How top guns Modi, Rahul and Kejriwal campaigned | columns | Hindustan Times
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How top guns Modi, Rahul and Kejriwal campaigned

All the three leaders have different styles of campaigning, in turn impacted by their personalities and party ideology. At the near end of this long drawn election, we present a comparison of their campaign styles.

columns Updated: May 13, 2014 22:59 IST

The three top contenders for the prime ministerial post - Narendra Modi (BJP), Rahul Gandhi (Congress) and Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) - have been slogging it out in the heat and dust, travelling throughout the country, attending hundreds of rallies, road shows to garner support for their respective parties.

A combo picture of Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal.

All the three leaders have different styles of campaigning, in turn impacted by their personalities and party ideology. At the near end of this long drawn election, we present a comparison of their campaign styles.

All these candidates target the psyche of the voters, who have different needs and issues depending upon their age, caste, sex and region. Additionally, voters want to see certain qualities in their prime minister and each one of them try to prove their mettle through their campaigns.

Narendra Modi

BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Motihari. (PTI Photo)

The rise of Narendra Modi

Modi's campaign focus is on big rallies with a mammoth turnout to reach out to a larger audience at one go. The local BJP cadre then taps these people and is responsible for ensuring they vote in the BJP’s favour on D-Day. Modi complements these with high-tech 3D rallies. As elections approach the judgement day, he has now started giving interviews and airing his views on issues of national importance.

Modi’s campaign speeches are centered around highlighting development in his home state Gujarat, pointing out corruption scams in 10 years of UPA rule, criticising and mocking the competition, promising replication of the Gujarat governance model in other parts of India, gaining sympathy by drawing on his chai-wala days and OBC status, appealing to the nationalist inside every voter and projecting himself as strongest claimant to the top job.

Modi wears colourful kurtas (trademark cotton and raw-silk half/full sleeve in pastel hues from Gujarat) and invariably tops it up with local costumes - he spotted a turban in Punjab, Ningkham Samji and Laison Phurit in Manipur.

He greets the crowd in their language attempting to speak more than the first few lines in his speech. In almost all his speeches, he tries to find a link between the city and the state where the rally is being held and Gujarat.

He thanks the people of the state for their hard work, devotion and contribution in making Gujarat a vibrant and developed state. These first few small steps help him to strike an instant chord with the crowd.

He interacts a lot with the audience during speeches asking them about let's say the power situation in their state and tells them how Gujaratis enjoy 24x7x365 days of uninterrupted power supply.

He forces the voters to make an instant comparison in their minds with the current CM of the state and tries to win the battle then and there. Questions differ according to the issues in the state - it could be roads in one, education of the girl child in the other and unemployment in yet another.

The Indian voter loves the rags to riches story and Modi doesn't forget to play up his early “chai-wala” days. This way he tries to project himself as a source of inspiration for the poor and the downtrodden as he also plays his OBC card well.

He takes his adversaries head on. The Gandhi family has bore the brunt of his sharp attacks. He attacks their foreign origin, black money, corruption scams and instigates people who have a deep dislike for dynastic politics. Attack is the best form of defence for Modi. He uses a lot of adages and punch lines - Congress mukt Bharat, shahzada, maa-bete ki sarkar, and recently in Amethi aapke muh mein ghee shakkar. All this has been lapped up by voters in the Hindi heartland.

He swears by his honesty – na mere koi age na peeche - and promises “main desk nahin jhukne doonga". UPA rule has left a lot of pent up anger in the public and he exploits it to the hilt.

He projects a larger than life image and larger even than his party. This is high risk-high reward game. If the BJP wins, Modi takes all credit, if it loses, he will be held solely responsible. He mocks his opponents and takes sarcastic digs at competition boasting his credentials. He highlights the zero-experience of Rahul and the mere 49 days of office held by Kejriwal versus his 14 years in politics.

He dares troublesome neighbours Pakistan and China and wins over people who feel the UPA 2 was spineless in terms of its foreign policy. He normally ends his speech with “Bharat mata ki jai” slogan. This installs a sense of pride and nationalism among the audience.

Planning has been a critical part of his campaign. A big rally or a road show is held before every critical voting phase. Speeches in these mega rallies also target the next day voter in other constituencies. In Amethi recently, Modi he talked about how former PM PV Narasimha Rao’s body was not allowed to be cremated in New Delhi. Seemandhra was voting the next day.

Modi also doesn't continuously attack people with whom the voter may have some sympathy or attachment. Kejriwal was attacked only in Jammu where “referendum” is a highly emotive issue. He has ignored Kejriwal totally after that. He also has slowed down his attacks on Priyanka after he sensed it was giving her unnecessary TRPs.

The focus of his campaign is (i) development and (ii) India first. People, who have been following his speeches, will observe that he has been repetitive at times.

Arvind Kejriwal

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal greets supporters during an election campaign rally in Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh. (AP Photo)

Arvind Kejriwal, a common man in politics

Kejriwal wears a shirt and a trouser (and not kurta pyjama), an apolitical dress, clothes that a common man wears everyday. He usually starts his speech with Bharat mata ki jai to instill a sense of nationalism. He begins by saying that he is an aam aadmi just like the audience and that the aam aadmi is very powerful. He explains the reasons as to why an aam aadmi like him was forced to join politics - because the political class has failed the aam aadmi. He strikes an instant chord with the people through this approach.

