'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' controversy: How Modi can change the global perception of India and its government

Now that BJP president Amit Shah has given a clarion call to every Indian or a person who lives within India’s boundaries to start saying ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ or get labelled as anti-national, I took this seriously when I was invited to a party in an upscale apartment block in Gurgaon over the weekend. In this article I shall share my experience of how professionally successful Indians reacted to an issue milked well by TV channels.

As I walked into an assorted group of men and women I greeted them with ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ instead of customary Hello or Hi. For a few seconds there was stunned silence and then, with a bemused look one asked, “Kya hua, have you joined politics?” Others laughed but didn’t comment. A woman commented, “It’s bizarre what’s happening, what is all this going on?”

These people, I asked around, did not study in the so-called Left bastion, JNU. Nor did any one of them belonged to a political party or was wedded to Left ideology. I must add that all those who were at this weekend gathering were anti-Left Hindus and that too, with an upper-caste ancestry.

Bharat Mata Ki Jai controversy: How Modi can change the global perception of India and its government

Narendra Modi. AP

One young banker remarked, “We are happy that BJP has come to power but don’t like this business of giving certificates of patriotism”. He added, “Kuchch zyada ho gaya hai” (It’s a little too much).

This small gathering did not and does not represent India. I am not attempting to argue in any case. But, comments and views of people (many of whom voted for Modi in 2014) matter when one ascertains responses and reactions to contemporary

By end of this month Prime Minister Narendra Modi will leave on his next foreign tour when he will meet EU leaders in Brussels and President Obama in US. His hosts are bound to seek answers to what is happening in India.

It is important for Modi and the government because in the last two years the prime minister has made a difference in perception of India among countries spread across the globe.

Positive perception is essential for people to invest and do business. Risk to investments rise as a state or a country shows hyper political activity that could impact businesses.

Even today it is difficult for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to attract investments.

While Modi personally and his government seek to attract foreign investments (Indian companies are not investing in India), improve the ease of doing business and project positive interest in attracting businesses, this business of hypernationalism will prove detrimental to the image of NDA government.

Reports of intimidation of people to prove their patriotism, attacks on Muslims and instances of intimidation, public hanging of cattle traders, chasing Kashmiri students out of a college hostel on suspicion of eating beef (they were eating mutton), combined with this general atmosphere of forcing people to follow a certain code of behavior militates against what Prime Minister Modi has tried to project about India.

This hurts Modi’s efforts and impacts his international image.

Dismissing cover stories of The Economist, New York Times and other international media as inconsequential or “hatched by anti-Modi people” would be nothing short of immaturity and naivete. This is the same media which hailed Modi as a visionary who sought to change India after the end of ten years of Congress rule which became infamous for crony capitalism and corruption.

Those with failing memory need to only Google what this media wrote about Narendra Modi in 2014 and most of 2015.

What can Modi do?

Firstly, the government needs to improve his communication management. TV channels, some of whom face major losses, have understood that controversial issues where Mullahs are pitted against Hindu Pandits, representatives of Muslim outfits big and small against spokesmen of Hindu organisations is a good way to improve their TRPs and in turn, advertising.

In the name of media freedom TV channels cannot be given blanket approval to say or whip up hysteria. One TV channel editor was quoted in a magazine saying using nationalist issues, whatever he meant by that, was a good way to gauge one’s patriotism by the end of everyday’s show.

TV channels are damaging Modi government’s international image and that needs correction.

Secondly, no one can hold the prime minister responsible for incidents of attacks and intimidation. But, the perception is that the Indian government is encouraging or helping create such an atmosphere. The BJP, as a political outfit needs to be seen as separate from the NDA government. For that Union ministers need to stop being party spokesmen and made to focus on government agenda.

You cannot have Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman one day meeting investors to woo them to do business in India, and the second day address a media briefing in BJP headquarters to push party agenda. Similarly other Union Ministers should be taken off their duties as spokespeople.

These Union Ministers will definitely address political meetings and campaign during state elections but, on a day-to-day basis the separation is a must.

Perception played a significant role that led millions of Congress voters or undecided ones to switch sides to back Modi in 2014. It was the creation of a larger than life image of a person who would “change” India that swooned many to actively step out and cast their vote against the Congress Party.

Today many of them are uncomfortable with the perception of India and the government. In turn, it has impacted the image of Prime Minister Modi. And, that would change if only Modi wants to.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2016 09:32:09 IST

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