Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image: Onmanorma/Canva

Just in Jest | Master of masks and politics of latex & loco

"Oh, this is where news is manufactured.” The then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, dropped this bon mot in 2007 during a visit to an English daily's newsroom in Ahmedabad.

That was an election year for Gujarat. The December poll was also an opportunity for Modi to not only scoff at opponents but also display his ability to take on taunts tossed at him.

The then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's 'Maut Ka Saudagar' gibe was a godsend for him to reap electoral dividends in that Assembly poll.

Gujarat’s 2007 tryst with democracy also witnessed a strange campaign strategy called 'Modi Masks.’ Thousands of volunteers donning 'Modi Masks' thronged election rallies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to convert their neta's popularity to votes. The party accomplished the mission with flying colours. One of the headlines after the polls screamed: Masks and 'Maut Ka Saudagar' seal it for Modi.’

This was 13 years before surgical masks became an integral part of life for us all. The 'Mask trick' was copied by the Opposition parties in other states, later.

A few months after the polls, the Resident Editor of that English daily was busy drafting an anticipatory bail plea, to be filed in the Gujarat High Court.

Much before Section 124(A) of IPC managed to seduce cops in Uttar Pradesh (remember Siddique Kappan...) and other states, the Gujarat police had slapped sedition charges on this Editor. The court later let him off but it was a moment of reckoning for him and his colleagues that NaMo’s ‘News Manufacturing’ comment meant business.

Members of media and people stand outside a building having BBC offices, where income tax officials are conducting a search, in New Delhi, India, February 14, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Recently, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) also experienced such a moment of enlightenment after they aired a documentary on him. Power of Modi’s mots took a pan-India avatar in 2014 with the Ache Din campaign and BJP’s resounding victory in the Lok Sabha polls.

The next wake-up moment for India was on the night of November 8, 2016. The 'Mitron' speech of that night was replete with slogans and promises and it took some time for India to grasp the real meaning of Modi’s punch lines.

Cut to 2023, Kerala has earned its spot in Modi's scheme of things now. Despite the state finding a place in several of his 'Mann Ki Baat' lectures, the politics of God’s Own Country has been an intriguing mystery for him till now.

Children wear Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mask and display new currency 2000 note as they welcome the demonetisation step in Jammu. PTI Photo

A few developments in the recent past helped him decode that “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

The first silver lining for him came from the Kerala government in the form of a botched-up plan for a rail track. NaMo was quick to seize the opportunity and soon a swanky, swoon-worthy, first-of-its-kind locomotive started plying on Kerala’s tracks.

Another opportunity showed up in the form of an invitation laced with snow-white latex and communal connotations from a spiritual guru, who preaches 'love thy neighbour' message to the world.

Modi is a master at handling communal issues — a skill he learned from the Gujarat laboratory. So, his response to the invite was swift. Within days, he landed in the land of Parasurama with a bouquet of promises and slogans. The catchline this time is: ‘Kerala model for rest of India.’

However, latex, at present, seems to be too sticky a conundrum for Modi. But, he is a wizard in measuring the elasticity of the voters’ mind.

Of course, punch lines ('LDF will come...') and latex are nothing new to the ruling Left Democratic Front in Kerala. But a determined Modi with a slogan for Kerala is new for them. They are also aware that Vande Bharat is just the tail of a train-full of sops to come.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during flagging off of Kerala's first Vande Bharat Express, in Thiruvananthapuram, Tuesday, April 25, 2023. Photo: PTI

With 2024 Lok Sabha polls so near, will latex change its shade to saffron in Kerala? Will lotus bloom on rubber trees? Will Kerala voters don ‘Modi Masks’ made of latex?

No clear answers for now, but the LDF and the Opposition United Democratic Front in Kerala got a new catchline from the PM's recent visit: Don’t underestimate the power of Modi's mots.

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