Recently, I have spent a lot of time travelling across North Indian Himalayan range, and interacting with small town dwellers with professions such as drivers, tea stall owners, guest house owners, helpers, potters, waiters, shopkeepers, nothing-doers etc etc. What has been interesting during my travels is that it coincided with perhaps the most landmark event of the year – General Elections. I generally refrain from forming opinions on political events, but it was impossible during the past few weeks to keep away from the election buzz. A friend from Germany (a farmer in a small hamlet near Frankfurt) skyped me to ask: “What do you think about the elections?” I gave a clichéd answer to be respectful to his curious enquiry.
However, what I have witnessed more is Modi’s penetration in small towns and villages even with a population of a thousand-odd people (by Indian standards, a really small number). It’s not like Delhi or even a tier-two city where large hoardings, or autos carry ostentatious sticker campaigning for Modi sarkar, or WhatsApp messages displaying loyalties and prejudices. An innocuous tea-sipper at a rickety stall watches AAj Tak on a 12” and is apparently smitten by Modi’s outbursts and promises, his sympathy for the poor, his endearing vision for a complex country. Sometimes, even when his speech was not audible, I could see people looking into television, with Modi raising his hands, as if orchestrating hope for such people who see him as a messiah. They talk endlessly about Modi raising the kerosene quota for the poor, some see him transforming India into a ‘foreign country’ (in terms of infrastructure), some see him curbing inflation. Modi was a wave I witnessed as I walked my way through the Himalayas. Every barely-functional TV set was playing his speeches, every person of any caste was seeing him as the biggest thing that India would witness, their eyes glittered with hope, goose bumps on their skin reflected the emotional impact of a man many hundreds of kilometers from their reach yet so intricately placed in their hearts, Modi was like a mythical reincarnation of a political god if there was ever one in rich Indian mythology. I was taken aback, I had love, sympathy and annoyance for such people in equal measures. Their unreal hope, their emotional attachment and expectations for miracles scared me, and I was compelled to question the one piece of marketing strategy that Modi might have missed – the PR that was building dizzying hopes – and how even his Herculean performance might not even meet the high hopes.
Modi is the child of Media and new media (especially Social Media; Twitter, Facebook), and that’s one big change I see as a marketer. From Industrialists to porters, everyone has recited ‘Ab ki baar modi sarkar’. The much-worshipped ‘word of mouth’ has spread like a bushfire, especially in small towns. Modi is not in banners or hoardings in small towns. He is somewhere deeper – in their veins and blood.