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Narendra Modi – Man of Many Faces

In our celebrity blogs related to image management in threshold situations, we described how Amitabh Bachchan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni transitioned smoothly across the thresholds of their career.

It might have come as a surprise to you that in our introductory blog on how to manage threshold situations in life, we referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi too. The story is not complete without referring to India’s political celebrity, Prime Minister Modi, and how he has successfully crossed his political thresholds.

But, before we talk of the thresholds of his political career, we first talk of his method of image management since it is the method that carries a person across the thresholds, while reflecting the inner self.

What’s His Method?

While Amitabh stood for the art in image management and Dhoni for instinct, Narendra Modi is about careful crafting of the image – of the method taken to a strategic, political level – an image created with such savvy that it creates a brand.

The makings of this brand are evident right from his early days and become a text book case of branding as he becomes the Chief Minister of Gujarat and then the Prime Minister of India.

What Prime Minister Modi did with his image at each threshold is not about transforming his image. It is about stepping things up to meet the needs of the role – he expanded his image to encompass all the new constituents.

Early Days

As a young man, had been a dedicated RSS Pracharak after having joined the RSS as balswayamsevak at the age of eight. During these early days, he had been relatively innocuous in his appearance. But, the care in his clothing and grooming was evident even then. Focus on his image has been a habit since his teens. It is said that back then, he would iron his shirts with a brass lota full of hot water. Equally important are his eyes that bore into the person conversing with him. They reveal little, yet seem to see right through the other person.

He is known to have been a keen debater in school with interest in theatre, playing larger than life characters. His display of powerful communication was evident even then.

During this period, he worked behind the scenes and the people who gained more than a glimpse of him were those who worked with him. And these are the people who mattered since they elevated him to higher positions. And then he began moving up the ladder.

Chief Minister of Gujarat

As he moved from RSS to BJP, became the BJP National Secretary, then the General Secretary and then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, his audience became wider. He became a public figure and he stepped things up a notch.

His care in clothing became visible. It turned into the right blend of politics and power. He was unabashedly himself, the clothing and grooming had already evolved to suit the position of the Chief Minister of Gujarat, well before he became the CM. His personal imprint on his clothing which later caught public attention was visible too.

People began recognising his vocal communication for its power and reliability to which he added wit with great effect. His powerful body language began making its mark felt.

Many times, the impact of one’s image can be gauged from related aspects. As Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Mr.Modi’s image translated into the wide attention and publicity that the Modi mask garnered during the Gujarat state elections of 2012 and with the Modi statues. These stand testimony to the image he created for himself.

As I have stated in an earlier post, the appearance of Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the cricketing scene brought the image of a confident India to the fore. To that, Modi added power and muscle while retaining complete Indianhood.

So far, psychologically speaking, the call of new India had been, “Let’s be comfortable with ourselves.” Suddenly, with Modi’s emergence, one heard the call, “We are what we are. And we are as good as any.” This aspect caught the collective imagination.

India has been viewed as a giant market for well over two decades now, but the sheen had dulled somewhat, people’s spirits were sagging and the nation was looking for a tough someone to bring back the sheen and let them move forward.

That’s just when Modi emerged on the national scene with the image of a tough politician and with the promise of a leader who delivers.

Prime Minister Modi

By the time he crossed the national threshold to become the Prime Minister, his image became all-encompassing. His image was stronger, drawing in the masses with clear goals, care and attention to detail, not just in the overall image he projected, but also based on the environment in which he projected the image – what to wear at which venue – for maximum effect.

As we see him today, he takes great care in his clothing and has a stylist of his own. Clothing turned into a full-blown weapon in his image arsenal. He made his half-sleeved kurta so popular that it has officially become the Modi Kurta. While kurtas are the uniform of an Indian politician, he has turned them into a statement of his own, just as he did with the Modi Mask during the Gujarat elections. In doing so, not only has he turned himself into a brand, the Modi Kurta itself has been trade marked by the maker with an e-commerce site selling them to the masses.

