Narendra Modi’s Obama Moment

Neelu Vyas

modi_parliament400During his visit to Hyderabad in September last year, Narendra Modi chanted US President Barack Obama’s 2008 battle cry, ‘YES WE CAN’, in a public meeting. This was the most striking example of the Americanisation of Modi campaign. In his book ‘Global Political Campaigning’, Fritz Plasser has explained how political campaigns across the globe have adopted campaign strategies from Obama’s hugely successful political career. And this is what BJP seems to have done in 2014.

The Obama campaign team, led by Chris Hughes, created brand MyBO with the tagline ‘Keep It real and keep it local’, MyBO merchandise flooded the American market ahead of 2008 presidential elections. Modi launched the NAMO store online which sells merchandise inspired by Modi’s life and values.

The Barack Obama Dashboard, a national online platform for organizing volunteers, was introduced during Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. This helped Team Obama to rank volunteers and supporters on a point-based system to organise the grassroots campaign better. The winning volunteers were rewarded with a direct interaction with Obama. In September 2013, Team Modi launched the India 272+ initiative, which resembled the Obama Dashboard. This also had a point-based system to rank and mobilise workers on ground and the winner was offered a one-on-one meeting with Modi. Similarly, Obama’s experiments with Google Hangout which involved 200,000 people logged in with the President has an equivalent in India with Modi hanging out with 20,000 people on the Google platform. To engage voters, Team Obama set up Twitter accounts for different States. Team Modi too set up Twitter accounts in languages like Assamese , Kannanda and Manipuri.

The fact that Modi campaign borrowed ideas from Obama was crystal clear. The messages of hope and change delivered by Obama had an instant connect with voters. Modi also reflected this optimism throughout his campaign and his conduct thereafter.

Obama in his first address to the nation said there was no black America, white America, Latino America, or Asian America. He said the United States of America characterized all ethnic groups. Similarly in first address, Modi made the pitch, SABKA SAATH SABKA VIKAS, in an effort to remove fear and skepticism generated by the campaign. Unlike Obama he didn’t name the races and communities but promised cooperation and development for all. Obama said in his address to the nation, “The time has come for a president … who will listen to you and learn from you even when we disagree…. I will be that president for America.” The similarity between the messages of Obama and Modi are hard to notice. The backgrounds of the leaders also bear a strong resemblance. Their humble beginnings amplified the messages. Barack Obama is known for making emotional speeches. Modi’s speech at the Central Hall of Parliament saw his emotional side when he turned to party elders for guidance.

Modi even reached out to the UPA government saying, “Neither me nor the BJP feels that the last government did nothing. Every government has contributed to India’s growth. I congratulate previous leaders, we will take their good work forward.” Modi in his address perhaps exhibited his statesmanlike qualities.

Obama was subjected to rigourous scrutiny when he sought re-election in 2012. The clarity of his messages helped him through the thick and thin to emerge stronger in 2012. Hope a statesmanlike Modi will be unfolded before the people of India in the next five years.