HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

How does Modi find the connect wherever he addresses a rally?

Shekhar Iyer , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, October 08, 2013
First Published: 00:34 IST(8/10/2013) | Last Updated: 12:18 IST(8/10/2013)

Every time he begins by saying, “Mitron (friends)”, expectations – be it on his home turf Gujarat or somewhere in north India, or even in the south – shoot high.

And BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi definitely relishes the effect his words have on his audience. But for that — call it a serious gimmick or a genuine urge to connect — Modi prepares himself.

A senior CMO official, who refused to be named, said in Gandhinagar: “He has the amazing capacity to customise his speech to suit the audience.”

How? He has a team of experts who supply him local inputs. And second, he listens to people in group discussions before he opens up in a rally.

Take, for instance, his much quoted one-liner, “Pehle shauchalay phir devalay (first toilets, then temples)”. It found immediate traction with his student listeners here on October 2.

But what went behind the scene is worth reporting too. Modi spent more than eight hours with the students, listening — rather than talking, as most politicians often do — to the ideas and solutions that the youth had to offer.

As it got over, he shared his impression with his aides who took notes on ideas to be pursued further as elements of his campaign. The process is quite evident whenever he addresses rallies — students to women, diamond merchants to advertising professionals, farmers to small-time entrepreneurs.

A top aide closely involved in Modi’s poll campaign agrees that Modi plays different strokes to different folks. He said, “Modi does not look at voters as a homogeneous lot. He’s not obsessed with a single issue.”

During the last Gujarat polls, Modi reached out to different corners to get to know the local issues. Then, his aides went back and forth for feedback on solutions to various problems, which were later incorporated in the manifesto.

While addressing a rally in Hyderabad, Modi referred to the Telangana liberation day, commemorating the end of the Nizam rule on September 17, 1948. “I am fortunate to be born on the same day,” he said to a thunderous applause.

Surprisingly, he got the crowd — predominantly from the Telangana region — chant “Jai Telangana” and “Jai Seemandhra” along with him.

In Kolkata, he found businessmen cheering him when he opened his speech with “if you want to deliver a ball, you need to go a few steps back”. That struck a chord. The audience shouted: “We are tired of the past and want to know the future. Please hand over the mike to Mr Modi.”

At Tiruchi, though Modi spoke in Hindi, he made up by speaking first in Tamil for two minutes. “What are the special traits of Tamils?” he asked and then answered: “The Tamil people are hardworking, sincere and, above all, very loyal.” He did not forget to mention Tamil fishermen who were often attacked by the Sri Lankan navy.  

But in Bangalore, Modi’s appeal during the assembly polls did not help the BJP, as it was bedevilled by anti-incumbency issues. Now, Modi plans to connect to local citizens through video conferencing in different phases.

(With inputs from Mahesh Langa in Ahmedabad, Avijit Ghosal in Kolkata, Naveen Ammembala in Bangalore, Prasad Nichenametla in Hyderabad & KV Lakshmana in Chennai)

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