He is reported to have said that he cannot make a compromise with the image – of his eyes, his voice and his clothes. While his grooming is near perfect any time of the day and adds to the effect of his clothing, it is his clothing that has spun millions of words on his style. He aligned himself to the people of India and khadi does that job as no other fabric does. Khadi stands for simplicity. It is about the basics. Khadi was Mahatma Gandhi’s answer to the British rule, making it the symbol of anti-British-hood.

Forward to the 21st century, khadi’s simplicity keeps criticism at bay, but as rumoured, with hundreds of kurtas – and if that is a falsehood – then certainly with dozens of them, it is no longer about simplicity and home-spun patriotism, but of taking this humble fabric and translating it into patriotism with all the power, muscle and fervour behind it.

He is most often seen in shades of orange and blue, although he dons many other light shades too. This innocuous kurta with its half-sleeves has an advantage that the full-sleeved one doesn’t – it stamps a surprisingly macho image on him whereas the full-sleeved one is more about dignity and propriety.

It’s about complete Indianhood without being staid about it, and he stands out amid the uniformly white kurtas of netas, with his accessories in watches, sunglasses and sandals – which he is rumoured to be partial to – adding to the image.

Even Modi’s response to criticism is a carefully thought-through strategy. Some he doesn’t respond to, making it look like small-mindedness. Without him responding to the criticism, it soon dies a quiet death. To some, he responds with action not words, as with his pinstripe suit during Obama’s visit on which his name formed the pinstripes.

When critics shouted of the narcissism and extravagance of the suit in our land of unmet needs, the announcement came, of the suit’s auction and of using the proceeds for the PM’s campaign to clean the Ganges. A Surat-based diamond merchant bought it for Rs.4.31 crore. With that master stroke, the critics were silenced.

His vocal communication stands out in particular. He understands the nuances of language, using them to make speeches that draw the masses and leave an imprint on them. His choice of words to describe his own strengths and his opponents’ weaknesses is a copy writer’s envy. Modi is unapologetic about the power aspect, even referring to his 56-inch chest, the mark of a man with muscle. So although his girth has less to do with muscle, it is the power associated with him that makes this too stick to him.

His body language complements this perfectly as he stands with great confidence – within or outside India and with the leader of any nation. His gestures during speeches carry aggression that translates to power and muscle.

And he knows when to tone down the muscle. While his in-the-trenches look is all about power and muscle, he is capable of masking it too – again with care. To his swearing-in ceremony, he wore a full-sleeved kurta and his foreign trips are a mix of sherwanis and Nehru jackets.

Image management isn’t only about doing the right stuff. It is also about not doing the wrong stuff. Western suits don’t give him the same look of being in his own skin, neither in colour, nor in the fit, nor the way he carries them. He keeps them to the minimum and in doing so, plays to his strengths.

The story doesn’t end there.

When in Rome – he aligns himself to the places he visits within India, donning the headgear of the region and occasionally, the scarf or the jacket. That’s him reaching out to the larger public and leaving the statement unsaid, “I am one among you,” an image of critical importance to a politician. In doing so, he has encompassed the national audience smoothly when crossing the national threshold.

Thus with careful strategy, Prime Minister Modi crafted his image as he crossed each threshold – a clothing style, grooming and body language that reflects his essence, clever choice of slogans, a compelling statement, appeal to the dispirited Indian, daring to be different and consistent through it all. In doing so, he has crossed the thresholds of his political career going from strength to greater strength and projecting the image the people want to see.

Whether you choose Amitabh Bachchan’s art and grace, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s instinct and ease or Prime Minister Modi’s strategic image management, or any other, the choice is yours. But, there is little choice in one thing – all of us need image management, particularly while navigating the thresholds of life.

Among the typical threshold situations of everyday life, read how students, professionals, homemakers-turning-professionals and those who cross the threshold of marriage manage their image. Read how prisoners can manage their image when entering mainstream life.

The entire look and feel of this shoot are visually pleasing as well as harmonious; from the attire to the colour choices to the jewellery, it was a delightful experience watching this creative piece of work.

The Tanishq campaign may have done well overall, however, it could have received a much better response if everything could have been viewed holistically.

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