Modi speech: Media obsession or arrival on national stage?

It was not surprising in a country that has forgotten the real art of public oratory, Gujarat Chief minister and Prime Minister hopeful Narendra Modi’s speech at Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi became the upcountry national obsession on Wednesday.

Perhaps he played well to the fantasy of a generation that watched too many Obama speeches and wondered why we cannot have such leaders in our midst.

Anyway for English national TV, print and social media, he was a star. Some even prematurely declared him the right man for the future of India because of a single speech that seemed to have connected with the youth.

None of them, however, did realise that it was the audience that did the trick. If a politician, that too aiming to lead the country in an aspirational and I-me-myself era, doesn’t seize the opportunity of addressing the urban youth in a premier institution, he/she is a fool and is unfit to be a politician.

Of course, you need an effective speech-writer who writes uncomplicated and non-cerebral stuff with a lot of hyperbole. Those who are used to masters of hype and futurism such as Toffler, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Negroponte and Malcom Gladwell, it is an easy task. Hyperbole is easy because it feeds on itself. As a quintessential marketeer of Gujarat style capitalism and efficiency for some time now, hyperbole comes naturally to Narendra Modi. Some of his facts are just packaging.

Headline making: Is Modi's SRCC speech merely a flash in the pan? PTI

Headline making: Is Modi's SRCC speech merely a flash in the pan? PTI

Yes, it did resonate well in most of English speaking urban India, going by the English media hype. But in the south, including the only existing pocket of the party, namely Karnataka, it hardly made any ripples - neither in English nor the language press.

In the south, The Hindu completely ignored the speech, giving prominence to the protest against him at SRCC instead. It was among the second lead stories - average three column story with the two columns of the page sold out to advertisers - in the Times of India's Chennai edition. Similar treatment was given to it in other papers as well.

In regional language papers, it was his meeting with the Prime Minister that found some space, not the SRCC speech. Tamil and Malayalam TV channels had other things to discuss on their prime time shows while the print media almost entirely ignored it.

Incidentally, it was the south that contributed the country’s first growth and corporate friendly politician who sought to strike a chord with the youth and urban electorate - Andhra’s Chandrababu Naidu. He was celebrated by every media house with a lot of gusto and unprecedented hype.

In fact he was the original Modi who attracted global leaders to his city and appeared in more video conferences (techno-logistically, it was the equivalent of Modi’s 3D projection those days) than public stages. He was so busy in his speech-making and road-trips that he had appeared busier than Obama. And those days, Hyderabad was the place to visit - for efficiency, transparency, investment and infrastructure.

Where is he today? People gather in record numbers to listen to a downmarket YSR family than Naidu. Their staple is the very old political portfolio that gets resonance in the country’s rural areas - poverty and subsistence essentials. If YSR junior gets out of jail and leads a padayatra today, he will attract unprecedented crowds although in the eyes of the law, he is an alleged crook.

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, the wave against Karunanidhi in the last assembly election was so eclipsed by the urban hype that spoke of industries, new age technologies, FDIs, gleaming infrastructure and luxury hotels that the final results really shocked the DMK camp and its followers. Nobody had expected such a rout.

India’s electoral heart is in rural areas. Urban India is good for photo and feel-good ops. Perhaps the only utility of this constituency is to generate hype and marginally influence policy because it creates some inconvenience to the politicians.

If the governments are smart to engage them and delay decisions, they can easily defeat whatever little influence they have. That Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal movements turned out to be mere flashes in the pan betray their effeteness. Electorally it’s an irrelevant constituency - it hardly has any resonance with the bulk of India, just as the studio-polls of youngsters don’t have any bearing on the real India.

Perhaps Modi is not as excited as the upcountry English media is and the SRCC speech was just a trophy-event.