The strategy that Narendra Modi follows for each campaign is roughly this: He ignores his local opponents, he targets national leaders, he speaks of local issues less than he should and he includes national and global issues, including those that are not in his domain. For instance national
A file photo of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
security is not his area of expertise but he brings it up anyway.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of his doing this? Let us do what the corporate world calls a SWOT analysis.
Strengths: The strong point of this strategy is that it gets Modi national coverage. If he attacks Sonia Gandhi's trips abroad and Robert Vadra's cozy deals and Pakistan's terrorism, he is assured some space on the front pages of newspapers across India, not just Gujarat. And he is also assured valuable time on the news channels, which is denied to chief ministers who purely talk about local things, for instance Shivraj Chauhan. His skill in packaging this material is such that it is inevitably entertaining and interesting, ensuring continued coverage. The other strength of this strategy is that other leaders from Gujarat, say the Congress state leaders, are crowded out and have to fight for media space to talk about their issues.
Weakness: Is there a weakness in Modi's strategy? I can think of one. If it is true that the Gujarati voter keeps returning the BJP to power, as he has done for 17 consecutive years, because of the party's performance, it is folly not to highlight governance as the centrepiece of your election strategy. This is not to say that Modi does not talk about local issues at all. But the fact is that he is more interested in talking about Delhi and Pakistan than Surat and Saurashtra. This is a weakness. If you have a strong asset in performance, your advertising agency would ask you to highlight it.
Opportunities: The opportunity for Modi that opens up by talking of non-Gujarat issues is to use this space to create a national image for himself. He can position himself as a rival to Sonia externally and Advani internally. Especially during elections, but also generally, media is interested in what Modi says. Though Gujarat contributes only 26 seats to the Lok Sabha, less than 5% of the total, because of the charisma of Modi and the fact that it is an industrialised state, it gets disproportionate coverage on national television and print media. It is unthinkable for a chief minister of a similar-sized state to be so covered, even if he is as successful. For instance, Naveen Patnaik has been chief minister longer than Modi but probably gets about 5% of the national coverage that Modi gets. This is why Modi is unique as a local-national leader, and the man spoken of as a serious BJP candidate for national office.
Threats: The obvious threat in Modi's strategy is that it gives his opponents the chance to really squeeze him on local issues. If there are genuine voter grievances, the talk about Pakistani terrorism and Vadra will be an irritant during election time. It is a measure of Modi's confidence that he disregards this threat despite considering it, as he surely must have.
Overall, the strategy has worked for him through the last three elections, including the current one. He has been able to build an image as the most electorally popular BJP leader nationally, though he is in fact a local leader, and at the same time he has swept the Congress off the board in Gujarat.
(Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist. The views expressed are personal.)