Has brand #NaMo risen or fallen post winning the national elections last year?
Ashwani Singla (AS): The Brand #NaMo continues to remain strong as reflected in most public opinion polls conducted by media organisations. His appeal across urban youth, especially, continues to be exceptional.
Harish Bijoor (HB): The reality lies in gravity. What goes up, particularly as NaMo’s image, has to come down. Therefore, in the traction that has occurred since being voted in with a humongous mandate, NaMo’s image has fallen in sheer relative terms. This has happened due to two factors. One is the factor of normal gravity pulling something that’s gone so high, a wee bit lower, and the second is due to the fact that voters are expectant of quick and big success, which is yet to appear on the horizon.
Since being voted into power, has brand ‘NaMo’ risen or fallen in stature?
AS: As Prime Minister of the nation, ‘NaMo’ has only risen in stature, the response to his various outreaches to the diaspora and the nation are a testament of the same.
HB: Fallen for sure. Two key developments in his cabinet have tugged at his personal image as a leader of his cabinet and party as well. The Lalit Modi episode and the Vyapam issue have certainly pulled and tugged at the Modi image. Add to it the expectation (albeit unrealistic) of quick and fast delivery, and the image trend is clear as a vector that is down.
After becoming PM, have fortunes of brand Modi been synonymous with government performance? Has that dragged down the NaMo equity?
AS: As the head of the government, his reputation and approval of public will be linked to the performance of the government and when people experience ‘Ache Din’. Right now that is not the case and people are willing to give his government time.
Before the election Modi was positioned as an individual. After the election Modi is a government, a cabinet and a collective, as opposed to an individual. While an individual is judged and assessed as one, a collective, a cabinet and a governance structure that touches every one of the electorate is judged differently. To that extent, it is unfair but true. Modi is being judged today not as the individual he is, and the individual that was promised in the election, but is judged by a collective set of experiences, expectations and most importantly perceptions that emerge from his government and governance norms. The NaMo equity is dragged down for sure by all of this.
If judged today as an individual Modi is still the great guy he is. He has not changed. What has changed are the experiences doled out by the touch of his government.
From the government’s perspective, what has weighed more? Positives like Swachch Bharat and Make in India, or Vyapam, Lalit Modi and co.?
AS: Controversies are a natural part of governing. I believe his positives currently outweigh the negatives. Having said that, public’s perception can change with one controversy. So he will need to deliver on his promise of ‘good governance’.
HB: A government is only as good as what it promises and delivers at the grass-roots level day in and day out. Campaigns are to win elections, consistent project delivery is for the sustenance thereafter. While Swachch Bharat is a campaign which has celebrity names who are anointed evangelists, the real efficacy of Swachch Bharat is felt when the garbage pile in your neighborhood is no longer there, not on one solitary day, but 365 days of the year. When this is not seen, felt and experienced, citizens dismiss this as yet another campaign that came, got its PR mileage for a month and vanished. Positive campaigns such as Swachch Bharat have suffered from this lack of credibility.
And then there are negative campaigns. Vyapam and Lalit Modi issues for instance. These have been badly managed and allowed to spiral out of control. This drags image even lower. As all of us know, positive campaigns do less for image than negative campaigns, that hold drag and traction.
Has brand NaMo helped the government’s equity?
AS: It has certainly helped prevent erosion of it.
HB: Brand NaMo will always remain the clean image for the government. But image in governance needs to be built bottom-up and not top-down. When you build image bottom-up, it is that much more sustainable. Mahatma Gandhi did this with agility. When image is built top-down, like PM Modi has, it is that much more difficult to sustain.
NaMo needs to invest in re-building his image for posterity bottom-up. This will happen when he will focus more at the grass-roots level of development and job-creation. It will happen when he will be seen more as a ‘Karyakarta’ rather than a visionary leader. NaMo needs to roll up his sleeves, step into the hinterland of India, reduce his overseas visits to nothingness and represent the real issues of real India and show results that touch the common man not on one day, but every day. This is God’s work. And surely, a labour of love. I do believe Mr. Modi is capable of this.
What impact have, expectations from NaMo when voted in, and performance thereafter, had on its stature today?
AS: Promises made during campaigning need to be delivered and communicated, I believe there is still some headroom available on both counts.
HB: The promises have far exceeded delivery. This impacts voters and citizens at large. Different segments of people will give different tenures to the honeymoon period of Modi. The fence-sitters who voted for Modi gave him one year. Those who sit just inside the fringe of loyalty will give him two years and those in the core of brand Modi will give him all of five years. It is important for Modiji to understand the sizes and relevance of these different audiences at the hustings of 2019.
The stature of the Modi image will depend on the promise versus delivery gap. Three different sets of people who sit in differing spaces of the loyalty index will assess this differently. Everyone will have a different narration. Brand image of Modiji will lie in this narration. One needs to read between the lines of the narratives as well, to make an accurate assessment.
Apart from digital (social media) and marketing, what other factors are brand NaMo’s greatest positives currently?
AS: Any brand is a function of what it promises to deliver and the emotional connection it makes with the buyer/investor in that brand. So it goes much beyond social media (the medium) and marketing (the promise). Credibility is at the heart of any brand and people see NaMo as credible as they appreciate his earnestness, hard work and increasing efforts to engage people in dialogue through his various projects aimed at creating a greater sense of pride and belonging to India, as well as bringing government closer to citizens through digital technologies.
HB: Integrity is NaMo’s biggest attribute. The man is seen to be simple, strong and clean. Till this image lasts, NaMo will remain the biggest thing that has happened in India after Mahatma Gandhi.
Is trolling and attacking those with counter views on social media helping or hurting NaMo?
AS: The thumb rule is never to ‘lose your composure’ when responding to protect your dignity and reputation. Ignorance should be responded to with facts and emotions with rationales.
HB: This hurts Modi badly of course. One of the first things NaMo needs to do is take a call to disband the troll factory which was set up pre-elections. Election time is now over. You are no more a challenger. You are the challenged. From this position, you need to adopt a more benign image. You are no longer the opposition. You are the government. The troll-factory is for the opposition, not for the government and the party that has decimated its biggest opposition to all but 44 seats.
(This article was first published in the 7 August issue of Campaign India)