BJP good at ‘event management’ or is Narendra Modi a ‘popular leader’?

Updated: Nov 19, 2014, 09:51 AM IST

Narendra Modi is literally taking the world by storm. In the short span that he has been the Prime Minister of India he has visited Japan, United States, Brazil, Australia, Nepal, Myanmar and Fiji. Some have been bilateral visits, while others have been summits and so on. And in all of his trips abroad there has been a similar streak.

Modi has been received very warmly by the world leaders, whether it was Japanese PM Shinzo Abe or Australian PM Tony Abbot. There has been another similarity as far as his trips are concerned.

There has been a near frenzy amongst the Indian diaspora, something not seen in recent times with any visiting Indian PM, at least going by the visual on television and pictures on the internet and the social media. The enraptured crowd was especially visible in two of Modi’s addresses – at the Madison Square Garden in New York and the Allphones Arena in Sydney where the diaspora lapped up every word of the PM and intermittently chanted ‘Modi Modi’. Obviously Modi is ‘overwhelmed’ and the BJP thrilled at the response. Various BJP leaders have said that Modi was not only ‘popular’ in India but abroad too.

But if you are a political opponent and that too belonging to a party which has sunk to an all-time low and is grappling with leadership issues, then the sight is not really good news. It is like rubbing salt to wound. So it was not surprising when senior Congress leader and former union minister Salman Khurshid said that crowds at Modi’s events abroad were ‘managed’ and people were taken from India for slogan shouting.

“I have been to Nay Pyi Taw twice and no one is found on the streets there. Then how come 20,000 people came to listen to him (Modi)? It seems he took along many with him,” Khurshid said, adding about the New York event, “In America it is not a big deal organising 20,000 people and making them shout slogans.”

The BJP hit back calling it a case of sour grapes, with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley even saying that Modi was getting more crowds abroad than the Congress leaders were getting in India!

However, the question is whether Khurshid has a point. To be fair to him, he may have a point. On the surface, it may appear that the crowds are spontaneous and that everything has fallen in place on its own. But everyone knows that any event, especially of the kind in New York and Sydney, requires a lot of coordination, planning and hard work, which the BJP or sympathisers of the party may have done.

At the same time, it would be a stretching it a bit too far by saying that everything that was visible on our television screens was a mirage. What percentage of crowd was managed and what percentage was spontaneous and genuine may be a matter of debate, but what is not a matter of debate is that the above mentioned events have been highly successful and have got not only the Indian media but the world press talking, with many hailing the response that the PM has got abroad akin to that of a 'rockstar'.

Plus, even if a percentage of crowd was managed then what is so new in it. All the political parties, including the Congress, do it in India for their rallies. People are paid and given goodies to come and hear the politicos. But the flip side is that, in all likelihood a certain number of crowds can be managed but not the kind that were seen at Modi’s rallies during the campaigning of 2014 General Elections and the kind that were seen in New York and Sydney. To manage that kind of crowd seems a humongous and near impossible task for any event manager. Common sense says that that kind of crowd appears when people are enthused and excited about hearing a leader.

And if one could become a popular leader by managing crowds, then many would ask as to what is stopping the Congress from gathering people and making their vice president Rahul Gandhi one. One of the problems with the Congress has been that they have had leaders, be it Sonia or Rahul Gandhi or Manmohan Singh, who have failed to communicate with the masses. After the 2014 Lok Sabha polls debacle some of the senior Congress leaders, including P Chidambaram, did concede this in the media.

So, if Modi has a certain charisma, is a good communicator and is reaching out to the people then instead of having problems with it, the Congress should take a cue from him. After all, various kinds of discourse is one of the essences of democracy and an intelligent politician like Modi knows how to tap the pulse of the people, even though the media may have a point in saying that the Prime Minister does not take questions and his way of communication is one-sided.

Whether the people will tire of hearing his speeches in future or not is a matter of conjecture as of now, but at the moment things are working for Modi and the BJP. At the moment, people want to hear him speak – whether from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day or the MSG in the United States. And when the Congress says that crowds at Modi’s events are not real, then one gets the feeling that somewhere deep down they must be wishing for the same kind of response and frenzy for their vice president.