Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi trended throughout 2014. After 30 years of coalition politics, New Delhi got a government by a single party. While India’s grand old political party Congress, was still trying to shrug off its one-family dominance, the right-wing Hindu party submerged into one-man’s gut.
One can easily deduct that Modi and media were two clear winners of 2014.
This was an election that was aggressively fought on TV screens and the social media space. While cable and satellite invaded the rural households, “likes” and “retweets” managed to engage the hand-helds.
With the wisdom of hindsight, one can easily conclude that Modi was not fighting a beleaguered Congress he was fighting a battle to demolish old images and create new imprints. Thus his home state of Gujarat, which became infamous for the 2002 riots, had to be resold as “Vibrant Gujarat”- a development model.
The 2014 electoral battle was a meltdown for the ruling party. Congress was not fighting Modi, the party was busy fighting its own image, severely dented by various scams and a sense of drift which had set in after 10 years of rule.
Their governance story was buried deep down somewhere under the corruption narrative. With no clear leadership and ill-prepared political thought, had them gasping from the word go. To the observers, it was clear that the ballot would be cast against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), though no one was sure of the degree of the defeat.
Modi had the gift of the gab to mesmerise rural voters who still wanted to be ‘ruled’ rather than being ‘governed’. He had the acumen to realise that corporate India was fed up with the ante-room access which Congress offered them and was raring to join the high-table of power.
Modi sensed that for urban India, leadership is not limited to just the “political”. He deftly used leaders in various fields, from Bollywood celebrities to business tycoons to religious and cult gurus, to share selfie spaces with him, which in turn, were marketed as ‘endorsements’ through the right-wing party’s cyber warriors.
And finally, Modi went on to become the first prime minister to be born in an independent India, a moment which author Harish Khare describes as the granting of “an unlimited mandate to a limited man”.
This narrative dominated the first six months of 2014.
Aiming the globe
With the immediate euphoria of victory over, hashtags #Modi were expected to stop trending but the prime minister had different plans. He aimed to trend globally.
From Indians he turned his focus to non-resident Indians. The modus operandi remained the same: crowded events, cheering attendees, unsuspecting endorsers with dollops of nationalism. Through these PR blitzkriegs, he still managed to talk to his constituency.
Unluckily for Modi, world leaders like Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russian President Vladimir Putin were hogging too much of the international media limelight this year, what with Abbott’s threats of “shirtfronting” Putin and the Russian president’s intense face-off with most of the western world.
However, with the confirmation of US President Barack Obama’s January trip to India, Modi has made sure he trends again in the first month of 2015.
And although, Modi did not make the shortlist of eight finalists selected by TIME for its annual ‘Person of the Year’ title, he did win the publication’s readers’ poll online, securing more than 16 percent of the almost five million votes cast. Through this and many other “twitter wars” fought every day, the Indian prime minister’s devoted fans and followers showcase their growing confidence.
It is important that we don’t forget the other big player of 2014 – media. Many believe that the Indian media gave a lot to Modi. Some of them even became part of the campaign.
But right from the start, a big part of the “fresh start” given to Modi was what we now call “spin”. Large media houses in India seemed almost determined to stay focused on the positive when it came to reporting on the new Indian prime minister.
It remains to be seen how 2015 will play out. In 2014, media proved that the entire geographical expanse of India is under its coverage area and they can manage, influence and even motivate opinion.
In the world’s largest democracy, media emerged as a real power tool in the hands of political aspirants.
Every winner loses something in the victory process. It remains to be seen whether the Modi juggernaut will lose steam and media its credibility or more.