Media and Modi Mandate

The “TsuNamo” did not strike in Tamil Nadu. The Braveheart Modi could not inspire Punjab. However, Pulwama and Balakot had proved to be game changers.

Like most journalists of my generation, I too have a habit (bordering on obsession), of cutting, clipping and storing newspapers and magazines. Reading them provides insight not only into the mood of the time, the socio-political or economic scenario of the past years and of course the “hits and misses” of the journalists. More often, it is the “misses”, their failed political assessments, wrong electoral predictions and misplaced judgements of various political personalities.

In 2017, most magazines gave huge “Thumbs Up” to Narendra Modi, in their cover stories. They noted his sustained and growing popularity, particularly after the Uttar Pradesh assembly election results which was the first major assembly hit for the party after a poor performance in Delhi and Bihar assemblies. In that election, Modi’s BJP had won stunning 325 seats out of 424 despite the demonetisation policy in November 2016 which almost crippled the unorganized sector.

Earlier there were misgivings of the negative consequences of the “notebandi” which was even compared with “Nasbandi” during the Emergency. But the UP election results reestablished the Modi Phenomenon. This brand Modi seemed difficult to be taken down, especially considering the way media portrayed Modi equating him with machismo. But somehow, the year 2018 changed the media perception.

Almost all newspapers and magazines (I am not counting the TV media), began to say that Modi was declining in his ratings. For example, In May 2018 a nationwide survey carried by CSDS-Lokniti for India Today TV had found that personal popularity of Modi had dipped two percentage points since 2014. Not only dipped but it was also the first time it dropped below his favorability level of 2014. As the 2019 elections came closer and pollsters began to fan out all over India, the popularity quotient of the Prime Minister was on the precipice.

Articles like “The Rise and Decline of Modi” or similar titles began to dominate the cover stories. Almost all magazines had concluded, in their polls, news reports and editorials that 2019 would lead to a coalition government. The coalition could be BJP-led or Congress-led, they observed.

The Regional parties, the Federal Front and caste-based outfits will define the character of the new government was the conclusion. Some commentators expressed alarm that “scary spectre” of coalition government haunts India. The slogan “Modi versus Who?” began to circulate on social media.

There were also some columnists who began to argue that coalitions are better performers. A few went to the extent, saying that stable or majority government is smug, complacent and less productive. The examples were cited of various coalitions in the last three decades.

Narasimha Rao government which introduced pathbreaking liberalisation, the Vajpayee administration which opened a constructive dialogue with Pakistan, the Manmohan Singh government which led to 10 per cent growth in the initial years and so on.

Visualising hung parliament in 2019, the press was preparing the people for a coalition government. Elaborate graphs and diagrams and statistical tables were being published by the leading magazine to show how it was impossible for the Modi-led BJP to cross even the 200 marks.

Indeed, cover photos of who all will join the Opposition front and which parties will go with Modi were published. Almost uniform conclusion of the pollsters and press was that the BJP will just be a single largest party and therefore the game is open! The non-BJP parties will coalesce with each other, even the NDA will split, and who knows, the Congress also could call shots!

Such “dire” predictions were being given by well-known magazines and their starred analysts. Suddenly some shortcomings of the Modi government were surfacing. Even the “notebandi” and it’s disastrous effects reemerged.

That terrorism had not been brought under control was brought to readers’ notice. Modi’s autocratic style came for special criticism. In fact, that style has alienated the NDA friends and perhaps would make it difficult to win new friends or influence people was the realisation of quite a few commentators.

Till January end or even February first week, the national magazines had begun to project Rahul Gandhi as a star in the firmament. “Docile and dumb” Pappu had become “aggressive” and “ sagacious”! Now the only question for them was: Will Rahul, with Priyanka, be able to change the game and become the epicentre of the new dynamic coalition!

Came February 14, the IED attack on CRPF convoy at Pulwama, and suddenly the media perceptions changed. Some media persons were euphoric by the tragedy, instead of being sorry or horrified. Some TV channels became hysterical and their imitators in the press even thought the attack on the convoy as a blessing in disguise for Modi. The horror became Hungama!

The tragedy was turned into an opportunity. The election campaign almost in the penultimate stage changed the themes and idiom. Narendra Modi changed his campaign tune. He started demanding votes in the name of Pulwama martyrs!
The campaign shifted focus from “notebandi” to Nationalism, from “disorganised opposition” to Pakistan, from unemployment to patriotism, from “Modi, or Who” to “Only Modi-Modi-Modi”!

Some journalists began to say that Modi can now reach near a majority. On February 26 came the air strike on Balakot. And after that, the entire propaganda juggernaut began to roll across the country. Attack on Pakistan, for most “patriotic” Indians, became a war cry. Modi became a war hero. Despite this theatre of war, no journalist gave Modi 300 plus seats.

He was Messiah before, now he became saviour and Generalissimo. As if this was the first ever aggressive confrontation with Pakistan. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s 1965 daring was forgotten and so was Indira Gandhi’s strategic dismemberment of Pakistan. Some magazine caricaturists drew him in Napoleon’s dress and some gave him Rana Pratap wardrobe!

But soon the so-called Modi wave began to get simulated and that resulted in what is being described as “TsuNamo”! But the “TsuNamo” did not strike in Tamil Nadu (where the first real and natural “Tsunami” had devastated vast tracts of land). The Braveheart Modi could not inspire Punjab. However, Pulwama and Balakot had proved to be game changers.

The newspapers and magazines which were predicting and fearing coalitions were relieved and also shocked by the results. But they have not explained why till January 2019 they were not giving Modi any lead for power.
This clearly means that Pulwama and Balakot were game changers. Modi and Shah linked Pulwama and Balakot to condemn Pakistan, to discreetly attack Muslims in the country and surreptitiously push forward Hindutva agenda.
So what happened between February 14 to May 19 that the election, many had predicted BJP would lose, eventually turned out to be an even bigger mandate for Modi? Was it the Media Mandate? Was it people’s mandate? or was it both?

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