Corruption is a big issue and he targets the young, old and the first time voters, who are fed up with the political class. He tries to convince them that the Congress and the BJP are the two sides of the same coin. This strategy worked very well in the Delhi state assembly elections.

He knows very well that in any election, local issues which impact everyday life of common man play the most important role. Bigger leaders usually tend to ignore this and talk about more global and national agenda. He scores a point over his rivals in this regard.

Kejriwal derides competition. While Modi and Rahul fly in helicopter and chartered planes, conduct big rallies (operating as a fly by the night operator he argues), Kejriwal runs mass contact, road shows or even door to door campaigning. This makes him more aware of local issues and makes him more hands on with the problems and gives a personal touch to his campaign.

Kejriwal has led a very innovative way of electioneering – involving people in all the facets – from drafting of manifesto to choosing their candidates to providing funding to volunteering for representatives chosen. This has caught the imagination of the voters. People, who felt left out of electoral process, suddenly feel important, realising the power of their vote.

Kejriwal attacks the big and the mighty thus becoming a hero of the aam aadmi. He has attacked businessmen Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani something no body has dared to earlier and accused parties of being hand in glove with them. This has put the Congress and the BJP in tight spots. In India a section of people believe that if you are rich, it’s surely ill gotten wealth. He targets the psyche of such people.

Kejriwal throws challenge to big leaders – Shiela Dikshit in Delhi, now Modi in Varanasi. He trounced Sheila. He does this to remain in the limelight and more get media coverage. If he wins he is a hero, if he doesn't he has nothing to lose. His daredevil attitude (some may call it foolishness) wins the hearts of some people. He claims his fight is symbolic and not against any individual.

He always brings to light how he sacrificed his government and how he is not hungry for power as others whose “dil maange more”. He presents himself as an honest or a bechara aam aadmi trying to cleanse the system. He earns brownie points due to this style of campaign.

The focus of his campaign is (i) public participation in governance (Swaraj) and (ii) a corruption less society. People who have been following his campaign will observe that he uses the hit and run methodology to his advantage. Hits people with facts, or even half backed facts, and shifts the focus to other issues or persons, knowing fully well that defamation cases in India run for years.

Rahul Gandhi

Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi displays the victory symbol as the party's candidate Ajay Rai, right, waves to supporters during an election campaign rally in Varanasi. (AP Photo)

Rahul Gandhi, taking the lead

Rahul’s campaign focus is on big rallies and road shows. He mixes with people, stops cavalcade at regular intervals, listen to problems of people. He seems approachable and appeals to the youth as he is 20 years younger than Modi and much younger than other Congress war horses. He projects to present a lease of fresh air to the Congress party. He sells a dream to the poor youth – you will fly airplanes – and convinces that he would fulfill their dreams.

Rahul wears mostly white kurta and pyjama - traditional politician’s dress. Sometimes he wears blue jeans instead of the pyjama with sneakers – style invokes youth and energy. His gestures and behavior come across as not those of a true politician and attract a certain section of the voters.

He invokes the legacy of his party as well as his family (Gandhi name) taking credit for all the good work and the development which has happened in India. He projects himself as a messiah of poor, downtrodden and the minorities.

He plays up how his family – father Rajiv and grandmother Indira - sacrificed their lives for the nation and tries to get people's sympathy. He is also fighting on the issue of development (like Modi) and claims economic growth has been the highest in UPA I & II and his government has passed the NREGA, RTI and the food security bill to improve the condition of people as well as empower them.

Secularism is his and his party’s key plank. He takes Modi head on by blaming him for the communal riots in Gujarat. He tries to play up the fear factor among minorities. He does this due to the notion that minorities vote en-block and Hindu votes get divided on the basis of caste. He claims the country could see similar riots if Modi comes to power. A lot of Indian don’t want a polarised society and Rahul targets this set of voters.

After a decade of economic growth and peace, Indians now want jobs and development of infrastructure and lesser people are interested in issue like the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid.

He cautions poor that the BJP is a pro-rich party and the Congress is the only pro-poor party. He tries to instill fear that schemes like NREGA and food security could end if BJP comes to power. This attracts beneficiaries of these scheme towards him.

He has been flexible in his approach (some may say confused). First he and his party decided to ignore Modi. Then when Modi’s TRPs rose, he started attacking him. He also tried to copy the successful AAP formula, but soon realised that it needs round the clock campaigning and may not necessarily work in the Lok Sabha elections. For selecting candidates, he tried a new model based on the US primary system, but soon realised that his party is nowhere ready for it.

Rahul has no Twitter presence and banks on the traditional methods of electioneering on the logic that social media is not significant and determinant of the elections outcome. Plus he has lost this race to Modi and Kejriwal and has decided to deliberately focus on his other strengths.

The focus of his campaign is (i) secularism & (ii) socio-economic development of the poor and the downtrodden. For people, who have observed him for a while, he ostensibly shows a casual attitude which may work against him.

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