first radio address to the nation at 11 AM on Dussehra day from the studio of the All India Radio in a show suitably titled “Man Ki Baat”.

Right off the mark, he reassured the nation that this would be a regular event in which he would talk about various issues and problems presented before him so that people find it easier to connect with him. Keeping in mind the occasion, he exhorted the nation to overcome their evils, deftly weaving in his flagship schemeSwachh Bharat Abhiyan. An avid social media user, he asked people to upload videos of them undertaking cleanliness drives and further encourage nine people they know to do the same, thus building a chain of sorts, a la Salman Khan in Jai Ho.

True to his form, Mr. Modi wore his patriotism on his sleeve, asking his compatriots to use Khadi in memory of Mahatma Gandhi and thus generate income for the less fortunate. He could have given David Ogilvy a lesson or two with his brilliant application of advertising appeals – both rational and emotional in equal measure. On the one hand, he talked about special discounts that could be availed and on the other, how the purchase of one item of Khadi could help light a “diwali ka diya” in a poor man’s house.

Modi comes across as a man of many parts. One moment he is the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, the next moment he is a story-teller who narrates the tale of a lion growing up as a lamb to teach the lesson of self-realisation and self-confidence to his country-men, paying homage to one of our country’s greatest philosophers, Swami Vivekananda.

One of the highlights of the show, for me, was when he took out time to talk about ideas and feedback sent to him from various parts of the country. He seemed to have given due thought to these suggestions and showed a refreshing willingness to put these into action. According to him, “Agar aap ek kadam chalte hain, toh desh sava sau crore kadam aage chalta hai” (If you take one step, the country will move forward by 125 crore steps).

In a country where less than half the rural population has access to electricity, but a whopping 99.2% of the total population has access to Akashvani, the Prime Minister has made sure that he reaches every nook and corner of the nation. In one brilliant stroke, he has also revived the fortunes of the otherwise floundering national broadcaster. As Jawahar Sircar, the CEO of Prasar Bharti puts it, “This is a unique opportunity for us to showcase the potential of radio.”

The idea in itself is not unique. It has been put to great use by American presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt through his weekly fireside chats, Ronald Reagan and even by our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But to use the medium so effectively in this age and get people to actually turn their radios back on is indeed remarkable.

Is it just propaganda, you might ask. Most probably. It would certainly be in line with Modi’s earlier PR outings. He has left no stone unturned in increasing his visibility as well as audibility, so much so that the man has become bigger than the organisation. Indeed, some parts of the speech came across as rank advertising for his policies and programs. But coming after a decade of silence, even on issues of the utmost import, this is something to look forward to. Modi might trivialise and spout rhetoric, but people can be confident that he will speak. And if his combative stance in the US is anything to go by, speak loud and clear. Not only this, they can come forward with their own views and have a semblance of reassurance that they are being heard. Modi might reach for the low hanging fruit when he comes up with seemingly small, easy, and local solutions, but the effects are sure to be high reaching. It is a change and a change that India was in dire need of. Let us then wait, because to quote Modi’s predecessor, “there is judgement in the court of public opinion that all elected officials and governments are required to submit themselves to.”