India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated during a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, at Deesa in Banaskantha on Wednesday. Image Credit: ANI

By now, it is clear to all participants and observers that Brand Modi is the most successful phenomenon in Indian politics since Mahatma Gandhi. But does it need tweaking, even in the midst of the toil and roil of the general elections? I would argue, yes. Especially, keeping in mind the now almost foregone conclusion of Narendra Modi’s returning to a third term as India’s prime minister in June 2024.

But, as in the Indian system of debate and disputation, let us look at the contrary view. Indeed, we must consider it at its best. To begin with, the obvious objection could be why change a winning brand? This seems to be standard marketing procedure. But branding in politics is a bit different from other fields such as fast-moving consumer goods. Here the brand represents not an object, but a person.

A human being’s image, however well-crafted and successful, should evolve with time and adapt to circumstances. A fixed and rigid brand is not attractive or enduring.

Therefore, past, even present, success cannot be the sole criterion to judge the efficacy of a brand. Especially that of an Indian prime minister and world leader.

Read more by Makarand R. Paranjape

India’s millennium man

The second argument is less pragmatic and more idealistic. The genuine admirers of the prime minister among his closest coterie of advisers do consider him India’s millennium man.

Nothing short of the one and only person sanctioned by destiny to lead India into a new resurgence which has already been officially dubbed as the “Amrit Kaal” or ambrosial age.

These Modi-handlers and hardliners actually believe that he can do no wrong or, more dangerously, no matter what he does, he will never fall from the high pedestal that he currently occupies.

The examples of “strong” leaders who went astray are too numerous and spread across all geographies. Surely, Brand Modi need not succumb to the temptations or pitfalls of their trajectory?

Let us look at the last category of those invested in the present “Brand Modi.” I would call them neither pragmatists nor idealists, but cynics. They believe that power is all that matters. Regardless of how you get or retain it. Worshippers of power, they also exalt the powerful mass leader that Brand Modi projects.

They believe that Indians actually prefer authoritative decision-makers rather than namby-pamby, wishy-washy weaklings. We don’t need to mention whom such folk have in mind.

But what those who want to make Brand Modi symbolise only power and authority do not wish to acknowledge is that the pursuit of power for its own sake is not Dharmic. It is not ethical. With great power, as the cliché from the comic book Superman reminds us, comes great responsibility. This responsibility also means that one serves and safeguards those who are less powerful or privileged. This is especially true in a democracy.

One might even argue, to round off this part of the purvapaksha or prior perspective, that supporting the present version of Brand Modi seems also to be the dominant assessment of the rank and file of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But is it, really? As an eminent political commentator recently argued, aspirants enter politics to wield, not surrender, power.

Teflon saviour of the nation

No doubt, Brand Modi is a marvel of political strategy. It embodies a confluence of personal charisma and a carefully managed public perception. Modi’s story as a self-made man, rising from a tea seller to the prime minister of India, resonates deeply with the Indian populace, encapsulating the aspirational narrative that has captivated more than 40 per cent of India’s voters.

However, during his second tenure as prime minister, his managers and handlers have increasingly veered away from the working-class Modi to Mahatma or messiah Modi. While there is no doubt that Modi remains the main magnet that draws a large section of voters to the ruling BJP, one wonders if the current strategy of turning India’s millennium man into the Teflon saviour of the nation is the right way to keep his immense appeal intact.

I would argue that far from succeeding, such an exaggerated and unreal concoction, however heady at first, might actually take away from Brand Modi’s enduring appeal. Worse, it might alienate vital sections of the voting public, triggering a negative reaction which would inevitably result in a regrettable loss not just of popular support, but of crucial votes in the ongoing General Election.

It is for Modi’s managers to steer his winning brand away from those tendencies that will damage it in the long run and hurt his party’s electoral prospects. But will they listen? Sage advice is usually unwelcome in the heady heat of power. Instead, it is the proverbial messenger, who risks getting shot.