Do you know where was PM Modi’s last political rally of the Lok Sabha 2019 election? It was in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh.
Long time readers of this blog will remember that until that day I had been very skeptical about BJP’s final tally. I was expecting a tally slightly around 200, with significant chance of 185 or so.
But that day when I saw the PM’s body language in Khargone, I changed my mind. This was not the body language of a man who is losing power. This was a man who knows he is on a high.
Later that evening came the “joint” press conference by Modi and Shah from BJP Headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay marg. Of course I said “joint” because the PM just sat there, trolling journalists by not saying a word. When there was a question directed to him, he said protocol dictates that “party president” should speak.
Then one by one, Amit Shah read out the numbers from the election campaign. The air and road miles covered, the months of preparation, the multiple rounds of lakhs of karyakartas laying the groundwork. He spoke easily, with an air of triumph and in a festive atmosphere. That’s when I got up and got four samosas for myself.
You can check my blog from that day. That day I knew they were winning 300 seats.
The rally is the soul of our politics. Among so many other things, I would really miss it if Corona virus were to take it away from us. It would leave our politics a lot poorer if it were to go away.
This is not just a matter of nostalgia. The rally represents a form of direct communication between leaders and masses. If it were to go away, it would embolden the “news traders.” If everything is sourced from news or the internet, it would come with laden with commentaries and agenda inserted by the class of media leeches.
In the US, the political rally is nearly dead. And has been for a while. Rallies have been replaced by cable news. Think of how much power this puts in the hands of news traders. It would be sad if India were to go the same way.
And this is not just about politicians that the media dislikes. This affects all mass leaders.
Barack Obama was a media darling, but he was among those who would do real rallies, filling arenas, giving off an electric, messiah like charm. Cable news hinders communication even if they are on your side. Obama realized that. From leader to people with nothing in between. Something special about that.
It’s even more than that. Without rallies, you would not even realize the difference between a mass leader and some political slimeball. In the US, there is this expression called “establishment favorite.” Those would be candidates like Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton. Nobody likes them. But in the absence of rallies, people who the media talks about seem like real leaders.
So media talks up some candidate as having bright prospects. People see them on TV everyday. And after sufficient hours of media watching, they begin to feel like real candidates.
In 2008, Obama’s rallies broke the Clinton machine, bit by bit. Hillary would come out, spewing Politics 101. It’s about the families. It’s about the children. Standard lines. Meanwhile, Obama would take the stage at some college campus. You could see real people going wild. It made a difference.
Obama even went to Berlin to do a rally, to showcase himself as an aspiring global leader. I happened to be in Germany at the time. The next day, the German press had cover stories saying “Die Messiah Faktor.”
Hillary and MccCain, both establishment favorites, simply faded away.
In India as yet, we don’t use the expression “establishment favorite.” Because we still have rallies. People see the crowds, the reactions. People still ask: how big was the rally?
Remember the Modi phenomenon was built up, rally by rally, beginning from early Feb 2013.
Those were the days. I still roughly remember the sequence, the spots, and exactly where I was when those rallies happened. Shri Ram College in Delhi, Feb 2013. The one in Sept 2013 in Chhattisgarh, with the image of the Red Fort on the stage.
And the most memorable “Hunkar Rally” in Patna on Oct 27, 2013. For crores of Bihar voters, that image of Modi sealed the victory. He stood at the historic Gandhi Maidan. There were 5 lakh people inside and possibly another 2 lakh people outside. There were bombs going off around him. In the crowd. Near the stage.
Nobody knew what could happen. But if Modi had shown even one tinge of panic that day, it could have unleashed a stampede and literally thousands could have died.
That image of Modi, firm and heroic as a leader of people, changed the game in Bihar. After that day, the result from Bihar was never in doubt. And that night, liberals came out taking potshots at him, mocking him over Class X level history trivia.
It was the perfect example of the effectiveness of rallies. Liberals were completely clueless, talking about stuff that does not matter. The masses had seen the leader they wanted.
(Side note: In the investigation that followed, some of the attackers were found to have stayed temporarily in a small village in Jharkhand. Later on in his campaign schedule, when Modi visited Ranchi, members of that village, majority Muslims, came to serve tea, water and snacks at the rally. They were eager to wash off the bad name that their village had got. The Hunkar Rally had made an impression on everyone.)
Let me end this post by giving you an example about one person in India who could be described as “establishment favorite.”
Priyanka Gandhi. She isn’t a leader. She has zero traction among the masses. But each time she says something, media, both left and right, go nuts like she is the biggest leader in the country.
A simple rally would sort it out. She is even less of a politician than her brother.