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Five point someone leader: Modi does a Chetan Bhagat

by Lakshmi Chaudhry  Feb 7, 2013 14:44 IST

#Chetan Bhagat   #ConnectTheDots   #Narendra Modi  

He came, he spoke, he conquered. Narendra Modi's speech to an adoring audience at the Shri Ram College of Commerce was a master class in public relations. Everything from the venue to the audience was carefully selected to convey his new avatar as youngistan's hriday samrat.

"Modi struck a chord with the youngsters — some of who are expected to land jobs with astronomical pay in the country and abroad — by riding a wave of college-canteen one-liners, management evangelism usually found in self-help books, national pride and a blackout of unpleasant home truths," notes a caustic Radhika Ramaseshan in The Telegraph, getting it almost right.

Modi spouted biz school gyaan, yes, but of a more fictional kind, the kind popularised by youngistan's other great hero: Chetan Bhagat. The language, themes, and cadence of the speech could have been ripped straight from the pages of a CB novel.

Young people are awesome! 

Narendra Modi at the SRCC lecture. PTI.

Narendra Modi at the SRCC lecture. PTI.

One of the key secrets of Bhagat's success is the constant pandering to his young audience's ego. The message over and again is that India will be 'saved' by its fabulously intelligent, creative and progressive youth, rescued from the clutches of older generations who have long outlived their use-by date. Modi was no less eager to curry favour with his "friends," aka India's number one asset.

The ambassador of a nation asked me what major challenges India faces and I said the biggest one is how we use opportunity. When asked what the opportunity was, I said the youth. Europe buddha ho chuka hai, China buddha ho chuka hai.

There was plenty more where that came from: "To me the young are not new-age voters. They represent new-age power."

Bhagat rode the 'demographic dividend' to great success. So why not NaMo who was named the number one 'youth icon' in a recent Outlook poll.

Technology zindabad!

The IIT/IIM mythology is the acme of youthful aspiration in India, and Chetan Bhagat is the godfather of its lore. His Five Point Someone turned the until-then humdrum existence of the engineering student — and with the onset of MBA-lit, the B-school kid — into the stuff of romantic fiction. The engineering/management geek became the new golden boy who gets the money and the girl.

Modi repeatedly dipped into the same youth+tech language when speaking to "the disciples of Google Guru," though with less accuracy than Bhagat who -- for all his other weaknesses -- always knows of who he speaks.

I was in Taiwan 15 years ago, as a BJP office-bearer. On the day of my departure, my Taiwanese interpreter asked, ‘Is your country a land of snake-charmers?’ I said we are not a country of snake-charmers. We have been devalued into one of mouse-charmers. But our youths have rebranded India simply by placing their fingers on the computer mouse. No political leader has done it.

Never mind that the man who led the liberalisation drive was a greybeard like Manmohan Singh. And the corporate giants like Nandan Nilekani and Narayana Murthy who put Indian IT on the global map are now in their golden years. Besides, anyone charming mouses in the era of the tablet is an unlikely symbol of the future. But, hey, the ecstatic audience didn't care.

Keep it simple

Critics slam his novels as simple and simplistic, while the hordes of CB-lovers adore him for precisely the same reason. College hostel lingo peppered with biz school acronyms and 'just do it' style pop-wisdom has propelled Bhagat to the top of the bestsellers charts. And on Wednesday, Narendra Modi did his best to follow Bhagat's lead.

Out came the hokey analogies: "The optimists will see this [glass] as half-full and the pessimists will see it has half-empty. To me the glass is full, it is half-filled with water and half-filled with air. I am an inveterate optimist."

The gratuitous acronyms: "We need P2G2. Pro-People Good governance"

The catchy alliteration: "We need to work on value addition. Farm to fibre, fibre to fabric, fabric to fashion, fashion to foreign."

The made-up mantras: "If we have to compete with China in the 21st century, we need three 'S's: skill, scale and speed."

And it worked.  “A no-frills, no-fuss speech, no tedha-medha (crooked) or jalebi-like confusing statements. Spoken straight from the head and the heart," gushed a first-year SRCC student. Modi earned himself exactly the kind of ringing endorsement typically reserved for a Chetan Bhagat novel by his legion of fans.

But mastering the language of youngistan may not be enough to win all their hearts. As another young man told The Telegraph, “I loved Modi’s punchlines, especially the one on minimum government and maximum governance. But his potential as a national leader has still to be tested.”

Modi may need more than CB-style punchlines to win the gaddi, but for now they will suffice when the need of the hour is an image makeover.

"Modi himself will need his own strategy if he wishes to become a real player on the national stage, which many think he has the potential for," wrote Chetan Bhagat, who has vocally defended the man without, however, openly endorsing him.

We don't know what CB makes of Mr Modi's latest 'strategy' of borrowing from his own playbook. His tweet on the speech was conspicuously neutral: "Good Mr Modi went to Delhi to give a talk. Always better to familiarise yourself with the city you might move to."

In other words: No comment.