When Narendra Modi spoke in the Central Hall of Parliament, he used a mix of oratory techniques that paid him rich dividends through the campaign. But the campaigner was now making a bid to rise above the acrimony that marked the poll season.
He spoke according to the demands of time and space, respectful of institutions and processes of democracy. He was deferential to party seniors and projected himself as a disciplined organisation man.
He was also playful, lacing his speech with humour and suspense. He picked a strand from an earlier speech by LK Advani, displaying quick thinking, to pass on a broader emotional message. Either deliberately or spontaneously, Modi also let go of his restrained, measured self and broke down.
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It is this mix of message and style which has made Modi one of the most successful political communicators in modern politics, agree observers, be they critics or sympathisers. It also marks him as a man completely distinct from his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, who was known for his silences, for remaining expressionless, and for his wooden-style delivery.
Dipankar Gupta, eminent sociologist currently with the Shiv Nadar University, says, “Modi’s oratory has a strong interactive dimension. He makes people respond. During the campaign, he also picked on a local issue, and irrespective of whether he had the right medicine for it or not, he flagged it.
He is also on the ball with recent developments and incorporates that in his speech.”
While he was moving from rally to rally, a strategic communication team provided inputs to Modi on latest events, be it attack by rivals or criticisms or new information that may have come in through news reports, which helped him hone his message. Gupta adds that this is laced with a touch of ‘informality, drama, gestures, and histrionics’, making it ‘appealing’.
There has been criticism too – Modi referring to himself in third person is interpreted as a sign of narcissism; there have been comments about the excess of rhetoric and lack of substance in some speeches.
But it is the willingness to project his views relentlessly, which makes Modi different from not only Singh, but many of the earlier incumbents in the PMO.
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Vajpayee was a dazzling public speaker but in one-on-one or group conversations, his legendary pauses made it difficult to understand his viewpoint at times. IK Gujral was not a mass politician in any sense, and did not face the democratic imperative of speaking to the nation. HD Deve Gowda was inarticulate and his lack of grasp over Hindi was a big handicap.
Dilip Cherian, an image guru, says a successful political communicator changes his message according to the platform, and Modi had done so on Tuesday again, by conveying he would report to the country directly. “We are going to see a new kind of PM, who will depend on one-on-one communication with citizens, in the western presidential mould.”