Op-Ed: Modi and Naveen Winning the Perception War

Bhubaneswar: In politics, like most other things in life, it is perception that matters most. And no one knows this better than Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Odisha chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. Both are past masters in the art of self projection. With a carefully cultivated public persona they make people see what they want them to see. This is their magic.

Thus, for the vast majority of the voters that Modi is trying to woo for a consecutive second term in office, he remains the humble ‘chaiwala’ who made good in public life but whose rise his rivals, specially the Congress, are finding hard to digest. He is the man who evokes Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel not only in his speeches but also through his deeds. He is the country’s new Iron Man who has the grit to back the toughest decisions in the face of criticism, a case in point being demonetization.

He is the boldest and the most patriotic Prime Minister this country has seen ( Nehru pales in comparison before him ), an inspiration for Bollywood. His occasional chest thumping, though panned by so called intellectuals as war mongering and needless theatrics, fuels nationalistic passions among the countrymen.

At the moment Modi seems to be winning the perception war against his rivals both north and south of the Vindhyas. He has a huge fan following among the youth even down south. What the youth seem to like about him is his determination to bring about change and his willingness to adopt cutting edge technology that seems to be driving the world at the moment. His emphasis on self employment and his support for start-ups is being appreciated.

His chief political opponent, Congress president, Rahul Gandhi is still seen as immature though he occasionally scores with his boyish good looks. Hardly dry behind the ears he coined the slogan “ chowkidar chor hai” ( the security guard is a thief) in the hope of turning the tables on Modi but the latter, a street smart politician, has come up with an effective counter campaign– “main bhi chowkidar” ( I, too, am a security guard)—that is making waves.

So Modi, irrespective of whether you like him or not, has created a perception of himself that is being widely appreciated and accepted. And that is what is important in politics.

The other shining example of perception becoming the persona in politics is chief minister, Naveen Patnaik. For the millions of voters in Odisha he evokes the image of a bachelor, invariably dressed in a crumpled kurta-pyjama, who gave up the life of a high profile socialite to turnaround the fortunes of a benighted state. He has made the state his own and accepted its people as his family. So he obviously cannot do any wrong.

So powerful is his image as a selfless bachelor that shortcomings like his inadequate knowledge of Odia, state’s official language, are overlooked by an adoring public. The fact that he was, for all practical purposes, shanghaied into stepping into his father’s rather oversized shoes following Biju Babu’s demise in 1997 is completely ignored. He is rather seen as a shining example of a worthy son who willingly shouldered the responsibility of carrying forward his great father’s legacy.

Perception can be real, it can also be an illusion. But it is perception that matters.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)