Narendra Modi, the leader of Bharatiya Janata Party of India and Hindu nationalism

Bharatiya Janata Party or better known as “BJP”, one of the two prominent national political parties in India, secured 282 seats out of the 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament during the 2014 Indian general elections and became the ruling party. That is 10 more seats than the required 272 to form a clear majority. This was the first time since the 1984 Indian general elections that a ruling party in India had managed to do that without the support of a coalition government [1].

This feat was achieved mainly due to two factors. First, the anti-incumbency sentiment shared by Indians against the standing government of the Indian National Congress and second, the mastery of media management by the Prime Ministerial Candidate of BJP, Narendra Damodardas Modi. Media played an important role in BJP’s win in the 2014 Indian general elections and their continued popularity in India. Narendra Modi took the office of the Prime Minister of India on 26 May 2014 leading BJP to a victory in the 2014 Indian general elections due to his adept management of Media and the extensive use of ethos and pathos to portray himself as the only viable candidate.

Modi is an ardent believer in the ideas of “Hindutva” (Hindu Nationalism) and a long-standing member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, a radical Hindu nationalist paramilitary group that is affiliated with the BJP (Berglund 503). As an RSS representative, Modi participated in many radical Hindu nationalist movements including the destruction of the Babri Masjid (Mosque) in Ayodhya, considered to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, a prominent Hindu god (Sinha 4161). He then became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, where the state witnessed large scale communal violence which led to the death of more than 2000 Muslims (Berglund 503). In another incident he called for an extrajudicial execution of some young Muslims for suspected terrorist activities on the grounds of national security.

Despite facing criticism from Human Rights groups, a lot of these incidents added to Modi’s appeal as a strong Hindu leader and he was hailed as the “Lion of Gujarat” (Sinha 4162). But to win on the national level, Modi would have to be more than a prominent Hindu leader. BJP adopted a presidential style campaign strategy centred on Modi (Srivastava 334). They saturated the discussion on every media platform with vague promises of development and reinstating India to its former

glory as the world leader (Bajaj 253). The idea was to shift the public image of Modi from that of right-wing Hindu nationalist leader to a man of development.

Images of Modi dressed in designer clothes, meeting foreign leaders, hosting prominent actors and athletes, walking with lions et cetera filled every section of media to portray him as a “Man of the World” (Sinha 4163). The exaggerated claims of Modi having a “56-inch” chest that would bear the burden of anything thrown at it in the service of “Mother India” were spread. This display of forceful masculinity came to be admired and respected by the population who viewed him as a “Man of Action” (Srivastava 334).

The BJP used slogans like “India First” and “Achhe Din Ayenge” (Better Days Will Come) to display their commitment to development and improving the lives of the citizens of India unlike the previous regime of the Indian National Congress (Sinha 4165). Modi and BJP used the anti-incumbency sentiment of the Indian population towards the other major political party in the country, The Indian National Congress, to their advantage.

The Indian National Congress or better known as the “Congress Party” has been the most prominent political party in India since Independence. Led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, the party formed the first Government of India. It has since formed the central government on numerous occasions. An allegation often levied on the Congress Party is the presence of dynasty politics within the political party where only the descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru, part of the Nehru-Gandhi family, were chosen as the leaders of the political party. This was one of the claims on which Modi ardently attacked Congress.

Congress performed poorly on the economic front in the run-up to the elections and was riddled with corruption scandals. On the other hand, while BJP had put forth Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, Congress lacked a strong candidate. Modi used this slump in the Congress Party’s fortunes to promote himself by creating a direct contrast between the senior Congress Party leaders and himself. Modi attacked the former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, by portraying him as an “impotent predecessor” who couldn’t protect India from external threats (Pakistan and China) or internal threats (the Muslim population) (Srivastava 334).

Biopics were made on the life of Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh by Bollywood actors such as Vivek Oberoi and Anupam Kher who campaigned for Narender Modi. While the biopic about Modi called “PM Narendra Modi” embellished him, the biopic about Manmohan Singh called “The Accidental Prime Minister” discredited the former Prime Minster. He attacked the Congress Party’s President, Rahul Gandhi and the former Party President, Sonia Gandhi for their dynasty politics, claiming the previous rule to be a “Maa-Bete Ki Sarkaar” (The Government of Mother and Son) and proclaimed Rahul Gandhi as a “Shahzada” (Heir to the Throne) (Sinha 4166).

He created a direct comparison between his own humble background as a roadside tea-seller to the wealth garnered by the Nehru-Gandhi family by referring to himself as a “Mamooli Chai Wala” (ordinary tea vendor) (Sinha 4166). He referred to Congress as “a party drowning in corruption” due to the numerous corruption scandals against the party (Sinha 4165). Modi expertly used ethos and pathos in the media to create a stark contrast between himself and the Congress leaders. BJP’s manipulation of media through censorship and deeming all their policies as pro-India led to their continued popularity among the masses.

After becoming the Prime Minister, Modi did not let his approval ratings go down. He made sure that all his action as the Prime Minister irrespective of their result were hailed as victories and a step towards development. Anyone who stated otherwise was deemed as “anti-national”. Modi’s political strategies to gain popularity were in line with the business strategies of big private media companies. As a result, the media companies openly became Modi supporters.

Indian news channels such as Republic TV and Zee News displayed Modi’s governance as good for India and often contrasted it with the previous regime’s governance making sure that the Congress Party never recovered from their loss (Sinha 4165). Policies such as the infamous “Demonetisation” wherein the BJP government banned all the ₹500 and ₹1000 currency notes in the country to get rid of the fake currency notes and the hidden stashes of untaxed money hoarded by rich Indians turned out to be a disaster. The policy harshly affected the poor and the lower middle-class populations who mainly partake in cash transactions due to having limited access to banking. It affected their ability to buy items of daily needs such food or medical supplies.

But the news media made sure that this move was deemed as a success (Ray et al.) [3]. Two American web talk shows, “The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” were banned in India for displaying content against Narendra Modi. As the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has never appeared for an unscripted press conference on national television. In February 2016, students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University were charged with sedition for holding protests against the government’s decision to execute an alleged Kashmiri separatist. This led to an uproar in media where anyone who opposed this decision was deemed as an “anti-national element”.

High profile godmen such as Baba Ramdev voiced their support for this action by stating that those unwilling to chant slogans hailing “Mother India” were anti-national and should be beheaded. Similar protests against the government’s action in Jammu and Kashmir led to a total lockdown of the state with the suspension of internet and phone services.