Narendra Modi’s 2019 Lok Sabha campaign: The art of management, grit and a lesson from the Bhagvad Gita

The seven-phase elections for the 2019 Lok Sabha have just concluded. The sheer significance of these elections is evidenced by the fact that long-time political foes have joined hands in seat-sharing — the mahagathbandhan — to meet the rising challenge of the incumbent, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The results shall be known on 23 May. The exit polls indicate the direction in which this election is going but, regardless of the outcome, Modi and the BJP have run a campaign that is nothing short of a masterpiece in a careful amalgam of marketing, planning and management for each of the seven phases. For this alone, the BJP’s campaign is worth a case study in business schools around the world.

 Narendra Modi’s 2019 Lok Sabha campaign: The art of management, grit and a lesson from the Bhagvad Gita

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

When to introduce which electoral measure, when to shore up the rhetoric, when to attack the Gandhi dynasty even if inviting the chagrin of some for attacking the dead, when to announce some candidates for certain seats; the planning of Amit Shah, the BJP president, and Modi was nothing short of immaculate.

For almost 18 months prior hereto, the Congress party led by the Gandhi family heir Rahul upped its attack on Modi. These attacks ranged from personal remarks on him (the ‘Chowkidaar Chor Hai’ slogan insinuating a deal between him Anil Ambani, whose group is one of the many offset partners in the Rafale deal), making up lies about a meeting with former defence minister Manohar Parrikar (since deceased) or challenging the valour of our armed forces by raising doubts on India’s military responses to Pakistan.

For many months, BJP supporters and well-wishers felt that the narrative was slipping away from Modi’s good work and honest intent. Yet, he focused almost exclusively on announcing more projects, schemes for the common man and highlighting the government’s achievements – the ‘boring’ aspects. The headline-grabbing antics of Gandhi and his party were responded to largely with details about the government’s work.

Using a cricketing metaphor, while the bowling Opposition kept hurling beamers and occasionally sledged the batsmen at the crease – Modi and Amit Shah – were content with rotating the strike or even leaving a tricky delivery notwithstanding a rapidly increasing run-rate.

The calm state and the studied silence of the BJP helmsmen – even if anxiety-inducing to their supporters  – was an exercise in patience, grit and determination while strengthening one’s preparation as the Opposition kept grabbing the attention of the nation.

As the elections schedule was finalised, the two went into fifth gear in their respective arena. They preserved their energies, their balance and sense of purpose for the last. Modi gave a series of interviews to channels carefully planning the reach and popularity of those mediums depending on which seats were up for election in a specific phase. He even threw in an apolitical interview with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar to give an insight into him and his personal side.

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When campaigning in Amethi entered its last phases, Modi launched an all-out attack on Gandhi’s father Rajiv who was embroiled in scandals involving corruption and misuse of government property for personal gains. It was merciless and no-holds-barred. If ‘Chowkidaar Chor Hai’ was an attempted slogan by Gandhi, ‘Rajiv Gandhi Chor Hai’ was the response without so much as stating it in words.

In Mahendra Singh Dhoni style, Modi took the Opposition to the final stretch and played his wild cards one after the other, never letting the narrative slip. It was raining sixes, using the cricketing metaphor again, to specific types of deliveries from specific bowlers.

Indeed, none of this would be effective without a good product worth marketing. For the BJP, that product is Narendra Modi. Having realised that, Congress tried to destroy the brand image of Modi as Gandhi himself admitted in an interview. Modi turned it on its head with his ‘Khan Market gang’ jibe which was the ‘meat of the bat’ shot for the urban seats going into polling.

Conversely, however good the product is, if the timing and execution aren’t strategically thought through, the product can fail. Modi and Shah, steadfast in their goal, made sure they knew the field and the pitch. Shah, well-known for planning each and every booth of each constituency, had the map laid out. Modi strategically selected constituencies where he’d address the nation to ensure maximum reach and visibility. His periodic address to booth workers for several months prior to the elections ensured momentum and inspiration.

A key element, however, in the BJP and Modi’s campaign was that they played the game like winners; more specifically, without the fear of losing even if loss is, indeed, a possible outcome. The task at hand was to fully understand the field, focus on the process, each minute step, understand the way the phases were laid out and tirelessly perform an action without obsessing about the result.

Focus there was. On the goal. Mission 50 percent, as Shah stated. With a 50 percent share, a victory is but a byproduct.

The action was unaccompanied by an obsession or an attachment to victory. The other side of that coin is a fear of loss. When one plays like a winner, that fear of loss or that obsession with victory creeps in one’s opponents the symptoms of which include whining about the EVM reliability (Gandhi and all Opposition parties), conspiracy theories about being assassinated by one’s own security (Arvind Kejriwal) or ensuring that your state police creates all obstacles to your rivals during campaigning (Mamata Banerjee).

General Election 2019 was the nishkama karma of Modi and Shah, steadfast in their meticulously thought-through tasks at hand. May 23 will tell us if Modi and Shah got BJP home or fell short. But, either way, the campaign is a primer in management, patience, grit and the central message of the Bhagavad Gita.

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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 11:32:22 IST