This election has been all about brand management lessons! The initial limelight, PR and brand building seemed to be all about AAP! From their radio ads to middle class supported Delhi assembly election upset to unending PR oriented drama being fanned by journalists (again mainly belonging to middle class), it all seemed like one unstoppable brand on the rise! So much so that till about three weeks before the end of elections, AAP was hogging more media attention than any other party – even till Kejriwal's Mumbai metro ride drama and beyond. But then, he mistakenly declared his hidden wish to jail journalists critical of him – who had started seeing through his game of aam aadmi ko "topi pahnao" politics of serial character assassination – instead of focussing on what his economic vision for India was; and then the media totally went away and far. But really, it would not have made a big difference had the media still been supportive of AAP; and that is because the middle class had already decided "Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar" – a branding punchline copied from "This Time Nixon", and well drilled and hammered inside the mind of the voter!
Of course, the secret wish of AK-49 (an abbreviation for Arvind Kejriwal and his drama filled 49-day rule in Delhi) did help brand Modi! In fact, if one were to look at the entire BJP strategy, not one of their key leaders even once uttered the word AAP or took the name of Arvind Kejriwal. Just once, Modi made such a mention by using the word AK-49, and he knew his branding job of Kejriwal was done. The social media picked it up like crazy, and whether true or untrue, Kejriwal was branded a man who was undertaking religion-based politics; and ergo was dangerous for India's future!
While Modi relied on actual work that he had done and on his developmental agenda, AK-49 relied on his topi pahnao politics, calling everyone a thief, and just randomly criticising one and all while distributing the trademark 'main hoon aam aadmi' topis to the public and giving them a baseless spiel of "united for a common cause"; in effect, almost making the Hindi idiom of topi pahnao applicable! He even went for a few kilometres ride inside Gujarat and apparently got his ludicrous trademark videographed proof that there was no development in Gujarat – developmental statistics be damned. But people knew better. Everyone has friends in Gujarat. And they have got first hand feedback about how great the work has been of Modi out there over the last twelve years. In effect, the more AK-49 called everyone a thief, the more they thought of Kejriwal as a random liar than a serious and mature political contender – his original and perhaps still existing goodness of purpose aside (apart from his hunger for power).
A good brand always has to be backed by a good product and track record. Modi provided both. With calm and dignity, he answered all his critics. Never in the history of India did any politician have to put up such a hard fight to try and win elections. People either became Prime Ministers by accident, by being the right man at the right time (from Nehru and Shastri to Deve Gowda, Gujral and Manmohan Singh) or due to lineage (Indira and Rajiv). The only three in between who came to power – Morarji Desai, VP Singh and Vajpayee – had a huge anti-incumbency factor supporting them and hardly had to fight so hard to prove themselves. This time was different. One man being attacked relentlessly from all corners.
And all he did was that he calmly, in a composed manner, showcased his track record to all. The product was good; people discounted the sole riot 12 years back. They looked at the 12 years of peace. In fact, with a totally spineless election commission – that I suspect deliberately sent less forces to key states like Bengal and Bihar, where rigging is rampant, and kept going behind Modi non stop, seemingly to keep Modi out – he in fact had enemies against him from all possible corners! Rivals called him chai bechnewala (tea seller); to which he gave his trademark one-liner laced with humour and said that at least, he was not a desh ko bechnewala (selling out the country)”. And the brand grew bigger.
No aggression, no lies, no abusing, no dirty politics. In fact, till people raked up the issue of his long-forgotten childhood marriage, he didn't even attack Robert Vadra's allegedly corrupt empire. He kept focusing on his development agenda – his key branding against all lies propagated by his rivals, lies ranging from being anti-Muslim to being a dictator. Neither did he use his OBC status, nor did he use his immediate family's and mother's current humble lifestyle, bordering on lower-lower class living.
And while the Aam Aadmi Party, without proof, kept accusing him of corruption till the last day (when they accused him of distributing cash and liquor, leading to a raid by the Election Commission on BJP's office, resulting into a further face-loss for the Aam Aadmi Party), as Rajnath Singh put it, Modi with his simple attire, symbolising the concept of “simple living, high thinking”, emerged as the biggest Aam Aadmi brand that Indian politics has ever seen at the top level – at least if one were to go by the exit poll results!