Emerging threads in Modi’s Speeches
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

With the firming up of the battle-lines, election season is very much upon us. One of the consequences of the emergence of Modi as a Prime Ministerial candidate is that the rally style campaigning is back in play. Rally speeches have got far more interesting than they were, say in the 2009 elections. Irrespective of one’s political orientation it must be conceded that Modi’s oratorial skills are among the best in the country. This, the proliferation of news channels and their need for TRPs have resulted in rally speeches invading the drawing rooms of practically anyone who can understand them. If the trend sustains, it will have tremendous implications on the way this election will be managed. For instance TV eyeballs generated by Modi are disproportionate to his investment in media resources and by a great distance! And other avenues in TV such as interviews are yet to be deployed by him! It must be conceded that through his style and oratory he has managed to use a hitherto adversarial media as a force multiplier to his own efforts.

Modi has not made many speeches so far. And the election season has some while to go. So far he has spoken in all the regions of the country save the East (i.e. counting Bihar with North). In each of these he commences by invoking historical references relevant to the region. (The points made in Patna rally have been sufficiently analysed by his adversaries, save for one, which we will look at later). All these references are singularly aimed fostering self-belief among his audience. The limited ‘talking down’ he does is only in the nature of ‘Look folks, this is your past, should you not be proud?’ Where relevant he also brings up his personal links to the region. His references in Patna to Bihar could have made a non-Bihari want to be one! The role the references can play in fostering self belief can be substantial. In particular people belonging to economically poorly developed regions often get mocked in popular discourse. In that context his references including the one in Jhansi (on Bundelkhand) are aimed at stoking the possibilities in the minds of those accustomed to hear such ridicule. To the discerning observer it also points out that he has taken the time to learn, understand and above all, use these things. This aspect is not uncommon among good orators, but with the standards of ‘speeches’ of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, one has almost forgotten that!

Subsequently he moves to a limited number of governance issues. Again it is evident he has taken inputs and brings up select points that are relevant to the audience. Here too the points chosen and their delivery are crisp and connectable with the audience. Mostly he picks up small things that connect well rather than big ticket ideas, e.g. he does not say things like ‘system is bad; needs to be changed.’ Instead it is topics like fluoride in water, enrichment of atta, and local tourism. And he is able to link up these small wins with a big idea or a set of big ideas. For a complex country with pitfalls galore in program implementation this could work very well. Far too often we have chased the big picture, while losing out significantly on numerous small, incremental developmental possibilities.

The central and inevitable political content is what most people look forward to. Suffice it to say that so far he has not disappointed them. Evidently all his critics seem to watch his speeches closely. So closely that they hem him with their reactions and he is not allowed even a small degree of hyperbole that often makes such speeches listenable. After all if one required reading of a research paper one will not attend or watch a political rally! Judging by the remarks he made in Pune he is very much aware that he is being watched minutely. We can expect him to use facts and figures with even more diligence. But above all one can also sense that he enjoys the challenge and loves to respond to it, pugnaciously!

The Patna speech in this context was a classic. It was delivered after his knowing that there was a possibility that he may not live to complete it. One wonders how much he departed from his prepared script or rather speech plan. Through the speech he planed landmines for his opponents and critics and they ended up obliging him by walking in. As noted by Sunanda Vashisht, “Nitish started the nonsense of taking Modi on nothing really, Sankarshan Thakur, obviously never heard the speech either.” As an aside it should be noted that in any discerning society these gents would have been mocked to extinction, but then we seem to be living in a land of different standards. After all, here facts need to conform to narratives. Narratives are determined and emerging facts are omitted, edited or twisted to fit the required narrative! Interesting thing here is that the least commented one was the couplet he quoted from Hali. The full ‘stanza’ and the meaning was blogged by the respected Bhartendu here A reaction from the usual origins could have sparked off a useful debate. It was shrewdly inserted by Modi. I do not know if Modi prepared that component on his own or with inputs from an aide. If it is the former it will be a long overdue and useful correction to the current narrative at the leadership level. And also a small pointer to his scholarship. If it is the latter we know Modi chooses his advisers with deliberation!

All in all it promises to be an interesting election season! After all there is a real alternative, finally!